I would like to talk about community health, but I am not a health professional. Let me make that clear up front. Luckily, one of the beautiful things about this community is that nothing is black and white. All you have to do is read the opinion pieces in the newspaper in February to know that.
I wish I had a tape measure at last Saturday’s Homer Farmers Market. That broccoli and cauliflower must have been at least 10 inches across. Here we haven’t even reached July yet and we are already getting produce that big.
Whether it is the huge broccoli from the Chmielowiecs or Lori Jenkin’s farm or the stunning calla lillies from Beth VanSant’s farm, the Market producers certainly do know how to make things grow.
But all the responsibility for a local food system can’t land on one food outlet.
Here is another reason for me to heap praise on the Homer Farmers Market. The community-building atmosphere there does not end with the locally grown food and the ability to run into everyone you know in town there on a given Saturday. It also integrates kids as part of that community.
Last Saturday I wandered over to the Kids’ Zone on the west side of the Market. It is a subtle space tucked on the edge of all the bustle of the Market, surrounded by alders and a fishnet fence to keep out moose.
People come to Homer every year to have some kind of vacation adventure. There is always something for the adventurous down at the Homer Farmers Market.
If you are an adventurous grower, go ahead and try some okra, pepper or tomatillo, even watermelon or cantaloupe starts for your greenhouse. Or maybe you should try groundcherries. Over at the Music Garden booth, Lindianne will set you up with these relatives of the tomato that are sweet to eat and grow like crazy here in our greenhouses.
I have to apologize. It seems I have boasted about our local farmers so much that I may have aided in the creation of a false impression — an impression that we have plenty of local food if we just get down to the Homer Farmers Market and buy it.
I hate to say it, but there are probably only a couple of dozen farms in our area that sell produce. Most of them only have a few acres that they are farming. There is no way they could ever feed the 12,000 people around here.
But it doesn’t keep them from trying.
There are two main ways that veggies show up at the Market this early in the season. Remember, most of the veggies we like to eat were not designed to grow in our climate.
So that means a farmer has to baby them. The first way to get early veggies is with cover. High tunnels have been a windfall in this area, but you can only adjust the climate so much. The earlier you plant, the more you will have to heat, or cover with plastic or glass or floating row cover. Or all of the above.
How can it be that even though it is the earliest date the Homer Farmers Market has ever opened, it feels so late? Yes, it’s finally Memorial Day weekend and time to jump into our favorite local food access point.
It’s like the season is just opening for hunting.
Even though the Homer Farmers Market had its last official market last weekend, you will most definitely be seeing crisp fresh veggies offered by dedicated vendors down at the Market this Saturday as well. This has been a productive year and vegetables don’t follow the calendar.
But that summertime buzz will be gone.
Marking the last official Market of the season, this weekend is the traditional Harvest Meal down at the Homer Farmers Market.
At noon you will find huge pots of veggie soup created from local produce and potluck dishes from community members.
It amazes many visitors to Alaska that our Market can thrive through September and beyond. They obviously don’t know the homesteader strength of our vendors. If they just hung out with Marsha Rouggly of Sweet Berries Jams and Jellies for a day they would understand.
Each booth down at the Homer Farmers Market is only 10-by-10 feet. Pouring out of the booth are incredible amounts of produce and crafts, food and flowers.
But even all that doesn’t show the different things that go on the rest of the week in the lives of our Market vendors. The contribution to our community continues all the other days of the week and months of the year.
Signs of fall are in the air. This is the time of the year when I start getting questions about how much longer the Homer Farmers Market will be going. I always love to point out that it will go through the month of September and then continue as long as our dedicated farmers are willing to keep coming.
September is where all the work of the summer is culminating in the fattest, ripest, sweetest veggies the summer has to offer. It’s the result of planning and staggering crops for those vendors who have been with us since May.
All summer I have been highlighting different producers from the Homer Farmers Market. I have talked about acres under production, techniques and infrastructure.
But occasionally the Market sees a booth stocked with produce that wasn’t produced by the farmer at all. Mike “Spoonman” Glasgow didn’t plant or fertilize, water or weed any of the produce in his booth this last weekend. He harvested it from the biggest farm of all.
This Saturday down at the Homer Farmers Market folks are celebrating prolific vegetables. Yes, indeed, it is time for the Fourth Annual Zucchini Festival. There will be a Zucchini Recipe Swap at the Info Booth, Zucchini Car Construction at the Kids Activity Zone with Zandra, Zucchini Car Races at 1 p.m. and the Largest Vegetable Contest at 2 p.m.
There is always a sense of community down at the Homer Farmers Market. You can’t go down there without running into someone you know, chatting with a vendor or watching as the kids play together and folks sit soaking up the atmosphere. Constant sharing has always been a mark of the Market.
Flowers bring even more to the Homer Farmers Market than all those flower baskets and beautiful bouquets. At this time of year we also start to see evidence of their bountiful nectar as bottles of honey start popping up at different booths.
Honey is like gold and goes quick. There is no one producer right now who only sells honey, so you will have to search for it throughout the Market. Usually beekeepers will partner up with other vendors to use booth space since the honey season goes so quickly.
I have had so much fun this summer writing about the different farmers at the Homer Farmers Market. Some are easy to write about because they are eager to share stories, others not so much.
Paul and Jen Castellani of Will Grow Farm are not the sort to talk much about themselves. Mostly they just told me to thank everyone who supports the Market. They don’t have to brag, you see their story each week in their stand full of fresh, organically grown veggies.
This has been a super year of weather for veggies and everyone is benefitting down at the Homer Farmers Market. With the quantity and variety available, it’s hard to believe that so few people are providing it.
There is no better example of farmers manically planting massive quantities of veggies than Bob Durr. He used to work 12-14 hour days in the housing projects of New Jersey and then unwind at the end of the day by doing chores for his 50-plus head of livestock.
This time of the year is full of color with flowers in blossom everywhere. When cutting flowers from outside, or better yet the ones you get from the Homer Farmers Market, let me tell you how to make flowers last better in a vase.
First, recut the stems, making sure to cut them at an angle so there is more surface area to soak up the water. Change the water to keep it clean, cool and fresh and place the flowers out of the sun.
The summer is moving along at an incredible pace. The fireweed is already blooming, rather than waiting for August. The snow across Kachemak Bay is more sparse than ever.
And production down at the Homer Farmers Market continues to ramp up.
Are you manic yet?
It’s summer in Alaska. Lots of light, things growing fast, always getting ready for the next thing. You can see the signs of manic farmers down at the Homer Farmers Market in the huge savoy cabbage and kohlrabi, the delicately arranged flowers and herbs, the carefully bagged mixes of lettuces, and the multitude of other manic veggies.
Who does all that work? Let me tell you, farming is not a solitary occupation. A perfect example is Homer Gardens, owned by Ken Hahn.