4-H Extension Corner
By Suzy Lowry Geno
||A variety of produce can be found at Blount County Farmer’s Market
"I shop here all through the summer because chances are I either know the farmer who grew what I’m buying or I know somebody who does."
That’s the way one shopper described why she regularly visits the Blount County Farmer’s Market located at the Blount-Oneonta Agri-Business Center in Oneonta.
With fuel prices almost continually rising and food safety concerns mounting with nationwide reports of e-coli and other produce problems, more and more Alabamians are joining a national trend of shopping at their local farmer’s market or directly from on-premise farm stands.
Straight Mountain’s E.E. Snow has been selling quality vegetables at the Blount Farmer’s Market since it opened about 26 years ago, under the wide canopy on the east side of the Agri-Business building.
Snow has seen a trend from those shopping "just because there were some too lazy to grow a garden of their own," he joked, to more and more folks realizing the best way to find quality products is to go directly to the source.
In addition to having about 1,200 giant cabbages this year, Snow also has peaches, squash, tomatoes, corn, green beans, cantaloupes and more.
|Martha Putman helped her brother, E.E. Snow, with his stand of produce grown on his Straight Mountain farm.
Haskel Adamson now owns Palisades Farm atop Palisades Mountain just north of Oneonta but grew up in the fertile farming areas of Straight Mountain when Straight Mountain and Chandler Mountain were considered the prime tomato-growing areas of the state.
"I can remember planting tomatoes by hand and we had to wait until it rained," Adamson remembered. But that changed in the late 1940’s when they still had to plant by hand but bought a hand-plant-setter from the Blount County Exchange (now the Co-op!) in Oneonta.
"It had a reservoir for holding the water. I still have that planter and I think I’ll bring it and have it on display for folks to look at while they shop!"
Adamson now brings a wide variety of vegetables and fruits to the Farmer’s Market and noted an increase in shoppers.
"Even with the high cost of fuel, the increased cost of plastic and everything else that’s more expensive, folks can still usually beat grocery-store prices by buying direct from the farmer and they wind-up paying less with a better product that hasn’t been shipped across the country."
Adamson said he "specializes" in "quality and flavor," growing his tomatoes and other vegetables "on dirt," to increase the flavor and only growing cantaloupes and pole beans on plastic.
Henry Ferrell, from the Holly Pond area, has been selling at the Blount Market for two years and said a return to "Buying Fresh, Buying Local" is a trend he’s seeing increase almost continually.
||Matthew Francis, Susan Moore Elementary School, enjoyed a peach at the Blount County Farmer’s Market.
He’s retired from Vulcan Materials but has always "farmed on the side."
"With prices the way they are now, folks are doubly productive when they buy from local farmers. They’re getting quality food they know is safe AND they’re helping the farming because there’s no middle man," he said.
Ferrell, who shops at the Cullman Farmers Co-op, recently bought a sprayer to use on his 15 acres, where he grows cabbage and the famous Cullman County potatoes.
George Trummell, from the Odenville area of St. Clair County, recently displayed a wide variety of plants for sale he’d grown from seed purchased at the St. Clair Farmers Co-op in Pell City and from other vendors. One of his most popular crops this year is the unusual Little Lucy Burgundy King Okra.
Straight Mountain’s Gail Harvey has been selling perennial plants, like butterfly bushes and others, at the market.
Remlap’s Brian Elkins just sells his excess produce, "because I always grow too much for us to eat." His yellow crooked-neck squash had an especially sweet taste thanks to his farm’s unique soil.
Royal’s Troy Halbrooks had an unusual combination on a recent morning, selling "home grown ‘taters" and emu oil!
Many customers simply walk up, point and say "I want that," and only ask the price as an afterthought!
|Palisades Farm owner Haskel Adamson believes higher fuel costs will mean more folks will see the value in shopping for local produce.
Oneonta’s Ann Langner said the Farmer’s Market is her "shop of choice" during the summer, "I just like knowing the produce is nice and fresh, often picked this very morning."
Sawyer Mountain’s Vanessa Hollis decided not to have a garden of her own this year and the Farmer’s Market is the "next best thing," allowing her to buy a wide variety of produce and vegetables for her family.
Around 18 vendors sell on most Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, staying from around 7 a.m. until about 1 p.m.
Several families with young children were recently shopping using their WIC vouchers and several senior citizens were using vouchers they’d obtained at the Oneonta or Snead Senior Citizens Center.
Agri-Business Secretary Joan Epps explained farmers and growers need to check with their local office of the Auburn Extension Service to register for a free "grower’s permit" which enables them to legally sell their produce at any farmer’s market in the state. That grower’s permit should be kept with the grower at all times when selling, in case of inspection by the state.
Epps explained farmers can decide if they want to honor the Aging Program certificates and WIC certificates; and several on a recent morning displayed small, hand-lettered signs letting shoppers know if they did or what fruits and vegetables were covered.
Michelle Lee is now the Agri-Business Center’s director.
The Blount Agri-Business Center is located on New Street, just off U.S. 231 South in Oneonta. Call 205-274-8839 for more information there.
July 12th will be the big Farmer’s Market Day with all sorts of special activities, special food sales, entertainment and the Extension Service providing information AND checking pressure canner gauges.
The town of Blountsville opened their own Farmer’s Market last year through a special program with the state and is open Mondays through Saturdays beginning at 8 a.m.
It is located on Park Drive, across U.S. 231 from J.B. Pennington High School. More information on the market can be obtained by phoning the Blountsville Town Hall at 205-429-2406.
Similar markets are located in counties throughout the state.
With an unsure economy and many folks cutting down on spending, Snow said he feels sure farmer’s markets will continue to thrive.
"There’s just one thing for certain," he explained. "Folks HAVE to eat!"
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County.