Friday, January 27, 2017

It seems much longer than three months since I have hit the road to visit farmers and crafters, maybe it’s because winter seems like it will never end. I am getting an early start this year since we have had so much interest in how to become a vendor at the City Market. We have received numerous new applications for the Sunday and Wednesday afternoon market and many of these vendors have products that are ready now.

I have people ask me all the time if I work during the winter months. My job never slows down no matter the time of year. The winter months are spent on getting everything lined up for a new year.  Which means sending out contracts, attending conferences, promoting the City Market and lots and lots of meetings. I am always glad when I can get back to being out of the office, visiting vendors and enjoying the bustle of the farmers market.

Last weekend I attended the Missouri Farmers Market Associations annual conference which was held in Saint Louis, Missouri. I figured I might as well visit a few farms and an artist/crafter vendor on the way there and back. We have received two new applications from farmers who live in or near Columbia, Missouri. The Grow Bros. Natural Farm is located in Sturgeon, MO which is about 20 miles north of Columbia. Hubert and Nathan Shaw along with their business partner Christopher Edwards grow oyster mushrooms. They currently sell at the Columbia Farmers Market but are looking to expand their operation so have searched out an additional market. I met with Hubert who showed me the mushrooms they have growing in their basement. All of their mushrooms are grown in straw bales which have had spores implanted, trust me Hubert did a much better job of explaining the process. They hope to add a new barn very soon to increase the amount of mushrooms they can grow to better keep up with the demand. I think their product will be a great addition to the farmers market.

I miscalculated a little so had to backtrack to get to Tutt’s Farm Fresh in Columbia. I met Kevin and his wife at a conference I attended a couple weeks ago in St. Joe, Missouri. During the summer months they operate a roadside stand located next to their farm fields and greenhouse. I was amazed when I walked into their green house and saw 2,600 pepper plants which were covered in beautiful red, green, yellow and orange bell peppers. What a difference a greenhouse makes. They also had a few radishes ready to harvest and sweet potatoes stored over from the fall. The trick with holding sweet potatoes is to not wash them until you are ready to eat them. In this case a little dirt is a good thing. I will be stopping by the Tutt’s farm again in the spring once they have their other crops in but for now they will be bringing peppers, sweet potatoes and radishes to the Market.

 After a wonderful three days in St. Louis, great information to get me excited about the upcoming season and a chance to visit with other market managers and vendors from the state I headed home but had some time to visit with two other new vendors on the way.I had to take a slight detour to get to Sedalia but it was worth the time. I found a great place to have lunch and got a chance to meet Carol Jasper. Carol has been soaping for the last twenty years but has started making soap full time the last three years. Her soap operation has taken up the majority of her kitchen and the back room of her home. I was so impressed with the list of soaps she makes and how organized she was. When visiting a craft vendor I am always looking at their supplies and work area, Carol did not disappoint. Carol has her soaps in local shops, does a nice mail order business and sells at the Missouri State Fair. Since her schedule is a little busy she will be selling at the Sunday Market off and on through 2017. Carol said this shouldn’t be a problem since her soaps lasts a long time.

I am so glad I saved Hemme Brothers Creamery for the end of my trip, you will find out why a little later. The Hemme family has been farming in Saline County since 1848. The farm is still a family operation with David’s four sons splitting up the responsibilities; crops, heifers, cows and cheese making. David gave me a tour of the creamery; they will not be making cheese until Tuesday so it was pretty quiet. What a beautiful spotless operation. I was really impressed with their product and facility. I was able to try “Quark’ for the first time, I had no idea what it was. It is a spreadable cheese which is very popular in Europe and is pretty much a staple on every table. I am now a fan, I tried it on an English muffin, so good. The creamery also makes various flavors of cheese curds and apple wood smoked cheddar, their cheese has a very distinct taste.  I left the creamery and was just in time to see the cows being milked. David had me follow him into the milking area which is below the cows so the milking machines can be attached to each cow. It was amazing to watch the cows walk in, on their own, in a row, angle themselves and back up into position. You might be guessing where this story is going, one of the cows let loose and I got a little splattered, thank goodness there was a shield or I would have had a cow pie on my head. I must admit this city girl had to swallow hard. If David is able to get all of his Kansas City permits lined up by Saturday he plans to be at the Market on the 28th.

This winter has been much colder than last year so we have all of the farmer market vendors in the third pavilion located on the north side of the market on Saturday and Sundays, they will spread back into two pavilions in a couple more weeks. The vintage sale is taking place in the first heated pavilion on Sundays during the winter. The Farmer Market hours November through March are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. The Wednesday market will kick of on June 7th from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. In a couple weeks you will start to see the farmers market vendors start trickling back in, I can’t wait.