Posted by Sylvia Hacker, Dona Ana Co. New Mexico EMG
Posted by Sylvia Hacker, Dona Ana Co. New Mexico EMG
As an avid food gardener and Extension Master Gardener Volunteer, I love to visit and explore Farmer’s Markets. I always find something new there! I posted a Wordless Wednesday: The Bounty of Summer – Farmer’s Markets, and also About Master Gardener Programs and Farmer’s Markets – Do You Volunteer?
Then I discovered that August 5th to 11th was National Farmer’s Market Week as proclaimed by Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture. This was the thirteenth annual National Farmer’s Week and all across the country people celebrated fresh, local food and the farmer’s markets that make them available. Farmers’ markets have become an essential part of the local food system, increasing access to nutritious foods, educating consumers and bringing communities together through the many events held at local Farmer’s Markets.
I visited my first Farmer’s Market in the 1980s in Grass Valley, CA. Their Farmer’s Market was held in the Nevada County Fairground’s parking lot shaded by towering pines. The market was only two rows of pick-up trucks where farmers sold their fruits and vegetables out of the back of trucks but I remember the air of festivity and bustling purpose as people lined up in front of their favorite vendors or for a particular crop in season – like the long line in front of the tomato man. Although it was only a dirt parking lot, the space was filled with happy noisy people as we shopped for our families, visited with friends and neighbors and chatted with farmers. Since then, the popularity of farmers’ markets has grown steadily. In a report released this August, the Agriculture Deputy Secretary, Kathleen Merrigan, announced a 9.6% increase in Farmer’s Market Directory listings for 2012. Last year (2011) more than 1,000 new farmers’ markets were reported across the country – a whopping 17% growth. The Directory now lists over 7,800 farmers’ markets operating in the US.
The states that top the charts for the number of Farmer’s Markets listed in the USDA Directory were: California (827 markets), New York (647 markets), Massachusetts (313 markets), Michigan (311 markets), Wisconsin (298 markets), Illinois (292 markets), Ohio (264 markets), Pennsylvania (254 markets), Virginia and Iowa (tied with 227 markets) and North Carolina (202 markets). Together these states account for 49% of the farmers markets listed the directory.
With over 46 million people on food assistance, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program), has made farmers’ markets accessible to their recipients too. In 2011, more than $11.7 million in SNAP benefits were redeemed in one year, a 52% increase! This means more needy families have access to fresh, local produce than ever before.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition says the surge in consumer demand for organically-produced food and agricultural products from local and regional markets is an important incentive for the growth of farmer’s markets.
Bernadine Prince, President of the Farmers Market Coalition said, “Farmers markets are the ultimate green sector of the economy. They are stand-out successes in spurring sustainable economic development.” She also said that farmers’ markets act as small farm incubators, stimulate entrepreneurship and nourish both rural and urban economies.
So in addition to being purveyors of fresh cuisine, Farmer’s Markets are also a significant part of the local economy, bringing produce to residents and restaurants alike, offering specialty varieties that can’t be found in local grocery stores. Here in North Carolina we also have a 10% program which encourages people to spend 10 % of their food dollars locally – maybe at a farmer’s market or roadside vegetable stand.
As an Extension Master Gardener who likes to grow some of my own vegetables, I enjoy trying some of the new varieties found at the Farmer’s Market. Last year I discovered Cubanelle peppers (sweet peppers). They were outstanding – they took the heat and humidity, lack of water and insects and still produced so heavily that I had to prop the plants up – that’s my kind of vegetable! This year I discovered Armenian cucumbers. Last fall I learned from a grower how to use or cook giant sweet potatoes – the ones that had grown to 8 pounds or more. There’s always something new to learn or be discovered at the Farmer’s Market. That’s why Farmer’s Markets are not only places where Extension Master Gardener’s can help the public, but they can also be places for us to make new discoveries and new connections.
What are some of your favorite Farmer’s Market discoveries?
by Connie Schultz, Extension Master Gardener/Composter (Cornell ‘95) currently serving in Johnston County, NC
As I mentioned in my last blog on the history of the Giving Garden, many volunteers and partners work to plan, prepare, manage and sustain the Giving Garden of over 15 years.
Work begins each spring as early as weather allows and ends when harvest has been completed. The garden is prepared for winter, usually early November. Our committee of Master Gardener Coordinators meets three times during the winter to plan for the next season. Past season activities, planting and harvest are reviewed and adjustments are made where necessary.
One of the hardest things we have to do is to control our enthusiasm so we don’t plant more than we are able to manage! Here are the nuts and bolts of how we put together our planting plan:
Below is Figure 1, a picture of the computer generated planting plan. A larger version can be downloaded as a PDF here> 2011 Humphrey – Kendall Master Gardener_GivingGarden_Kalamazoo.
As soon as the ground can be worked, a local farmer plows and disks the garden for us and spreads the fertilizer. After work begins, we have five three-hour work sessions scheduled each week. We get an average of 10 volunteers per shift, some work as many as three shifts, others lesser amounts. Two coordinators are assigned to each shift to assign duties, instruct where necessary and oversee volunteer activities. All volunteers sign in so we can monitor the number of volunteers and how much time they give to the project. The work includes cultivating, planting, mulching, weeding, and harvesting vegetables, as well as maintaining the garden equipment and keeping the area mowed and well groomed.
Following each shift, one of the coordinators prepares a “Garden Log” that is emailed to all coordinators. The log documents the volunteers present at that shift, what was accomplished, and what needs to be done by the next shift. A notes section is used for general information. The log allows the coordinators for the following shift to prepare ahead of time for what needs to be done and servers as “diary” that documents activity for the year which helps us plan for the next season. The logs also serve as historical documentation for the project.
We mulch our entire garden to help control weeds. We have a win-win agreement with the city to provide our mulch. They deliver around 250 cubic yards of compressed leaves each fall. We get the leaves for mulch, and the city saves time and gasoline by not having to drive to their landfill which is much further away than our garden.
We have two sheds on site to store equipment. One shed belonged to Humphrey Products. In 2010 we constructed a 10’x16’ wood-framed shed for additional storage. Garden equipment includes a small 25-year-old tractor, walk-behind rototillers, and hand tools that have been donated over the years. This equipment has allowed us to enlarge the area cultivated, increase productivity, and improve the quality of the harvest. Mechanical equipment has contributed to increased output and decreased sweat equity, always welcome enhancements.
When harvest begins, vegetables are picked, washed and or wiped, placed in boxes and weighed. The Food Bank picks up the harvest in refrigerated trucks for delivery to their warehouse. The frequency of pickups is coordinated with the Food Bank based on the amount of vegetables ready for harvest.
On Saturday, the harvest (up to 100 lbs) is picked up by the Ministries for Community, for local use. Our harvest has ranged from 15 to over 22 thousand pounds since 2006. Variation is caused mostly by weather conditions and pests. 2010 was our best year, producing 22,502 lbs. That included 9,879 lbs of tomatoes, 2,500 lbs of cucumbers and 1,700 lbs of winter squash. This past year our total was 17,312.
Following is a list of the vegetables we grow at the Giving Garden:
-Blog post article submitted by JC Schneider
Kalamazoo Michigan Extension Master Gardener