There are only a few weeks left to enjoy summer produce, especially if you plan on visiting the local farmers market.
Summer time has always meant you could find a bounty of your favorite fruits and vegetables at the stores, produce shops or along the roadways where vendors sell their goods from the back of their trucks or trailers.
I remember as a child, my folks would often get a bushel of some sort of beans or peas. After shelling them, my sister and I would make a mess by jumping into the box filled with the hulls from the peas.
I also remember that sometimes my mother would take fresh green peppers, put a needle and thread through them and hang them up so they could dry out. Other times, she’d use them in hot pepper sauce, great for seasoning greens or peas.
Canning was also a big deal in our neighborhood. There would be preserves made from peaches and all sorts of fruits. Once Mama even tried her hand at canning pickles, but something went terribly wrong. Not only were they not firm like store bought pickles, they were tart and flavorless. I don’t think she ever again tried that recipe.
I haven’t always been a fan of fresh produce. For a while my favorite foods didn’t even include them until I finally accepted the fact that I couldn’t survive on an unhealthy diet.
A while back a friend introduced me to a summer staple that I’d been missing — Esau’s corn. It seems that people wait all year for it and when it’s in season, they buy it by the bags. Some people cut it off the cob and fry it while others boil or it or even freeze it for later.
This year, my friends from Warren brought me some of those famous Bradley County Pink tomatoes, some of which were green — the kind that are just right for frying. I had bought a couple locally and while they were all right, there must be something special in the soil in Bradley County because those Pinks were amazing.
August 2-8 was celebrated as Farmers Market Week in Arkansas. Statewide, people are finding fresh produce abundant at farmers markets. According to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, the state has 111 farmers markets and 80 percent of the counties have at least one market.
The Cooperative Extension Service provides year-round support to farmers markets. Those markets generate $9.2 million in direct-to-consumer sales in Arkansas, according to a news release from the U of A.
How the markets weathered the pandemic was also discussed recently.
“Earlier this year, the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture worked in partnership with the Arkansas Farmers’ Market Association to survey market managers about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their operations. Results of the survey are online at https://bit.ly/2PofTk2,” according to the release.
I found a few of my favorite vegetables when the Saracen Landing Farmers Market opened for the season at Pine Bluff. A friend and I went the first week they opened in June. While COVID-19 probably kept some people away, it was nonetheless a pleasurable outing.
There were a few vendors on site selling a variety of items including the biggest brightest red peppers I believe I’ve ever seen.
According to Trudy Redus, Saracen Landing market manager, this year has been challenging.
“This has been a tough year with COVID-19 and the rain,” she said. “We have a few other vendors with jewelry and arts and crafts. It’s been a slow season.”
However, she also mentioned some highlights including how the market received grant funding through ArCOP (Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention.)
“The grant provided double bucks for SNAP (food stamp) recipients,” she said.
Currently, the farmers market is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays with at least three vendors on Saturdays.
“We changed the hours to accommodate our farmers,” Redus said.
The Saturday market opens from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the Tuesday session opens from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The market also adheres to state laws, including wearing masks and social distancing.
The farmers market closes the end of September, however there are other avenues for fresh produce, among other items, such as Carpenter’s Produce, Shell Ross Co., the Produce Shed, local grocery stores and elsewhere.
— Sandra Hope is the editorial assistant and former city editor at The Commercial.