Thursday, June 28, 2012

"I have an idea!"

K&V Farms, Cowgill, MO

Gena Vasbinder looked at her husband one evening in 2009 after reading several books by Eliott Coleman on organic gardening and said, "I have an idea!"  Her idea bloomed, and in 2010, farming became a full-time job for both of them.  Visiting Gena and her husband, Paxton at their farm in Cowgill, MO was a pleasure for me.  The backyard she spent hours playing in when she was a child is now where she spends hours plowing, planting and harvesting produce for her business, K&V Farms.  The farmhouse her family purchased in 1973 is Gena & Paxton's home part of the week.  I asked if she enjoyed gardening when she was growing up and she laughingly replied that her Dad would probably say he had to whip her to get her to pick green beans when she was little!

High Tunnel helps to keep veggies warm during early Spring
She began with tomatoes and cucumbers, but today, things have obviously changed.  As she gave me a tour of her gardens:  kale, eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers, chard, blueberries, turnips, rhubarb, potatoes, leeks, kohlrabi, beets, carrots, cantaloupe, peppers, squash, okra, green beans, spinach, radish and watermelon!  I could hardly write fast enough.  A high tunnel helps new plants start under cover until the weather breaks in the Spring.

Besides attending farmers markets, K&V Farms supports itself by acquiring CSA members.  Community supported agriculture (CSA) programs allow a consumer to purchas a “share” of vegetables from a regional farmer. Weekly or bi-weekly, your farmer will deliver that share of produce to you.
Watermelons- ready to eat in 82-85 days
CSA members pay for an entire season of produce upfront. This early bulk payment enables your farmer to plan for the season.

I asked Gena what she would like people to know the most about CSA's.  She said that the heart of a CSA is the relationship that you create with the producer.  "We are full-time farmers and CSA members support us year round", she said.  Market fees, seed, equipment repairs and ground preparation all come early in the season before any markets are even open, she explained.  The support of the members helps them off-set those fees.  Members choose their produce and tour the farm, often feeling the pain and joy Gena and Paxton do as they "weather the storm of farming", so to speak.  Gena said there are crop failures and other things they cannot control, but having the on-going support of their members means they can pursue their passion full-time.

Gena & Paxton Vasbinder making a go of farming full-time!
As I wrapped up my visit on this peaceful, quaint country farm, Gena's Dad was coming down from the tractor.  As I introduced myself, he talked about the ups and downs of farming and what it means when people choose to farm full-time.  He said by the time you add up all the time put into bringing produce to a farmers market, Gena and Paxton might be making $2.00 an hour.  That is what Gena explains to her customers when they ask why something at her table might be $1.00 more than someone else's produce.  She said it doesn't usually keep them from purchasing from her; they just want to know.  I had to laugh, as I was asking Gena's Dad questions about the early days of his farm.  He jokingly said of Gena, "She wouldn't have worked out there when she was little..would've have to whip her!"

It's good to know that some things never change and that is definitely the case at K&V Farms.  Family farming to bring you the freshest produce each Wednesday at the Gladstone Farmers Market.  It's not just the soil and sun that makes it grow, it's the Vasbinder's love!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Business has gone to the Dogs!

Thomas at work in the kitchen
How many twelve year-olds do you know that have their own business?  Our youngest vendor, Thomas, keeps busy with a business he has named "Molly's Muffins" making dog treats.  He has been with the Gladstone market since it opened in 2010.  Originally, he wanted to sell produce at the market, but when hail damaged his crop, he didn't give up....he got creative and started baking.  With the help of his sister, Zoe, (and of course, Mom), Thomas has mastered the art of pleasing his many customers with all-natural pet treats.
Wholesome Goodness

I visited Thomas' factory one Tuesday where he and Zoe were working on their third tray of biscuits.  When asked which flavor is their best seller they both replied, "Cheesy Dog Cookies!"  Made with only cheddar cheese, flour, vegetable oil, garlic powder and water, they also admitted that when they get hungry, they tend to nibble on them.  "Dang Good Puppy Treats" come in as a second bestseller with "Bacon Bites" at number three.

Cheesy Dog Cookies
Thomas said his recipes are simple and taken from "Buddy's Bakery" cookbook, which he picked up at Gladstone City Hall.  While Thomas' favorite part of the production process is rolling out and cutting the treats, Zoe prefers the packaging of the treats.  I personally tend to think their favorite part is bringing their finished product to the market and visiting with their customers.

Come visit with Thomas and his family each Wednesday at the Gladstone Farmers Market from 2-6 pm.  Look for "Molly's Muffins" to be introducing new value packs as well as variety packs.  Your dog will thank you!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Country Roads

Welcome to S&J Herbs & Heirlooms!
This year I have the opportunity to visit each of our vendors at their farm sometime during the market season.  Last Tuesday I started out for my first adventure to see Stacey at S&J Herbs & Heirlooms just outside of Liberty, MO.  Okay, I'm a "City Girl" and so once I got on gravel roads I was a little out of my element.  I cruised past her address the first time, so she graciously waved me back.  Camera and clipboard in hand, I climbed out of the car as chickens greeted me.  Not knowing what they would think of me, I was cautious, but Stacey grabbed one, picked it up and started petting it.  I slowly put my hand out and gave it a soft! 

Stacey began showing me around and explained that she had planted, among many other things, 260 tomato plants!  "Where does she find the time?", I'm thinking to myself.  Squash, blueberries, basil, chives, mint, chard, onions and so on down the list.  Is there anything this girl doesn't grow?

Watering new plants

Stacey and her husband have a great love for nature and it is evident in everything they do.  Although they cannot call themselves officially "certified", they do not use any types of pesticides or sprays of any kind.  A quick look at her face as she explains it says it all, "I just look at these birds out here and say no, I'm not doing it."  She uses alternatives like coffee grounds on newspaper to keep out weeds.

Looks like dirt, but it's coffee

Giant Onions!
As we walked through the field it was fun to see Stacey's excitement when she spoke of her onions.  Cippolini and sweet, candy are two types she grows.  She said they've never had much luck in the past getting them to grow large, but finally this year they are HUGE! 

Keyhole Bed
Something new for Herbs & Heirlooms Farm this year are keyhole beds.  This type of planting creates a "keyhole" look when viewed from the front as the plants grow up and over the middle of the bed.  This, in turn, creates shade for some plantings, sun for others. 

Diakon Radish Ready to go to Market

Stacey & Jeff's "Labor of Love"

As the tour ends, we end up back in the front of the house looking at all the beautiful flowers that have been at the property for 20 years or so.  Then one little Gerber Daisy sits by the front door, purchased at this year's Gladstone market.  I can see that it has found a great home here with  people who love the environment, nature and most importantly LOVE what they do. 

I tried to take one more picture of the chickens before I left and as you can see, this is what he thought of this "City-Girl!"