It’s confession time: I’m not a gardener. Yes, I took some lovely flower photos last week, but I had to go to other people’s houses to do it. I’m not good at keeping things alive, unless they can open their mouths and say, “Feed me!” My kids like to start family conversations with, “Hey, remember when Mom killed all those goldfish?”
My black thumb extends to vegetable gardening, though heaven knows my dad has done his best to train me. I start out well enough in the spring, planting cold weather crops like lettuce and onions. The seeds are easy, but I tend to fall away when it comes to weeding and watering. When the really hot weather hits, I hide in the house and let my little patch of dirt grow another dandy crop of weeds.
And that’s why I love the farmer’s market so much.
In early spring, “fresh” and “local” become my watchwords in the kitchen. Nothing makes me happier than Kansas-grown produce. Since I can’t seem to grow these crops myself, I gravitate to my local farmer’s market.
In the Kansas City area, two open air markets tend to dominate the conversation. The City Market, in Kansas City’s River Market neighborhood, provides a large mix of produce, flowers and other artisan goods, including hard-to-find items, like live ducks. The Overland Park farmer’s market, in downtown Overland Park, attracts a top-notch variety of vendors. Both are worth a visit. Take a bottle of water and stay for lunch. But if you’re looking to do your weekly shopping, a smaller, closer farmer’s market will serve you better for two reasons:
- First, you’re more likely to use it if it’s nearby.
- Second, if you shop there regularly, you’ll get to know the vendors. You can learn all kinds of things from farmers, like when certain crops will be ready and how best to plant tomatoes.
I do my regular shopping at the Olathe Farmer’s Market. Last Saturday I visited the market at the Olathe Community Center. I counted eleven vendors selling all the usual cold weather crops (beets, onions, lettuce, radishes, and asparagus). One vendor displayed a lone pint of fragile-looking strawberries, a sign of things to come. (Incidentally, they’re allowed to sell non-local crops, like cantaloupe and peppers, until June 1. If in doubt, it’s okay to ask where the produce was grown.)
I stopped to talk with a mother and daughter who were selling herb and tomato plants for transplanting. They pointed proudly to their sign: “Home Grown in Olathe. No Pesticides or Artificial Fertilizer.” Down the line, I stopped at the Small Barn Farm booth, where Holly Menning and her little girl were selling honey and apple butter. “The apples came from our neighbor’s trees, just seven miles from here,” Holly told me. Local indeed!
Altogether I bought a basil plant, a bunch of beets and a jar of excellent apple butter.
As I walked back to my car, I noticed this:
You never know what you’ll find when you visit the farmer’s market.