Friday, April 29, 2016

Webb City Sentinel market column - 4/29/16

If you follow the market’s facebook postings, and I hope you do because they take a lot of time for us to do, you would have noticed photos of tomatoes the last few weeks. And if you are an experienced grower you might have thought “No way are they selling local tomatoes in April!”  But it’s true, thanks to our farmers planting the high tunnels several months ago and remaining patient until the sun became intense enough to ripen those tomatoes that have been hanging green on the vines for what seems like weeks and weeks. The sun is finally strong enough to redden those tomatoes and they are appearing in delicious piles at the Braker and Harmony Hill tables. Yes, they are local and, yes, we’ve been hearing a lot of raves about the tomatoes.

We may not have enough to handle all the Saturday crowd, but we’ve had more than enough tomatoes on Tuesday and Thursday – one more reason to shop the weekday markets. We had asparagus for the whole market yesterday and strawberries for 2/3rds of it. No doubt the weekday markets will liven up once the free kids meals start on May 19, but until then you can look forward to easy parking and good selection. Of course by May 19, most of our growers will be back at the market with tables loaded high with produce. It is astounding what they manage to coach out of the earth this early in the year.

It’s a bit like time lapse photography. I’ll be at a farm in March and see bare fields that have been planted but no sign of life, some covered with a cloth barrier on small hoops to protect from frost. The next month, there are little rows of green, and then a few weeks later, with some sunny days and rain, they seem to go into high gear, spreading and growing into mature plants. By the end of April, the fields are thriving.

Many years ago, someone in the market business told me that farming is a learned skill. I guess I’d never given it any consideration. I’d grown up among farmers and we’d all helped on our family farms but as I have worked with the market farmers, the truth of that statement has rung clear. For example, it’s sure not a matter of intuition when it comes to evaluating soil fertility. Reading a soil sample result and implementing the recommendations takes all sort of reading and math skills. Knowing when to plant what, what to watch for, how to set up irrigation, whether and when to fertilize all take knowledge and record-keeping ability. I think that’s why our farmers are so keen on the training we provide. It’s not that they are yearning to be students, rather they are intent on being successful farmers and they know that the better their toolbox of knowledge, the better their chances of success.

What brought this to mind was Mr. Lee, patriarch of the Lee Family Farm, meeting with Lincoln University Extension folks today to begin plans for his first high tunnel. The Lee Family Farm is among our largest, most productive farms but had not yet ventured into winter production. It is a prudent step that could provide income throughout the year. The Lees have three years of winter production training under their belt and good resource people for guidance. I look forward to enjoying the fruits of that knowledge next winter.

Tomorrow at the market, Cooking for a Cause benefits the Ronald McDonald House. Biscuits and gravy, sausages, eggs cooked to order, orange juice or coffee are served from 9 to 11.
Mabel at Harmony Hill is serving her last lunch of the season – ham and beans with cornbread for $3.50, eat-in or take-out. Rob Pommert plays.

Hazel’s Bakery is a bit under the weather so Stewart’s Bakery is filling in for her tomorrow. We should have a wonderful selection of hanging baskets, local produce and other goodies.

On Tuesday, we’ll have lunch by Stewart’s Bakery and Carmine’s Pizza. Both Pommerts will be with us Tuesday.

On Thursday, be sure to bring the kids if you can. Marshall Mitchell is making a rare visit. He has become such a star that he’ll only be able to make the market a few times this year so don’t miss a single one. Great cowboy tunes from a cowboy dressed to the nines atop a sawhorse pony. It just doesn’t get any more cowboy than Marshall. On Thursday, we expect Granny Shaffers with catfish and potato wedges and Tac-o the Town with Mexican style food for lunch.

Finally, this Monday we have an informal class for anyone interested in learning how to operate the commercial equipment in the market kitchen – that includes convection ovens, griddle, tilt top skillet and steam kettle (that would be a 30 gallon skillet and a 40 gallon steam kettle). There is no fee or reservation required. Just show up at 10 am on Monday and Jason Miller, chef of Instant Karma, will bring us all up to speed.

Bonus news – the Kids Community Garden is up and growing. The kindergarteners’ potato plants are peeking through and the middle schoolers, with the help of one little brother, planted tomatoes, peppers and broccoli this week. We meet at the garden on Wednesdays at 3:10 (unless it’s raining).
See you at the market!