Friday, August 31, 2012

How 980 tomatoes inspired Dad

Bear Lake Farms

Another day of farm visits found me with my co-pilot, Erica, cruising up to Ridgeway, Missouri to visit Randy Polley at Bear Lake Farms.  I must admit that although I may act like I know directions, I can't fake it anymore because now I have a witness.  Erica wasn't at all impressed with my hand-written directions.  How was I to know that 'turn left at the flagpole' could lead us astray? 

For those of you who may not know, Ridgeway is located just North of Bethany on Missouri A Highway.   It was about an hour and a half drive up there, during which I was thinking what a long way to drive for the market each week, since I commute less than 8 minutes to work each day.  No doubt about it...these producers definitely have to love what they do!

 Erica trying to get my directions straightened out.

No Starbucks out here!

We spotted Randy as we arrived and he was glad to see us as we pulled in with a cloud of dust behind us.  He told us to climb in the walking through the gardens here, it was way too big!  
High Tunnel & Greenhouse

 First was the HUGE (did I mention huge?) pepper patch that had 16 different varieties growing.  Randy said he uses this as his trial area.  He plants things to see if they'll grow and then he tests them for flavor.  Let's just say he's had a lot of salsa this year.  

As he drove us around we saw much of the damage due to the drought.  Sad rows of corn that would not mature, dried up blueberry bushes...even the food planted for the deer didn't grow this year. 
Poor blueberries!

We headed around the lake. The view was gorgeous!  Down the hill, patches of squash are still thriving as weeds grow up to shade them from the sun.  Pumpkins, white and orange, lay in the hot sun; too early to pick, but stunted by lack of moisture.  Randy said rain in the next couple of weeks is crucial to a fall harvest. 

I asked Randy how he got started in all of this.  He said he built his house out moved out here after retirement from a farm supply center.  "Okay", I said "I've seen people put in vegetable gardens to give them something to do, but this is so much more than that!"  He laughed and explained that his daughter was in FFA (Future Farmers of America) when he moved here and as a project one summer she planted 980 tomato plants.  She produced a bumper crop that year and so the following year everyone asked if they were going to sell tomatoes again.  While her project was done, Randy figured he'd give it a shot and now produces just over 7 acres of crops.

Since then, Bear Lake Farms has become certified by the Missouri Department of Agriculture.  I asked Randy what this meant in terms of benefits to him.  He explained the technical part of the membership and then looked at me and said, that the reason he really does it is because it keeps him current on regulations and food safety.  This way nothing comes as a surprise to him as things change and develop.  That made a lot of sense to me.  If you want to remain  productive in any occupation, staying educated is the key.  

Heading back to the house we thanked Randy for the tour and his time.   Before I left I spotted his pigs.  "When would I ever get a chance to pet a pig?", I thought.  I headed over to the pen and got in.  Erica grabbed the camera; she wasn't missing this opportunity.  Much to my surprise they weren't smelly, but they sure were curious.  They loved my shoelaces!  I reached down to pet one and I couldn't believe how prickly he felt.   There...I can say I petted a pig!  Another adventure I never thought I would have working for the City of Gladstone.   

"Hurry up and take the picture, Erica!"

Come visit with Randy at the Gladstone Farmers Market every Wednesday from 2-6 pm.  Pick his brain on the latest technology in food production.  He's a smart guy and I promise he won't turn down a good conversation!  

  Bear Lake Farms Booth at the Gladstone Farmers Market