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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Drought not stopping farmer's market...yet

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Barbara McCoy and Calvin Minchew attract customers with a wide variety of vegetables, while neighboring vendor Jennifer Newman takes care of a customer at her booth, on July 28, at the Salem Farmer's Market. Over the past 12 weeks, the new market has become a Saturday morning tradition, that continues to grow in popularity. Photo by Richard Irby [Order this photo]
On Saturday morning, July 28, Rachel and Teddy Jeter were happily going from vendor to vendor buying produce at the Salem Farmer's Market.

"I think it's great," Rachel said. "We just live down the street, and it's so convenient to come down and stock up on veggies for the week."

For the Jeter's and many others, Saturdays in Salem now begin with a visit to the new farmer's market on Pickren Street, at the rear of the square.

The market began with a March 5 meeting called by the Fulton County Extension Service to see if people were interested in starting a farmer's market. There was a good turnout for the first meeting and subsequent meetings, and on Saturday, May 12, sellers and customers showed up, and a new tradition was begun.

"We actually sold here a couple of times," Rachel Jeter said. "Our garden produced really well this spring, and we make and sell jams, Jeter's Jams."

Like a number of gardeners who helped organize the farmer's market, the Jeter's planned to sell their surplus vegetables and jams all summer. Then came the heat and the drought and pretty gardens burnt up.

"I cried when my corn died," Rachel laughed. "It just turned out bad this year."

12 weeks into its season, the question is, how much longer will produce be available to keep the farmer's market in operation?

"It's coming to an end. Everything started earlier this year, and is ending earlier," Donnie Headings told The News on Friday, July 27, explaining he would miss his first Saturday as a vendor at the market.

Headings, an Amish Mennonite farmer from Elizabeth, has a green house for decorative plants, and expanded more into vegetables this year.

After a great spring and early summer with lots to sell, Headings continued to pick crops despite the drought, thanks to being able to pump water from a nearby creek.

"We used drip lines to water, but the corn needed more water, overhead sprinklers, and I just didn't take good enough care of it," Headings said.

While he blames himself, and said he will better know next year what to do, Headings is just one of a long list of gardeners who had little luck with sweet corn, and fought losing battles with deer and grasshoppers who gobbled up other produce.

"What the deer didn't get, the grasshoppers did," is how Ralph Moore describes his disappointing gardening results.

Moore is a Fulton County Master Gardener, who served as the Farmer's Market Manager on July 28. Master Gardeners helped organize the market and, while it appears to just magically happen each Saturday, they take turns setting up the market and make sure it runs smoothly each week.

"We get here about 6:30 on Saturday morning to set up the cones (orange cones to block both ends of Pickren Street) and put signs up," Master Gardener Suzanne Hartrick said. "We agreed to facilitate this year to get it going, and I have been surprisd it has gone so well."

While Moore was on duty as the market manager, he had a booth set up to sell fruit trees, a project of the Master Gardeners.

"We wanted a relaxed environment here," Moore said, adding there had been few disputes between vendors or problems with customers. "I've heard nothing negative. I'm really tickled how it's going. I see new faces every week, as more people learn about it."

"We'll keep coming, as long as we can get good produce," Barbara McCoy, a Thayer resident, said, sitting behind a table filled with produce. McCoy and her friend, Calvin Minchew, had to give up on produce from their gardens, but travel to Seymour, Mo., a town near Springfield, each week to buy fresh picked vegetables.

"The Amish who live around Seymour pick on Mondays and Thursdays, and have a produce market on Tuesdays and Fridays. Their draft horses pull their wagons up, and they sell out of their wagons."

McCoy said being a farmer's market vendor is expensive -- there is gas to buy as well as produce -- and it has been a real learning experience knowing how much to buy.

"Some weeks, we have bought too much, and, some weeks, not enough, McCoy said. "If I have a lot left over, Barbara (speaking of herself) is stuck in the kitchen canning it," she added laughing.

For years, McCoy made and sold items at crafts markets. "I like selling. The best part is dealing with all the people you meet. It's a lot of fun."

McCoy and Minchew are good it at. Minchew was busy cutting samples from a Canary melon, an oblong bright yellow melon, and offering them to people passing by.

Next to the McCoys, Jennifer Newman was busy selling watermelons from the back of her pickup truck, along with okra, tomatoes and other produce from a table in front of the truck. Newman's father, Warren, owns Greasy Creek Farms. It is known for its sweet corn, but the family planted 10 acres of all kinds of produce this year. With a creek to draw water from, they still have plenty to sell.

"I soaked them good, and then we got that good rain," Vernon Borntrager said, explaining why he had green beans to sell. Borntrager, a member of the Amish community, also has access to river water, and still has a good variety of produce to sell, from onions, squash, cabbage, green peppers, those surprise green beans and delicious peaches he gets from Missouri.

The Salem Farmers Market has also attracted a number of vendors selling baked goods, from fried pies and cookies to breads, jellies and jams, honey and homemade soap. There have occasionally been craftsmen, as well.

One crew that sets up every farmers market actually gives its product away.

"It's hot out here, but it's worth it. People love our water," Kayla Barker said.

After hearing that the farmer's market was beginning, Immanual Baptist Church on Highway 9 decided to show up with a cooler full of free, ice cold water, to hand out.

"Different members volunteer to do this," Pam Blair said. "We see it as a service to the community."

Talk to customers and vendors, and it's unanimous that the Salem Farmers Market was needed, and is off to a good start this first year.

If the season ends early because of the drought, the market may make a short come back this fall.

"The Master Gardeners have been talking about having a market one Saturday this fall. Nothing has been decided. It's just an idea," Suzanne Hartrick said.

Sounds like a good idea to Jennifer Newman.

"We've got four acres of pumpkins, and are getting read to put in a fall garden," Newman said, mentioning spinach, carrots, beets, turnips and black eyed peas.

Hope for one last fresh produce feast before winter, possibly brought to you by the Salem Farmer's Market.

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