Friday, June 29, 2012

Farm Visits June 28, 2012

Boy was it a hot one today! But unlike many of us a farmer cannot just stay inside in the air conditioning just because the temperature is in the triple digits. Everyone I visited today was outside working when I arrived.

Usually when I visit Jarred Juhl in Wathena, Kansas I only see a small part of where he is farming. This year I had Jarred meet me in downtown Wathena and drive me to all of his many locations. I am so glad he was driving since most of the time we were going down steep dirt paths and bouncing along through the fields. Most of the land Jarred farms is land that belonged to his Grandfather and father or he is renting it from a neighbor who no longer farms. There is no way I would have been able to find each field. As we were walking through one of the many fields, Jarred showed me a very old piece of equipment used for digging potatoes. The blade is drug through the field digging up the potatoes; the potatoes are pushed onto a grid where most of the dirt falls through leaving just the potatoes. The potatoes are then forced off the back and fall into the field, Jarred then goes through the field and picks up the potatoes which are on top of the soil. I often wonder who invents some of this equipment. Jarred is one of the few vendors at the market that raises heirloom tomatoes. Heirlooms come in many colors and are usually not the same shape and sometimes have small cracks by the stem. They are a little softer and do not keep as long as the tomatoes most of us eat, which is why you won’t find them in a grocery store. If you have never tried one you are in for a real treat. While we were walking through one of the corn fields I noticed an ear of corn which had been chewed on, Jarred said he has a real problem with raccoons. He said sometimes he gets a little obsessed and sleeps in the field, when he hears the raccoons pulling back the husk he runs over with a flash light and tries to find them, raccoons can destroy a crop. Jarred had black plastic in most of his fields with a drip line underneath. When the plants need water he hauls it in big drums from town and hooks a hose to the line. Drip lines are a very efficient way to water plants. Jarred sells at three other markets on Saturday so his sister Jessica and her daughters handle his City Market stalls. They are located in the 3rd farmers shed in stalls 138, 139 and 140 on Saturday and hopefully starting this week will be at the market on Sunday in stalls 124 & 125.

I didn’t have to far to go to get to my next farm since it is also in Wathena. Goode Acres is located on a hill overlooking the Missouri River, the view is beautiful. John was busy tilling up the weeds between the rows of peppers when I arrived, he was pretty lucky since his tractor was air-conditioned. The peppers in the field were not quite ready but should be in a few weeks. John is currently working to get his organic certification and should be certified by the first of February. He will be the only vendor at the market that is certified organic. John has received a few grants over the past few years to have his farm terraced and to get three high tunnels. He currently has three tunnels and has one more to put up. The first tunnel we entered was filled with pepper plants, squash and cucumbers. John is having a problem with white flies which are doing a lot of damage to his cucumber plants. Since he can’t use any sprays he will just have to let them go and replant. The second tunnel was filled with tomato plants covered with green tomatoes, there were a few that are ready to pick. John also grows heirloom tomatoes. The third tunnel had a few herbs and Swiss chard but was pretty much done and will be replanted once the weather breaks, the extreme heat is very hard on plants which have just been transplanted. In addition to produce John also has a row of red and black raspberries, blackberries and he chips up various types of wood for BBQ. For additional information visit Goode Acres website at

I decided to cut over to Plattsburg after leaving Wathena and visit Windy Ridge Greenhouse. Clara and William Hanks have been vendors at the market for years and have currently relocated from shed two to shed one. On my way to their farm I pulled over to let a farm tractor go by and to my surprise it was William, he was on his way to another field to cut straw. Since I have been to their farm many times I just showed myself around, I sure did not want to keep him from what he was doing. Windy Ridge has three greenhouses where they grow bedding plants, herbs, vegetable plants and beautiful roses in the spring. This time of year they have closed their greenhouses to the public and are concentrating on their fields. They had summer squash ready to pick and a few small cucumbers. Eventually they will also be picking melons, pumpkins, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers; things just are not quite ready yet. For more information visit their web site at

I will be staying close to home next week since I will only be working a half day on Thursday. We have quite a few vendors who travel less than 20 minutes to get to the market so I will have plenty to choose from.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Farm Visits June 21, 2012

Today I knew for sure that I have the coolest job ever. I got to start my day off by visiting a lavender farm and ended it by visiting a bee keeper, what a great day. I even had some company today, Deb Churchill, the property manager for the City Market and my boss went along to take pictures and I’m pretty sure she wanted to see the lavender farm.

