The Ottumwa Courier

August 3, 2013

Farmers markets form Iowa bonds

By MATT MILNER
Ottumwa Courier

---- — FAIRFIELD — Darcie Clingan wasn't working for herself at the stall. She was filling in, and it was busy.

The Fairfield version of a farmer's market is something out of an older time. It's half open-air grocery store and half bazaar, with stalls lined up under the trees at Howard Park. About half of them sell things you wouldn't necessarily expect at such a market. Wood bowls and homemade jewelry sit comfortably alongside stalls filled with greens and vegetables.

Clingan isn't new. She has helped out with her friends' stall a handful of times. But this time was a bit different as she filled in for a couple on vacation.

“We're fellow farmers,” she explained. “We're neighbors. They taught most of my children.”

So when asked if she could run the stall, saying yes was a natural response. Besides, she said, “It's fun. It's just fun to be out here.”

Sunday kicks off National Farmers Market Week, and Iowa is unveiling a new smartphone app to help people find the markets closest to them. Available for both iPhone and Android systems, the free app allows people to search by city or zip code. Visitors can use the phone's location services to search if they aren't sure whether there's a market nearby.

Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey said the state has seen “tremendous growth in the number and size of farmers markets,” which made the app a natural way for people to find the information.

Charles and Kathy Newton are familiar with southeast Iowa markets. They're farmers, of a sort, and their labor is as cheap as you can get. Their bees don't want to get paid with anything more than a hive to live in.

“I'm just kind of strange,” Charles said. “I've always been interested in bees. I met a guy who had some and, next thing you know, I had some.”

The Newtons sell honey, in squeeze bottles, jars of in the comb, and pollen. They say local honey reflects the area the bees gather from, to the point of helping with allergies since the pollen is the same stuff that makes you sneeze at other times.

The market was thriving this past Saturday. An hour earlier in Ottumwa, things were slower. Ron and Helen Campbell didn't seem to mind too much, though. It gave them more time to chat with customers.

“This is my first year,” said Helen. “Ron, how many years have you been doing this?”

“I started with the first farmers market probably back in 2001,” he replied. He admits to a break for a few years, though, with a return after his retirement.

This has been a strange year for the weather, they say. A wet spring meant some crops didn't get into the ground when they probably should have. And the past couple of months haven't seen the rain they need. But for all that, things don't look too bad.

The bigger challenge is the wildlife.

“The deer eat the big stuff. Rabbits eat the little stuff,” Ron said. You can't stop them, but there are a handful of things that can limit their damage.

But on a bright Saturday morning, that wasn't foremost in anyone's mind. Other goods will start showing up soon. Some early apples might be ready in a couple weeks. Besides, there were people to talk with and produce to look over.

Not, all things considered, the worst way to spend a morning.