By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman
Summertime to many people equates with thoughts of eating grilled corn on the cob and fresh rhubarb pie made from home-grown produce. The modern lifestyle, however, may mean fewer people actually pick the produce from their own gardens and are more often turning to farmers’ markets.
“I think they (farmers’ markets) are really taking off because people really do want fresh vegetables, and many people are working and don’t have time for gardening,” said Frieda Kahl, longtime Silver Creek Farmers’ Market participant. “The prices are reasonable, and people know the food is fresh.”
The Iowa Department of Agriculture conducted a study on Farmers’ Markets across the state in 2009. The study concluded that weekly attendance at farmers’ markets has increased by 44 percent since 2004.
Paul Ovrom, administrator of the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, said attendance has remained steady since then.
“There’s no decrease that we are seeing,” Ovrom said.
Kay Wing, a registered, licensed dietitian in Iowa and certified diabetic educator at Shenandoah Medical Center, said there are several advantages to shopping at a local market.
“It’s grown locally and it’s harvested at the peak of its ripeness and taste. Those are the basic things,” Wing said. “You know where your food came from. If you want to know what kind of fertilizer or things the farmer used, you can ask the farmers directly.”
Farmers’ markets often include items other than produce, and Wing stressed that before buying dairy or meat products, make sure they have been handled safely.
“If you buy things that need refrigeration, you will want to make sure you have a method of keeping it cold,” she said. “With those types of potentially hazardous foods, you need to make sure those have been refrigerated properly.”
For eggs and milk, that means a temperature in the low 40s. If a person plans to be at the farmers’ market on a very hot day and/or for an extended period of time, bringing along a cooler with ice is recommended.
“Ask the farmer what they do with the eggs,” Wing said. “Find out where they live and how they keep them cold in transportation to market.”
Mills County offers several farmers’ markets, including the Silver Creek Farmers’ Market, in Silver City.
Why the difference in names between the market and town?
“It was always known as Silver Creek,” Kahl said. “It goes back to when Dorothea Woods had her little restaurant there. She’s the one who came up with that name.”
Silver Creek Farmers’ Market offers a variety of vegetables, crafts, fruit spreads and eggs. One aspect that sets Silver Creek Farmers’ Market apart is the ability to get breakfast. Baked goods and coffee are available in the park’s gazebo for a free-will offering. In previous years, this booth was run by Friends of the Public Library; this year it will be run by the Methodist church.
“That started because the little restaurant had closed,” Kahl said. “Once the restaurant closed, we had to have something to get the guys there.”
Glenwood offers two farmers’ markets. The original Farmers’ Market at the Glenwood Lake Park offers very traditional items such as fruits, vegetables, baked goods, and fruit spreads.
“Our market is typical of what you find at many farmers’ markets in Iowa,” said park board director Lyle Mayberry. “We have a lot of sweet corn and tomatoes. We have one person who bakes homemade pizza crusts.”
People who use the WIC program will be able to use a new benefit at the Glenwood Lake Park Farmers’ Market. Special $3 farmers’ market vouchers are available this year for the first time statewide. Ovrom said this system was previously available in 68 counties in Iowa, but not Mills County.
Eligible persons must check with their local WIC clinic to obtain the vouchers, which are on a first-come first-serve basis.”
Right now, only two vendors in Mills County - Joe Cheyney, and Debra Swirmicky of Lone Star Meadow – can accept these vouchers. They are both certified to vend at the Glenwood Lake Park Farmers’ Market. Ovrom hopes more vendors will become certified next year.
The second farmers’ market in Glenwood, run by the Gathering Place, is new this year. This monthly farmers’ market started Saturday June 7.
Gathering Place owner Kay LeFever said the first session was successful. Six vendors participated, and as it is early in the growing season, the vendors brought baked goods and honey, as well as crafts.
LeFever thought Glenwood was in the right “market” for a second venue.
“We wanted to do this to offer the community another opportunity to get local products and crafts,” she said. “Not everyone can make it to the Wednesday evening one at the park. We also wanted to give vendors another opportunity to offer their produce and crafts.”
Travel to Malvern on Friday nights, and you will find the Malvern Market, run by resident Zack Jones.
“I’m a big fan of handcrafted items, art and live music; and I’m always trying to think of avenues to generate traffic to the area,” Jones said.
Jones hopes his ingenuity makes the Malvern Market a stopping point for those biking the Wabash Trace trail on Friday nights. The Malvern Market is trying non-traditional ideas to bring people together on Friday nights – starting with the timing.
“A lot of the farmers’ markets do this early in the day, but the cafes are open later in the day, so I thought ‘let’s try to capitalize on this,’” Jones said. “It’s later in the day, near dusk when it’s cooling off, so people will be more able to get out.”
While the official ending time is 8 p.m., Jones said it may be open later, as another less traditional aspect of the Malvern Market will be live music.
“It stirs up more curiosity, it creates atmosphere,” Jones said. “The park is downtown on Main Street, so the music carries, and it creates more life on Main Street. I tried a trial run a couple of weeks ago. My mom makes great pies, and it went over great. The people loved the music. Mom made eight pies, she sold them all. There were maybe eight to 10 vendors. It was really a positive environment.”
Whether a shopper’s interest is pies, jams or fresh produce, people are sure to run into friends old and new at farmers’ markets.
“It’s as much a social event as a shopping event,” Jones said.
Wing also likes the social aspect.
“You can talk to the people selling produce there about their products and you can find out new ways to prepare foods,” Wing said. “A lot of times if they are selling it, they like to eat it too, so they might have new recipes or at least some new preparation ideas.”
Wing said bringing children to the market and allowing them to help shop may help their eating habits.
“Often, everything is close to their (children’s) eye level,” Wing said. “Have them help pick out items, and they will be more likely to eat it.”
The Malvern Market is, at this time, free to vendors, but donations to the cause are accepted.
These growing grassroots efforts provide Mills County residents plenty of options for groceries, entertainment and socialization, and the organizers, along with the attendees, enjoy the emphasis on locally-grown, locally-bought items.
“The best promotion for this is just when people say ‘Oh, I got this at the Farmers’ Market.’”