If the weather this past week has felt like a taste of fall, it's not all in your imagination. If you look around, you'll see more signs of the change of seasons besides just the cooler temperatures.
Some of the earliest trees to change - the walnuts, poplars, and maples - are just beginning to show a hint of color if you look closely. Nuts and acorns are ripening in the trees. Warm season grasses and late wildflowers are about to bloom.
On the farm, although we're still harvesting summer crops, the fall storage crops are also beginning to ripen. Some of the earliest winter squash is already appearing at the market. Be prepared to see more and more winter squash, sweet potatoes, apples and pears as the season turns.
Each season holds its own pleasures and the change of seasons is full of excitement, anticipation, and fresh opportunities. It's one of the joys of sharing in the seasonal production of local farms at the SKY Farmers Market.
See you there!
The Why of SKY:
Developing the Producer-Only Model in South Central Kentucky
Nine years ago, in the summer of 2003, a group of farmers and others got together to organize a new farmers market in Bowling Green. Several of the farmers had been selling at other farmers markets, some had no market and all were ready for a different experience.
Saturday Morning at the SKY Farmers Market
The group had several objectives in mind:
One was to make the market open to any Kentucky farmer. Since Bowling Green was a hub for purchasing for the residents of surrounding counties, it seemed only “fair” for farmers in surrounding counties to be able to sell their product in the city.
The second was to make the market for producers only. Many existing markets allowed re-selling which meant the vendor didn’t necessarily need to be raising all their produce. Some undefinable percentage could be from any wholesaler and often was. This was a problem for both farmers and customers. It was and is difficult, at best, for a farmer to compete with the variety and quantity of produce that can be purchased from a wholesale outlet. More importantly, consumers had no way to know where or how any of the produce being sold was grown or when it was harvested.
The third was to open the market to more farm raised products than just vegetables and fruits. So, a farmer could sell whatever he was raising – beef, chicken, pork, milk, etc., as long as it was legally processed.
And, the group thought it would be nice to have some crafters as well to make a more balanced group of vendors and add interest to our market - something missing at the time from the markets we knew.
Finally, and of huge importance to everyone, was to make the market a community of farmers and customers. A place everyone felt good about. A place folks wanted to be on Market Day. The group recognized that “community” is lacking in so many lives today, and thought a new, friendly, more open Farmers Market could bring some of that to Bowling Green.
It was quite a laundry list! And, being a “new” idea in Kentucky, there wasn’t a lot of information available. So, we looked at models of markets that had similar goals, downloaded some representative paperwork and got started. With the help of several patient experts in law, finance and other disciplines, we spent the winter working on our vision. It was especially helpful to have folks other than just farmers on the steering committee. Often, the farmers were pretty sure they knew what THEY wanted in a market, but if it wasn’t good for consumers, it wouldn’t be successful and our non-farmer members gave us that viewpoint.
So, through the winter, we met, discussed, created, and modified our defining documents. To keep everyone “honest”, we decided to inspect the farms and businesses (and still do). The inspections give our market the assurance of calling ourselves “producer only” as rules without enforcement rarely work (how many drivers would obey posted speed limits if there were no cops?). But just as important, they give us as farmers the opportunity to see other operations, get to know the farmers better, and build friendships. Finally, in early 2004, we felt we were ready.
We set a date for opening, and started recruiting farmers and reaching customers. When we opened on a beautiful sunny April 17th, 2004, we had about 12 vendors in attendance! That year, our membership roster included 31 members. Some never attended (happens every year), some attended a few times and decided it just wasn’t for them, but a significant number came every week, rain or shine and the market prospered. We had live music, a variety of produce, baked goods, beautiful plants and some gorgeous crafts. What a difference! For the farmers and the customers, the producer only model was working.
Over the last 9 seasons, we have had trials and made changes. We have made some mistakes as all businesses do, have had some wonderful successes, and we continue to improve. In 2011, we had over 40 members with most of them active the entire season. We had 11 counties represented! We have given a stable, fair market to farmers and small business owners from the entire region.
And, we have built that “community.” Our customers and farmers come to market days to buy and sell product, of course. But, we also come to enjoy each other’s company. After the winter of solitude, it is very exciting to again visit with all our friends.
So, that’s the “Why of SKY”. Come and join us at the corner of Fifth and High, in the Medical Center parking lot, on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 7am. We’ll look forward to seeing you!
Keeping Produce Fresh
It's always a delight to hear appreciation from satisfied customers. One of the most frequently heard comments at SKY Farmers Market is how amazingly well the produce keeps once it's brought home. Apparently, conventional supermarket shopping has conditioned us to expect very little shelf life from "fresh" produce. Buying locally grown food directly from the farmer can be a real eye-opener, redefining what fresh really means.
Fresh produce is alive - breathing and transpiring. Its systems continue to function even after being detached from the plant. Enzymes and hormones are still on the job changing flavors, nutritional content and texture. Bacteria, molds and fungi can also move in quickly to speed up deterioration. How the newly harvested food is stored and handled makes a big difference in it's quality when it finally reaches the table.
As a general rule, treat produce gently to avoid bruising or marring and either consume it or store it properly. For many vegetables and fruits, cold storage is the best and easiest way to maintain quality for the short term. Refrigeration can slow down spoilage and ripening, as well as limit losses of vitamins, flavor, and texture. But there are some exceptions and special cases.
Basil and eggplant will suffer damage from chilling at temperatures below 45º. Keep them at a cool room temperature instead.
Tomatoes lose their flavor in the refrigerator. Spread tomatoes out in a single layer, bottoms up, rather than heaping them in a basket or bowl. They will continue to ripen gradually at room temperature.
Fresh leafy herbs like basil, parsley, and cilantro can be kept in a glass of water out of direct light in the kitchen.
Sweet corn loses its sugar content fairly rapidly after picking. Store it in the husk in the refrigerator and plan to use it within a few days for the best flavor.
Melons, peaches, pears, and some other fruits often need to ripen at room temperature for a few days for the best texture and flavor.
Don't wash berries until you're ready to use them. The excess moisture leads to more rapid spoilage.
Squash and sweet potatoes keep for months at temperatures around 55-60. They can be kept for the winter in a cool room, closet, or dry basement.
Potatoes, roots, and cabbage will keep for a long time in cold storage, but need plenty of humidity.
Carrots, beets, and other root crops should have their tops removed for best keeping. Loss of moisture through the leaves can cause roots to lose their crispness.
Onions and garlic should also be kept cold, but in a relatively dry location.