Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Webb City Sentinel column - 9-26-13

Janet Taylor, a market volunteer and friend, loaned me a copy of Vegetarian Times Farmers' Market Cookbook. It's called a cookbook on the cover, but it's actually a magazine full of seasonal recipes and has an excellent article on farmers markets.

Sometimes articles on farmers markets seem to read as if they had been put together based on some sketchy internet research, but this article, called Market Intelligence – how to score the best produce at your farmers' market, is right on target. It asks the right questions, and asks them of the right people.

Here are just a few of the questions and answers, with comments I can't resist making:
How can I be sure that the produce is really organic? Ask at the stand or look for a sign. Though some farm stand signs are emblazoned with “Certified Organic”, many farmers who follow organic practices don't bother to certify because of the paperwork, and in some cases, the cost, says Larry Johnson, manager of the Dane County Farmers' Market in Madison, Wisconsin. These vendors may describe their produce as no-spray or pesticide-free.
We get this question a lot on our WCFM facebook page and our answer is: We have no certified organic producers. Talk to the grower and find out about their growing practices.

Is it inappropriate to negotiate prices? Yes, says Johnson, who emphasizes that farmers work hard to put a fair price on their products. “You wouldn't haggle at a grocery store,” he adds.

This has come up at our market as well. As a policy, we discourage bargaining for lots of reasons. One is that our customers who pay the posted price would have good reason to feel cheated if someone else bought the same product for less. Another is that bargainers can be very aggressive and it's just painful to see one of our gentle farmers being browbeaten into lowering their price. That's certainly not the atmosphere we strive for. Another is that our farmers set their prices according to their costs and investment of time. Selling at a lower price could put their livelihood at risk and failing farmers is not what we're about.

I think customers wanting to bargain usually come from other countries where bargaining was the norm. You would never expect to pay full price at a market in Mexico, or India, or anywhere in Asia. But in those places, the merchant takes bargaining into account when setting the prices. He starts out high so he can meet the customer somewhere in the middle. In Webb City, our vendors set their price where they need to sell it. They don't inflate the price in order to bring it down.

There are occasions when the price might be discounted some, particularly when buying large quantities, say for canning. When you buy a bushel of tomatoes, the price per pound will usually be less then when you buy a quart box. They're probably not as pretty either.
If there is a huge variety of produce at a stand, should I be suspicious about who grew it? Not necessarily, says Amelia Saltsman (author of the Santa Monica Farmers Market Cookbook). Many small farmers grow a row or two of different root vegetables and greens, and can then sell a variety of goods (opposed to industrial farmers obliged to grow a lot of one thing to supply giant distribution centers).

Again, this is very true at our market. While a few of our farmers specialize in a single type of produce, Broken Wire which specializes in peppers would be an example, most grow a wide variety of crops. And even Broken Wire branches out into melons, squash and tomatoes, as well as eggs. Pates Orchard focuses on fruit, but you'll find some pretty fantastic onions and tomatoes at their stand. It makes sense for a farm to have as many profit centers as it can. An extra $30 in flower sales can pay for the gas to drive to market.
That's just a taste of the article and doesn't touch all the recipes in the magazine. It's well worth a read.

At the market today, stop by the University of Missouri Extension table and try some Sweet Baked Apple Wedges. Gospel Strings takes the market stage and Granny Shaffers serves lunch for the last time this year: home style chicken and noodles and chicken salad sandwiches. Next Friday, Phil & Friends (that would be my husband Phil Richardson) cooks up all-you-can-eat ham and beans with fixin's and a drink for $5. It will be a Cooking for a Cause and all profits will benefit Webb City's Bright Futures program. Fair warning, they'll be brown bean because that's what Phil and I like. You want white beans? Volunteer to help!

A special bonus today – Jo and Rae Letsinger of Sarcoxie are moving their iris beds and have 250 German bearded iris bulbs to give away.

Tomorrow Trish Reed serves as our Market Lady for the last time this season. She'll be cooking up something good to sample. The Market Lady project was funded by a USDA grant that is wrapping up this month.

Hubert Sigler will be at the market selling and signing his book Tyrone Dust. A novel set in the 1930's in Texas County, Missouri, it is loosely based on family and community stories Hubert grew up hearing. Hubert will also be at Minerva's from 11:30 to 2 should you miss him at the market.

Andrew Pommert performs tomorrow and breakfast benefits the Downtown Joplin Alliance. The menu will be biscuits and gravy, sausage, and eggs to order. Starting next week, the Saturday breakfast menu goes to pancakes, grilled ham and eggs to order.
All these changes for next week means that our October schedule will be in place. No more Tuesday markets till next year but we'll be open on Fridays and Saturdays through October and then on Saturdays all the way until mid-April when we re-start the regular season. It all happens under the market pavilion.

See you at the market!