Monday, December 7, 2009

Farm Aid-Supportively Sustainable

There are many things in life that just don't measure up to our expectations.
The Farm Aid concert, press event and Homegrown Village are not some of those things.
After weeks of excited anticipation, many of the staff at Sappington Farmers Market, with family and friends, attended the all-day and on-into-the-night event and completely enjoyed every moment. Even my three-yr.-old granddaughter, seen in the picture, had a wonderful time for hours and hours.
Kickoff for the day was the press event with the four headliners, Willie
Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews.
They were joined by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, USDA's Kathleen Merrigan, Rural Crisis Center's Rhonda Perry, University of Missouri Extension's Mary Hendrickson, a young dairy farmer from Wisconsin-and me, (representing Sappington Farmers Market and Farm to Family Naturally). We were joined on stage by assorted Farm Aid staff and performers.
The rest of the day was spent very enjoyably, browsing the many interactive exhibits in the Homegrown Village. Randy and Russell Wood's Floating Farms exhibit was a big hit, as was the Missouri Beekeepers Association's observation hive. Adults and children alike enjoyed finding the queen in the hive. Worm races drew a big crowd, and in my seed-saving booth, we gave away thousands of packages of heirloom seeds from Baker Creek seeds.
The food was awesomely fresh, local and tasty. The offerings at the Sappington Farmers Market booth included local apples, caramel apples made with agave syrup, grilled corn (the line for that was seemingly endless), deviled eggs and delightful all-natural baked goods from the interns at St. Louis University's School of Dietitetics and Nutrition. Tom Strumolo from NY City made the trip just to be able to help us present all that good food. We are immensely grateful to him for sharing his experience and expertise with our novice team.
I finally managed to finish taking down the seed-saving booth well after dark, just in time to race to my seat next to my dear son who had made the trip from Memphis. Just as I sat down, John Mellencamp hit the stage and I was in music heaven for the next few hours. It was well past midnight when we made our tired way home. None of us will ever forget it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I'm so grateful.....

It's been such a long time since I blogged. I kept waiting to get some pictures of our wonderful experiences at Farm Aid, and so far, I still don't have the pix. I hope to get some from my daughter over Thanksgiving, but in the meantime, I'll just talk about something else.
Just look at this awesome heap of local potatoes taken at the end of the summer. Such bounty!

The second picture is a feast of local foods prepared for the St. Louis magazine Best Doctors Event and all the food came from our store! There was lots more, too. What a magnificent spread!

It's been well over a year now since we Farm-to-Family members purchased Sappington Farmers Market. And what a year it's been! Not only have we turned the store around, but we have become deeply involved in HELP (Healthy Eating with Local Produce) as the distributors of farm fresh food to Maplewood Richmond Heights school system. From the number of requests we've been getting from other school districts, we can see that's just the beginning.
Randy Wood and I have also been helping to write legislation for Missouri legislators to remove barriers that make it difficult for schools to source local products. That project is going really well, and we're pretty sure you'll be hearing about Farm to Cafeteria legislation in the next session. That's something for everyone to be grateful for.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving this year, we are very aware of all the things we have to be grateful for. So many wonderful things are happening that we get up each day and just wait to see where we are led today! It's hard to believe that many of the wonderful friends we now have are people we only admired from afar just a year or two ago. I'm especially grateful for my wonderful friends who work so hard to ensure a fresh, healthy food system for everyone and a decent living for farmers.

I hope you'll come visit the store in the coming week and see some of the awesome Thanksgiving bargains we have-cranberries for $1.00 a bag, mushrooms for $1.00 a package, organic celery (Did you know celery is one of the most-sprayed crops?) for $1.99, beautiful sweet potatoes from Arkansas for .39 a pound. I could go on and on.

Unfortunately, local turkeys are NOT one of the wonderful things we have to offer. We had a major communication breakdown with our turkey farmer and we ended up turkey-less. Local turkey-less, that is. We have a great buy on Honeysuckle White turkeys at .59 per pound with a $50.00 purchase. I apologize profusely to anyone who was hoping to get fresh, local turkeys from us. I promise we'll have them next year-and lots of them in all sizes!

