September and October have always been interesting months for Midwestern farmers markets. As August wanes, the end of summer crops signals the coming of fall and the harvest of bountiful storage crops marks the impending end of the outdoor shopping season. The school year starts, people get busy, schedules change and little time is left for leisurely shopping in open air markets. During normal years, there is a drop in market attendance that typically coincides with an onslaught of local produce as cooler weather brings everything to fruition. This year, the drought and high heat has taken its toll on crops and many of the traditional end of summer staples are in short supply, while the fall crops and cool weather plantings are still a few weeks away from harvest. While most people are busy with fall activities, the oppressive heat of summer still weighs heavy on their minds, and they are making time to enjoy these last few months of outdoor activities, including local farmers markets.
As the growing season creeps to a close, vegetable growers are accepting the reality that it was a far from wonderful growing season. Although most were able to bring a fair amount of produce to market, the overall yield on most every crop was below normal expectations. By now, some farmers have thrown in the towel for the year and set their sights on next year, as the perpetually optimistic farmer is obligated to do. Other farmers have rushed to try their hand one more time at coaxing sustenance from the soils of the earth, sowing rows of cool weather greens and late season root vegetables. It has been a year of mixed blessings for many fruit growers. Peaches and pears have fruited with determination, lading branches with an acceptable and beneficial crop of sweetness. While the apple harvest is far from abundant, it is substantial and much appreciated by growers and eaters alike.
With ever changing weather patterns looming over their lands, some growers have chosen to remove themselves from the uncertainties of Mother Nature, while accepting the financial burden of increased infrastructure and other added expenses. Using temperature controlled green houses and alternative growing methods, farmers are able to grow year round, providing a continuous supply of certain crops regardless of seasonal changes and climate inconsistencies.
Backyard Produce has been growing micro greens indoors for many years. Micro greens are tiny, edible seedlings of various vegetables and herbs. Harvested when they are between one and two inches tall, micro greens a great source of Vitamins A and C, calcium, fiber and beta-carotene, among other things. These mini versions of grown up plants have uniquely intense flavors that work well in salads and smoothies or as a topping for soups, sandwiches, meats and almost any other dish. Micro greens became popular in the United States in the mid 1990’s and have grown in popularity as chefs and foodies alike have noted their versatility and unique flavors, coupled with their nutrient rich properties. Not to be confused with sprouts, micro greens are grown in soil or soil like mediums and require sunlight, space and good ventilation. Sprouts are germinated in an enclosed water system, typically a large canning jar or other air tight container. Micro greens are harvested by cutting the plant at the base of the stem, unlike sprouts, which are consumed in their entirety. Backyard Produce grows all of their micro greens without pesticides or chemicals to further enhance the health benefits and tastiness of their products. Servicing local restaurants and grocery stores year round from their home based green house, Backyard Produce is able to guarantee a continuous supply of fresh, nutrient rich produce for local consumers.
Two Sisters Farm, located minutes from Lawrence in Lecompton, Kansas recently turned to greenhouse hydroponics to provide the Lawrence area with a year round supply of fresh, locally grown greens and lettuces. Hydroponic systems have many environmental advantages over soil based or large-scale, industrialized agricultural methods. The Two Sisters Farm system uses up to 60 percent less water and the solution that nourishes their plants is recycled and reused. Hydroponic systems can grow four times as much as conventional soil systems and they typically do not deplete soil nutrients or contribute to soil erosion, as many industrial systems do. Two Sisters farm uses no chemical based pesticides on their products. Instead, like many sustainable farmers, they use pest management programs based on biological controls, exclusion, and prevention. For example, rather than spray a chemical to eliminate a “problem” insect, they would employ “good bugs” like ladybugs to manage the “bad bugs” naturally.
Two Sisters Farm, like most local producers, harvest produce within twenty four hours of sale. The difference is, with hydroponic lettuce, the roots are left intact, so if the roots are kept moist, consumers can store the produce in their refrigerator for several weeks and still enjoy the nutritional and culinary benefits of fresh, crisp greens.
This week at Cottin’s Hardware Farmers Market you will find the usual array of wonderful local farmers, including Backyard Produce and Two Sisters Farm. Fruit growers will be on hand with an ample supply of peaches, pears and apples, along with the season’s last harvest of watermelon and cantaloupe. Patrons will still find an ample supply of peppers, egg plant, winter squash, okra, garlic, and potatoes, with a good mix of greens, including chard, kale, mustard and collards. A few lone cucumbers, summer squash and tomatoes will likely be available for those looking to savor one last taste of summer deliciousness.
Mr. Bacon BBQ will fire up his smoker and deliver piping hot, fresh pull pork sandwiches, pig pie, chick pie and more. Grab a Free State beer, a bag full of produce and sit down and listen to the enjoyable strumming of roving troubadour LA Fahy at Cottin’s Hardware Farmers Market, this Thursday, August 30, 2012 from 4:00 pm – 6:30 pm.
Cottin’s Hardware Farmers Market is located in the back parking lot of Cottin’s Hardware & Rental, 183 Massachusetts Street, Lawrence, KS. Cottin’s Hardware Farmers Market accepts EBT payments from Vision card holders, using the wooden token system. Market tokens can be purchased inside Cottin’s Hardware & Rental during regular business hours. Qualified vendors also accept Senior Farmers Market Nutritional Program vouchers and WIC Fruit and Vegetable vouchers. The market will run through the end of October and then move inside Cottin’s Hardware & Rental for Cottin’s Hardware Farmers Market – Indoors!