Washington Creek Lavender is located south of Lawrence, Kansas up a long curving gravel road. We were greeted first by a large Irish setter who wanted to say “Hi” and stuck his head in the truck window. When he saw we were friendly he jumped in the back of the truck, I am sure it was the smell of garbage that attracted him. (I drive the City Market truck used to pick up trash) Kathy and Jack Wilson moved back to Lawrence in 2004 to start a vegetable farm, but after much bad weather decided to turn to Lavender. They started with a small test plot to see which varieties would do best, they decided on Grosso Blue and four or five culinary varieties. I did not know lavender came in pink and white, I thought it was always purple. We parked by their beautiful log home and walked along a lane to their drying barn. The Wilsons have been harvesting lavender for a week so the barn was fairly full. After cutting each stem it is bundled, tied with a rubber band and hung upside-down to dry. Kathy told me it takes two or three weeks to dry depending on how wet it was when harvested. Today they were working on pulling weeds since it had rained overnight and the lavender was very wet. Once we topped the hill we were greeted with a beautiful sight and fragrance, the pictures will not do it justice. Kathy walked us through the field explaining the differences between plants and when they were planted. She pointed out a new high tunnel they are working on and told us what their plans are for the future. I was so amazed when you stood still in the field and no one was talking the sound of the bees was incredible. A few weeks ago the field was bursting with butterflies. What a site that would have been.

I would have loved to just set in the middle of the lavender field for a while but Tony Schwager, Anthony’s Beehive, was expecting me around noon. Tony had a hive that he needed to check and was waiting for us to go along. Tony has been a Sunday vendor at the Market for about three years and this year has also taken a Saturday contract. Anthony’s Beehive was created due to Toni’s son, Anthony’s love of beekeeping. And since then it has become a family operation. Tony has hives in 20 different locations around Lawrence, this is a very common thing to do so you are able to get different flavors of honey, early spring honey is made from mainly clover and wildflowers. The kind of honey depends on what flowers are blooming at the time. The hive we visited was at a home a few miles away and had not been checked for a while; actually Tony thought it might be a dead hive. When we arrived there was a lot of activity so he knew this was not the case. Tony told me it is always exciting when you open a hive, you never know for sure what you will find. The hive today consisted of about 60 thousand bees, usually about 2thousand per frame. This hive had three tiers. Tony had extra beekeeper hats and gloves for Deb and I to wear, as you can see from the picture it was a good look! After getting the smoker fired up, the smoke confuses the bees so they stay in the hive, Tony opened the hive and oh my. To Toni’s surprise the hive did not have all the frames in place so there was just one massive heap of honey comb covered with bees, It was very cool. Toni’s plan today was to divide the hive and take a queen bee and some worker bees to another location. Bees are just amazing. I was not too nervous when the bees were swarming around me, but I did get a little worried when they started climbing up my leg. Tony did not have gloves on when slowly removing each frame; I asked him if he ever gets stung since the bees are just thick where he puts his hands. He no sooner said “not usually” when he got stung. It is very important when working with bees that you move slowly so the bees don’t get agitated; trust me I did not want the bees to get agitated. Tony sent us home with a large honey comb which I shared with my grand children, they thought it was great.