Watch for changes around the store as our intern from SLU orders in more local and organic products and helps us display the new items. We're excited to have Justine to help us for her practicum. We only have her for five weeks, but I'll bet she'll work wonders in that time. I'm grateful for the wonderful young people we get to work with, too. One thing is for sure, the future of food is in good hands with all the caring and knowledgeable young folks who are coming along.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Farm Aid's Coming
It's almost here! The Farm Aid concert is in St. Louis this year and we can't wait. Gates open at 12:30 on Sunday, Oct. 4 at the Verizon Wireless Ampitheatre. Featured artists and spokespersons are Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews and Neil Young. Up-and-coming acts include Jason Mraz. If you haven't heard him, check him out on YouTube.
Watch for all of us Sappington Farmers Market people. We will be all over the place!
We provided the straw, mums, pumpkins, gourds and apples for the decorations.
We provided much of the food for backstage. And best of all, we will be there with our own Farmstand Booth selling delicious farm-raised food prepared by student interns from St. Louis University. There will be fresh local apples and caramel apples made with organic agave syrup and whole grain organic cookies and rice krispy bars. Try the deviled eggs from our egg supplier, Good Earth Eggs from Bonne Terre, MO. They are the only large-scale local producer left in the St. Louis area and they feed their hens a special blend of naturally-grown grains. For drinks, try the fresh local apple cider.
We'll also have a special interactive seed booth and Randy Wood and his brother Russ will have some fish for you to see in their aquaculture setup.
Look for me in the Press Event. I'm incredibly excited to be part of this awesome event!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wild Alaska Salmon

Is Wild Alaska Salmon really local? Well, the owners of the company are local and they go to Alaska and fish for several types of salmon in season. Our meat manager, Colleen Broyhill, calls them right on their boat and they have the order to her in 24 hours from the time it is caught! Check out their website wildalaskasalmonandseafoodcompany for wonderful pictures of the Alaskan wilderness and their delicious fish. I took home a portion of the Sockeye Salmon last time I was at the Market, and it is really awesome-worth the price.
Wild caught salmon has much more nutritional value than farmed salmon. Farmed salmon can be disastrously dirty. The gorgeous red color that the Wild Alaska Salmon shows is added to farmed salmon artificially. They're pretty pallid without it. So for a nutritionally dense, delicious taste of the wilderness, try our Wild Alaska Salmon in the meat department at Sappington Farmers Market.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In answer to your questions. . .

In answer to Kathleen's comment about our homegrown corn:
Most of the time, our homegrown corn (in shucks) is near the mushrooms, off to the side of the produce department. It can be hard to see, tucked away behind a high display. That part of the produce department is one of my favorites, no trayed produce, lots of local stuff, and many ethnic choices. If you haven't visited it before, you're in for a treat.
In answer to the question about why we use styrofoam trays:
We have been desperately trying for over a year to get compostable trays.
It looks like we have finally found a supplier who has some that are sturdy enough for our use. Even though they are much more expensive than the styrofoam, we will be changing over to compostable trays as soon as we can get a shipment. Believe me, this has not been for lack of trying. Apparently, the technology is new enough that most companies have not been able to meet our needs.
The vast majority of our customers want their corn in trays. Otherwise, we would just pile up the fresh ears as they were in the picture you mentioned. Some folks want to see the corn they're buying. Like you, I prefer my ears packaged in shucks.
It is a high-priority goal of ours to have all biodegradable and compostable packaging. We never dreamed it would be so hard to find.

Good Earth Eggs

Just look at these beautiful eggs! They are from John David Farms and we sell them under the Good Earth Eggs label.
They are the only local, all-natural egg production facility that serves the St. Louis area.
We sell white grade A large, brown and double-yolk eggs at Sappington Farmers Market. Most weeks, our prices are the lowest in town for any eggs-not to mention all-natural!

Susan and Johnny David are two of the hardest-working people I know.
Besides all the work of taking excellent care of 80,000 laying hens and the eggs they produce, Susan works off-farm to help make ends meet. They own the only local egg production operation serving the STL area.
Whenever we have a marketing opportunity for them-like a show-or a sampling at the store-Susan jumps right on it without complaint.

The above picture is not the loveliest age for a chick. They've lost the pudgy fluffiness that makes everyone fall in love with a chick, and their feathers are only partly grown in. It won't be long and they'll be full-fledged (that's where the word comes from!) chickens.
They're part of the 80,000-chicken "family" that Susan and Johnny raise.
They will get a diet of locally-raised grain and alfalfa and absolutely no growth-enhancing hormones or antibiotics. The price is lower than most conventionally-produced eggs.

