Farmers look forward and prepare for summer markets

I’ve always been interested in sourcing the best vegetables straight from the garden. That interest took on new meaning when I read Joan Dye Gussow’s This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader in 2003. Before farm-to-table had overtaken the American conscience, this nutritionist and educator wrote about growing or sourcing her own food locally. For a year she ate only local foods and reflected on how locally grown food eaten in season makes sense economically, ecologically, and gastronomically.

At that point, I committed to buying from farmers’ markets as much as possible.

A short time after that the founders of The North Union Farmers Market introduced me to research journalist Jo Robinson’s Pasture Perfect and I became obsessed with sourcing local, grassfed meats. By then I was the mother of two young sons, and I wanted to give them every advantage. That included feeding them the most healthful foods I could source. My sons are men now and, like me, appreciate the farm-to-table movement.

One of my biggest concerns with COVID-19 crisis is how it might affect farmers and their weekly markets. While market managers are working to adapt their model during uncertain times, local farmers are still growing this summer’s market supply.

I know because I called several of them to ask. “Farmers are eternal optimists,” says Tina Klco, co-owner of Rainbow Farms in Perry. Rainbow sets up tables at several markets around Northeast Ohio. Klco assured me that her family is seeding and nurturing the plants that will produce this summer’s tomatoes, corn, squash, beets, potatoes and so much more.

“We have to be ready with supply. If we don’t do our work now, we won’t have supply in summer,” she says. “We have to keep growing in hopes the situation will turn around.”

Sasha Miller at purplebrown farmstead in Hudson has her seeds ordered for the season. Miller sells produce and pork at Countryside Farmers Market in Peninsula.

“We are NOT curtailing operations,” she says. “In the past few weeks, we have received very positive support from the community and feel we are providing a vital service by connecting folks to good local food.  We have also made an effort to connect with friends/farmers that live further from market, and stock some of their items in our farm stand. We are working our darndest to grow as much food as we can, including veggies, mushrooms, eggs and pork.”

At Wood Road Salad Farm in Madison, Maggie Fusco is keeping her vegetable plans steady, but cutting back on succulents. She figures these are an impulsive treat for most consumers and something that will get less interest.

“I’m keeping the seeding schedule that I’ve done for years in the idea that I’m going to market,” she says. “Everything is timed so I have things ready for the first weekend in May.”

Maggie sells a variety of salad greens, sunflower and radish shoots, carrots, beans, onion and some unusual and heirloom vegetables at the Willoughby Outdoor Market every weekend.

For those who want to grow their own vegetables, Middle Ridge Gardens will have plants available at their nursery in Madison as well as the North Union Farmers Market at Shaker Square. “If I’d known COVID-19 would happen I could have cut back on annuals and beefed up my vegetables,” says owner Sue Woodworth. Given the self-reliance vibe in the culture, she suggests it’s a good year to grow a small plot of vegetables even it its just one plant each of tomatoes, peppers and squash. Middle Ridge sells 100 varieties of tomatoes, peppers and cabbage. Heirloom tomato plants include the trend “purple-shoulder” series such as midnight snacker and indigo cherry.

As for me, I can’t wait for the markets to grow to their summer productivity!

— Paris Wolfe