Despite weather woes, city's Downtown Farmers Market yields first produce of season
by Marie Nesmith
Jun 19, 2011 | 3886 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Donald Cochran tells shopper Janice Hill what vegetables he has and what will be available later in the season. Cochran, along with his wife, Marge, have been longtime produce sellers at Cartersville’s Downtown Farmers Market. 
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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For Butch Walker, the perfect omelet is created from a medley of vegetables, including its star ingredient -- squash. To his delight, he recently has been able to utilize locally grown produce in his breakfast offering as Cartersville's Downtown Farmers Market slowly has gotten under way this month.

"The flavor is much better than what you can buy in the store," Walker said. "I also try to buy from [various] dealers down there to help support the local farmers. ... I've been about four times this year [but there is] still not much coming in right now, mostly squash and cucumbers and a few new potatoes. I've bought new potatoes down there and I've bought zucchini squash and yellow squash. I'm looking forward to the tomatoes coming in. [I am] mostly [wanting to purchase] locally grown tomatoes and cucumbers.

"You can about get squash anytime because there seems to be an abundance of that. I like the smaller squash. They're usually more tender, and we use them in omelets. I make omelets at home for me and my wife -- a vegetable omelet. And I chop [the squash] up in there with some onions and bell peppers. Then I scramble up some eggs and put it in there. It is good and it makes you think that you're eating healthy. And then I turn right around and eat some bacon with it."

Reinforcing the market's original purpose, the Cartersville resident expressed his fondness of having a venue for local farmers to sell excess produce. Started in the early 1980s by the late Walter Culverhouse, who was a Bartow County Extension Agent, the Downtown Farmers Market operates Wednesdays and Saturdays during the summer. Held at Founders Oak Park along Public Square in Cartersville, the market opens at sunup and closes about noon or when the farmers sell all of their produce.

For the fifth year, the market is regulation-free to vendors. In 2006, one-time fees were charged -- $10 to Bartow growers and $20 to sellers from surrounding counties -- and resold goods were banned to promote local farmers and heighten the quality of produce. However, the effort to monitor the Downtown Farmers Market was unsuccessful. Some farmers only participated on Saturdays, when city employees were not working and thus could not enforce the guidelines.

While the vending spaces are first-come, first-served to any farmer this year, the market has been slow to take shape, with only about five sellers participating on Wednesday.

"Everything is just now beginning to come in," said Bill Westbrook, a routine seller at the Downtown Farmers Market, who has a half-acre garden in Acworth. "I'm not a real big farmer. I'm just a backyard farmer, but you can grow a lot of stuff in a little space.

"What I've been doing [in this dry weather] is I've run my water bill sky high. I've been watering every other day. If it doesn't get water, it turns brown and dies on you. ... [Right now] it is too early [for many types of produce to be sold]. I planted some of my crops in March. I planted corn March 20 and Wednesday was the first corn to [be harvested]," he said, adding his 10 dozen ears of corn were sold at the Cartersville market in two hours.

Echoing Westbrook's comments, Bartow County Extension Agent Paul Pugliese also believes the recent weather coupled with it still being early in the growing season is resulting in the lack of crops for sale.

"The biggest thing right now is farmers are going to be trying to fight the fact that we don't have enough rain. We're getting rain this year but it's few and far between," Pugliese said. "When we go two or three weeks without any significant rainfall, that's tough on your crops. And if you don't have a way to irrigate, a lot of your crops are just going to die pretty quick or not ever have a chance to bear fruit. Corn is one of those crops especially that's a heavy water user, and if you're not keeping water on it, it's going to struggle and probably won't get hardly anything off the vine.

"[So] lack of rain and temperature is also fighting us on a lot of crops. These 90-plus-degree days, especially several in a row, can actually affect the fruit set on a lot of things like tomatoes and beans, even your cucumbers and squash sometimes are affected by that. What happens is when it's really hot outside, the pollen gets kind of sticky and it doesn't transfer right. You don't get fruit that will set as a result. So poor pollination basically, with the high temperatures [is] another thing that's working against us."

Listing the first crops of the season as squash, cucumbers and zucchini, Pugliese said ideally shoppers should start seeing produce like tomatoes and corn by mid-July. Fruit, such as cantaloupes and watermelons, also need ample rain to flourish and are expected to be harvested around August.

"A lot of farmers, if they're wanting to do a late season crop -- most of them may have done an early season crop, planted around mid-April or early May ... at this time they're having to decide whether or not to plant and the limitation is there's not enough soil moisture to even germinate your seed at this point," Pugliese said. "So you may not get a late harvest in because they just can't get the crop planted in the middle of the summer."