Double-yolk eggs are really fun to serve kids (of all ages). Down through history, all sorts of mystical qualities have been attributed to them-good luck, fertility, etc. I just think they're a lot of fun. I like to watch the puzzled expressions turn to joy when I serve a double-yolk eggs.

Since I retired from farming and moved to my little cabin on Current River, the main thing about farming I miss is raising chickens. Chickens are awesome. They are a lot smarter than most people think. Many heritage breeds of hens make the most wonderful mothers! I don't think it's an accident that the Bible uses a mother hen as an analogy for God's love for his children. Those mothers will stand up to predators many times their size to protect their babies.
When they fluff out their wings and the babies run under them, it just does my heart good.
The sight of a baby chick peeking out from under it's mommy's wing is one of the cutest sights in nature.
Johnny and Susan David love chickens, but they knew they couldn't make a living raising a few chickens. So, after much study, they devised a way they could raise all-natural eggs in a large-scale setting. Their attention to detail ensures that these production eggs are the closest thing to free-range without letting 80,000 chickens run free. When they took over the 3rd-generation conventional egg farm, they began working to change it to an all-natural facility.
They have succeeded and they continue to grow in all the right ways.
Thanks, Johnny and Susan for all the work you do to ensure that St. Louis consumers can have fresh, local eggs.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Bountiful Harvest

This week, we at Sappington Farmers Market have been saying "This is what it's all about!"
We got homegrown, local FIGS this week and the very next day, Randy Wood picked up 1,000 pounds of organically grown local seedless table grapes. For the first time this summer, he actually had the reefer van full top to bottom and side to side with an assortment of local produce. I'm telling you, this is what Randy lives for. Because of the volume of our purchase, the grapes will only cost $1.50 per pound!! That's for local, uncertified organic grapes. Chuck isn't certified, but I know him, and I know he uses excellent organic growing methods.

So now we have lots and lots of tasty, just-picked yummy table grapes for sale. Chuck Hart, the farmer who grows these grapes, uses all organic methods, and you can see from the picture that his grapes really show their origins. It's hard to get grapes like that using conventional growing methods. The taste of the grapes is outstanding, and it's so reassuring to know that there are absolutely no pesticides on these grapes.

With school starting, the orders for fresh, safe, tasty local food have been pouring in from HELP (Healthy Eating with Local Produce) who serve Maplewood/Richmond Heights and Bistro Kids who serve several private schools in the STL area.
We are doing everything we can to link farmers with these great providers. That association makes the hard work worthwhile.

Hard to believe that summer's drawing to a close, but the supply of produce is nowhere near over. We have lots of delicious local food in store for us as the days shorten and cool. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fresh, Local and Beautiful

This growing season has been a mite slow getting started. First we had too much rain for farmers to get out in their fields. Then we had excruciatingly hot weather. Then we had more rain. . . . . .well, you get the idea.
But, finally, the local produce is pouring in. And it is beautiful. . . . .and tasty. . . .and the prices are cheap, cheap, cheap.
Just in case you're wondering which produce is local, there's a great blackboard at the east entrance to the store-Sappington Farmers Market-8400 Watson Road St. Louis- which tells all the local produce of the day-and usually tells the farm from where the produce came.
The local heirloom tomatoes are awesome, the corn is delicious, the green beans are outstanding. I could go on and on. Come in and see for yourself. Beautiful, juicy Brandywine tomatoes for $1.50 a pound-can't beat that.
And remember, on Thursdays, you get $10.00 off a $50.00 purchase. Download the coupon from our website.

Gardening and farming are two different things. As a retired farmer, I know how frustrating it can be to be unable to get equipment into the field. There's a panicky feeling as time marches on, and the ground is still lying fallow.
Now that I'm just a gardener, though, I found this year that I was able to turn the ground and plant everything by hand while the farmers waited for their fields to dry. The result is the prettiest garden I ever had. And I've had heirloom tomatoes to eat since mid-May. I was a little concerned that I wouldn't have enough food (I try to grow all my own veggies) this year because I didn't have hundreds of tomato plants and rows of cucumbers. I just arranged my fifteen tomato plants and my five cucumber towers and put my sweet potatoes in with some flowers and interspersed pole beans throughout the garden. Well, you just have to see for yourself.
Above are some pictures of my beautiful organic garden. And I worried for nothing. I have been putting up produce every day. It is stacked on counters, my table and anywhere I can find a spot.
I'm starting to like this kind of gardening. It's easier, prettier and just as productive. I hope you enjoy the pictures.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It's Not As Easy As You Think

Some days I feel like I'm on a seesaw. The mission of Sappington Farmers Market is to provide healthy local foods to the consumer while providing a fair profit to the farmer. Sounds great, doesn't it? Well, it is great. But that doesn't make it easy.