I have not yet decided where I am going on Thursday but with the heat wave we are having I don’t think I will be gone all day. Cantaloupe should be at the Market any day now and I saw my first field tomatoes last week.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Farm Visits June 14, 2012

Got a really late start today, thought I would just check a few e -mails and phone messages and just got sucked in for a couple hours. I checked a new vendor today in Richmond, Missouri. Keith and Rita Calvert were vendors at the Market many years ago when the River Market was known as the River Quay. At that time the City Market had a pretty bad reputation and the Calvert’s decided to sell their produce to large processors and grocery stores. They grew a variety of produce but grew mostly green beans. Over the years they have downsized their operation and currently farm 38 acres, in two separate locations. I found Rita and Keith in the field when I arrived, they were checking on their corn crop. Like all the farmers I have visited in the past few weeks the Calvert’s also plant all their crops in succession so they will have produce throughout the season. Some of their sweet corn was ready to pick so they might be at the Market this coming Sunday. In addition to sweet corn, which is their main crop, they also grow tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, squash, eggplant and pumpkins. Keith told me they were lucky enough to get some rain on Monday but they also got hit with a burst of small hail, which damaged some of the plant’s leaves. I find it very interesting what farmers do in addition to growing produce. The success of any given year is always dependent on the weather; very seldom does a farmer have a perfect year. Calvert’s Produce is the first farm I have ever visited that operate a skeet shooting range, a bird hunting preserve and breed hunting dogs and Yorkies. You do whatever you can to make a living doing what you love.

I only checked two farms today, the second stop is a farm I tried to visit last month but could not get past the gate. Today I called Ivan and Ludmila Guban before I left the Market so they could let me in. The Guban’s have been vendors on the waiting list since 2006. The first time I checked their farm they had a few peach trees and grew produce on their property closest to the river. This land is always great for growing produce but is the first to flood. Since 2006 Ivan changed course and puts all his efforts in growing peaches and table grapes. They currently have about 350 peach trees consisting of various varieties such as Red Havens, White Peaches, and Donut Peaches. The Guban’s are the only vendors who actual grow their own peaches; all of the peaches you see at the market are purchased from Waverly, Missouri. I really enjoyed walking through the peach orchards today and learning about what it takes to grow peaches. I didn’t know that you have to knock some of the blossoms off the trees to thin out the peaches; this gives each peach more room to grow. When the first peaches start to ripen you need to cover the trees with netting to keep the bird away. Apparently the flock sends out a bird to scout out the food supply, when the peaches are spotted the scout informs the flock and they can wipe out a peach crop. The average peach tree takes about 5 years before it really starts to produce but you will see some peaches after the second year. Each tree needs to be toped each year to keep the tree from getting too tall and to protect the branches from breaking. Who knew! The Guban’s have also added to their vineyard with a larger selection of table grapes. The plants are in various stages, some have been planted in the spring and others are a few years old. Ivan showed me how he grafts a shoot from a vine to an existing established plant and once the shoot takes hold he cuts off the existing vines and can totally change the variety of grape. Very cool! Each bunch of grapes needs to be protected from the birds so are covered with a mesh bag, the grapes have not yet started to turn but are beautiful. Much of what is grown at Pink Blossom Orchard is not for resale. Ivan and Ludmila are pretty much totally sustainable. They built their own home, collect rainwater for daily use, freeze or can all their food and have put in a pond which is stocked with fish. Last year Ivan built a log chicken coop which is one of the nicest coops I have ever seen. They are raising a type of broiler chickens for their own use, these little chickens eat constantly and must be processed within a certain number of days or they will have a heart attack due to the amount of weight they carry. Crazy right? I was so impressed with what they have accomplished and really hated to drive back into the city.

Next Thursday Deb Churchill, Property Manager for the Market and I will be going to Lawrence, Kansas to visit a lavender farm. They are harvesting the lavender so it should be very cool to see.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Farm Visits June 7, 2012

I truly enjoyed checking farms today, weather wise it was a beautiful day, blue skies and not too hot. I feel like I am a little behind since I missed a few weeks lately. I decided to visit a few vendors that have brought corn to the Market, which is coming on about three weeks early this year.