Some weeks we are loaded with fresh, local produce that nobody seems to want. Then the next week, we get lots of new shoppers looking for all the produce we just had to throw away because nobody bought it. We're still trying to figure out this balancing act.

One thing I do know. When we get a really superior product like our free-range heritage chickens from Cord Jenkins or our source-verified all-natural beef from MO Best Beef Cooperative, it's going to cost more. And that's where you come in. If you're reading this, I know you're a supporter of the independent farmers who provide the great, fresh food you want to eat. Well, those farmers have a lot more costs associated with producing that fresh food than the large corporations do. None of them ask for a high profit. And neither do we. But the prices you see on these items are higher than conventional foods-or even higher than some more corporate and non-local organic items. We think there's a tremendous quality difference and that there's also a moral and philosophical issue involved. We think you agree. There's only one way to make it work. If we all want fresh, local food, we're going to have to pay for it.

In these very trying financial times, the decision of what to pay for your food, and how to prioritize your purchases is a very serious one. Let us know where you draw the line. Post on this blog or put notes in our suggestion box. I really do think we're the only store that really listens. Because we're the farmer-owned grocery store--and because all of us farmers who own the store are also consumer advocates. You can't beat that. Our goal is to provide what you want to eat. Let us know.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Kiss A Cow

James, one Sappington's meat cutters, on a busy day.

Our meatcutters cut and grind meat from individual animals.

Some folks really love their animals. I think this picture proves it. Pictured is Ron McNear, one of the owners of Sappington Farmers Market and the president of MO Best Beef Cooperative.

Please note the eartag on the cow. This eartag is part of a voluntary animal id system used by Missouri's Best Beef Cooperative to protect you, the consumer.

The system works perfectly to identify every cut of meat from this coop which is sold at Sappington Farmers Market.

Although the typical pound of ground beef sold as part of the conventional meat production system in the US can contain DNA from as many as 1000 animals, a pound of ground beef bought at Sappington Farmers Market and labeled "Rancher's Best Beef" contains meat from only one animal. Our meat department receives a delivery direct from one of the MO Best farmers-in a refrigerated van. This is not boxed meat. This is a side of beef. The meat department cuts the beef into custom cuts, and grinds some of it. We know it's from one cow because that's all they've cut and ground. It is then labeled "Ranchers Best Beef" and sold from the meat case. Records are kept of the information on that animal's ear tag and that meat can be traced back to the exact animal. What are the chances that meat has e. coli contamination? Well, so far, every e. coli outbreak in the country has involved animals raised in large Confined Animal Feeding Operations and processed in one of the twelve (that's right-only twelve in the whole country) processing facilities in the USA. So, not only is Rancher's Best Beef source-identified, but the chances that a trace will ever be required are very minimal.

Recent news stories have alerted the public to the fact that almost 400,000 pounds of beef have been recalled because of e. coli contamination. To me, the really scary thing about these recalls is that you might not know where the meat you bought originated, and you might not even hear about the recall until your family has eaten the meat. Considering the very small premium on the price of "Rancher's Best", it seems hard to justify feeding your family the riskier meat.
That's not all, though. The taste of "Rancher's Best" is so much better than conventional ground beef that you won't believe your taste buds. It tastes like beef used to taste.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Local Feast

For the past year, I've been marketing director of Sappington Farmers Market in St. Louis, MO. I'm also one of the farmers (in my case, retired farmer and farmer/advocate) who purchased the market.
We are the only farmer-owned grocery store that I know of. I'd love to hear from you if you know of others.
Our store is a 23,500-foot neighborhood-style grocery store that specializes in produce and in local meats, cheese and dairy products as well as local produce. It's my job to let people know about that in as many creative ways as I can think of.
For the past week, I've been hosting my family reunion in my little cottage by Current River. I've had guests from St. Louis; Memphis; Oak Ridge, TN; Clinton, TN; San Antonio, TX; and upstate New York as well as Escondido, CA. My brother and his family who live near me were also with us.
I asked each of them to bring foods local to their area and I provided a plethora of our local goods, some I had grown and many of which I purchased at Sappington Farmers Market.
What a feast we all had. We started the reunion off last Wednesday night with a potato salad made with local eggs (purchased from Sappington), potatoes I grew mixed in with potatoes I purchased from Sappington, celery and onions from my garden and homemade pickle relish.
The centerpiece of that meal was smoked brisket smoked at Sappington Market. The brisket came from Missouri's Best Beef Cooperative and is sold under the label Ranchers' All-Natural Beef (one of our owners is a member of the cooperative.) We also cooked 27 ears of corn fresh from Prouhet Farms (purchased at Sappington) and had cukes from the garden and Arkansas tomatoes. (Missouri tomatoes are in at Sappington as of July 1). For dessert we had cupcakes made from zucchini and lots of chocolate.
Another night we had make-your-own pizzas, with dishes all over the table filled with organically-grown garden-fresh produce. Cheese was local to Missouri and to the states from which our guests had traveled. We had some excellent New York cheeses.
The most interactive and very local dish was a gumbo we all worked together on. My brother cooked about 15 pounds of the Missouri pond-raised shrimp we sell at Sappington and we all pitched in with shelling and deveining. In the meantime, he was busy making a roux and adding the other ingredients. I felt like I was in Louisiana. Another night we had farm-fresh lamb from Tennessee. One of our travelers brought artisan beer from Tennessee much like the artisan beer from Charleville vineyard that we sell at Sappington. Fitz's Root Beer from St. Louis was the most popular drink over-all.
Throughout the reunion, we kept the table and counters filled with bowls of fresh-cut veggies and fruits. It was a tasty feast filled with health-giving antioxidants.
With twenty-five people eating for six days, we made a big dent in the local produce of several states and enjoyed each other's company immensely. Between meals we frolicked in Current River. Everyone felt great even though the temperature was hovering around 100 degrees most of the time. That fresh food keeps people feeling young and active.
I'm already planning the food for our next reunion. I feel certain it will be as good as this year's-and that's saying a lot.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Food Inc. Movie

Click on the above and type Food Inc. Trailer in the search engine. You will have several choices
to watch.

There was a free showing of the new movie, Food Inc. which was attended by a number of the owners of Sappington Farmers Market. They give it a thumbs up and recommend that anyone who is interested in learning more about the food they eat be sure and see this movie.

Eric Schlosser, (one of the contributors) who wrote Fast Food Nation, certainly has had an effect on me. After reading his book, I have never again eaten industrially-produced beef from Confined Animal Feeding Operations and slaughtered at the 12 (That's right-only 12 in the whole nation) large slaughterhouses that slaughter the majority of the beef that Americans eat. Only locally produced, source-verified, naturally and humanely-raised beef for me, please.

Another contributor, Michael Pollan, is becoming world-renowned for his lyrical writing on food topics (The Botany of Desire, The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food). He really puts his money where his mouth is, too, having completely changed his eating habits in recent years.

This movie is well-produced, will hold your attention, and introduces the public to many "well-kept secrets" about the food industry. Let's face it. Food is pretty basic. If the food we eat is not good for us, we should at least know about it so we can make other choices.

At Sappington Market, we are committed to providing safe, local, healthy choices. We work hard to search out alternatives without high fructose corn syrup, provide organically-grown foods without the high cost, and work with many local farmers to bring you the freshest food the fastest. Our farmer-ownership gives us a depth of knowledge about the food industry that is unique. The meat from MO. Best Beef Cooperative comes in as sides and is custom-cut by our talented meat-cutters. We can trace every little speck of ground beef back to the animal it came from. (Not thousands of animals, but one animal for each batch of ground beef). Not only are our owners farmers, but we are also food activists and healthy food advocates. We spend many hours a week working to ensure a safe, fair and affordable food system-one that is not dominated by large corporations.

I really love my job. Working with dedicated people, seeing how food is produced, getting the word out to consumers-it's a great fit for me. Besides, there couldn't be a better time to be involved in these issues. Movies like Food, Inc. help us tell the story so people like you can have better choices and be safe and healthy.