My first stop was in Fort Scott, Kansas at Clayborn Farms. This season will be Dennis’s second year as a contracted vendor at the Market, last year he had a Sunday contract waiting for a stall to open up on Saturday. When his crops start coming in a little heavier he will be at the Market every Saturday and Sunday. When I arrived Linda and Dennis were busy working in the fields picking produce for this weekend, in addition to having stalls at the City Market they also sell at the Overland Park Market. Once their produce is harvested it is placed in one of three box trucks which have been fitted with an air conditioner. It is really important to cool the produce down as quickly as possible after it is picked. Dennis, like many farmers plant everything in succession so they will have produce to harvest throughout the season and into the fall. Today they were picking cucumbers and had already picked two bushels of tomatoes. Dennis said his field tomatoes will be coming on strong next week with the warm weather and hopefully some rain, he planted 1200 tomato plants. It always amazes me how many plants or seeds the vendor’s plant. Dennis and Linda plant everything on their 55 acre truck farm by hand. Just to give you a little idea how much that is, they planted four thousand green pepper plants, four thousand hot pepper plants, thirty rows of okra and 650 sweet potato slips. This does not even come close to covering everything like squash, corn, melons and green beans. Right now most of the seeds they planted lately are coming up pretty slow due to the lack of rain. Last night they spent their evening watering some of the young plants with a bucket. They have a large water tank on the back of a truck, drive the truck through the field and fill buckets with water to pour on each plant. They also pump water from the lake on their farm to irrigate if necessary. Everyone is hoping for rain. The Clayborn’s stalls are located at the NE side of the market in stalls 99 & 100 on Saturday and Sunday.

The drive to Westphalia, Kansas was quite beautiful, wheat seemed to be getting harvested everywhere I looked and the sun made it look like gold in the fields. Duane Heck was also cutting wheat when I arrived; he told me that this is the earliest anyone can remember where wheat was harvested this early. Once the wheat is harvested they will be able to plant a double crop of soy beans. Duane also plants all of his 45 acres of corn in succession and anticipates bringing corn to the Market through the first week of October. Heck Farms came back to the Market last week for the first time this season with three trailer loads of sweet corn, and trust me when I say it was very good. The corn Duane brought was early corn which was started in the green house and then transplanted in the fields. Early corn always has small ears and short plants; the later corn is much taller. Duane gave me a tour of the farm in his truck, which is much nicer than mine and had air-conditioning. In addition to growing wonderful sweet corn they also had watermelons and cantaloupes planted and two green houses filled with tomato plants. Like everyone Duane has had to water his crops but because of the size of his farm he has irrigation which is pumped from his pond. This week they will only be bringing greenhouse tomatoes to the market because there is a one week lull in harvesting the corn. But next week they will be back in all three sheds in stalls A, 52 and 143.

I got a late start this morning so will only be able to visit one more vendor since I will have to drive an hour and a half to get home in rush hour traffic. Mary Bauman operates her bakery in Garnett, Kansas and has been a vendor at the Market for many years. I was not able to get a hold of Mary before I arrived because I was having trouble getting a signal. I assumed she would be home getting ready for Saturday’s market. But she had just finished up for the day and had left for the Garnett Thursday afternoon market. Luckily her daughter showed me around. The Bauman’s have a licensed kitchen in an out building separate from their home. The walk-ins were filled to the brim with freshly made pies and cookies which will be baked off tomorrow and brought to the market. Mary is one of the few vendors that has a machine which rolls out the pie crust, another that portions out the cookie dough and yet another that measures out the bread batter. I will have to come back another time when Mary is baking, I am sure I will be back in the area again this summer. Bauman Farm is at the market every Saturday March through Thanksgiving in stalls 3 & 4.

I had planned to go to Bonner Springs on my way back but will have to save that trip for another day. Next week I will be checking vendors in Richmond and Lawson, Missouri.