It’s no secret that four years of extreme drought conditions in Oklahoma, followed by a late freeze this winter, have caused heartache for many local farmers and growers.
Despite what many locals are calling a “late start,” the Ardmore Farmers Market at Market Place on Broadway is now open for the season, and produce loaded out of pickup truck looks, well, good enough to eat.
The Ardmore farmers market opened for the season on May 24, marking the latest start in the history of the market, which began welcoming vendors and customers in its current location in 2009.
“This is a real unusual year for us,” says Melvett Chambers, manager of the market, which is organized by the Ardmore Main Street Authority. “Generally speaking, we always start in April. Last year, it was the last week in April, but years before that it was early April.”
Chambers, who also sells fresh produce at the market, says the reason comes down to the weather. In April, he received calls from vendors who said they had to re-plant many crops or start over. Others told Chambers, they would have fresh produce, but it would be a later date before they were ready to pick the ripe produce and bring it to the market.
Local farmer and weekly farmers market vendor Chris Woodruff of Mannsville says that was the case for her crops. She grows a wide variety of produce, from onions and squash in early spring to watermelons, tomatoes and okra in the summer months and pumpkins in the fall.
“(The weather) made us about a month late,” Woodruff said. “We are just now starting. It was just too cold to grow earlier and we are still in the planting stage.”
Woodruff’s booth Wednesday featured yellow squash, onions, green beans, tomatoes and some blackberries on a single table. She says as the season continues, she plans to have three tables full of fresh produce that includes more tomatoes, berries, melons, watermelons and okra, a big seller at the market every year, she says.
Becky McConnell, a grower from Lone Grove, said after planting her squash crop and a freeze was forecast, she covered each seedling with a disposable thermal insulation foam cup to prevent any losses.
“It was labor intensive, covering every little plant with a Styrofoam cup,” says McConnell, who began selling at the market last year.
It worked, and the McConnell Farms booth yesterday featured yellow squash, Patty Pan squash, Calabacita squash, zucchini and green beans.
In spite of the late start, visitors can still find some of the area’s freshest and ready-to-eat produce at the two-day-a-week market, Chambers says. Vendors come from about a 50-mile radius to sell their goods to customers.
The market is open Wednesdays and Saturdays beginning at 7:30 a.m. and lasting until noon. Chambers recommends arriving early, as vendors tend to sell out before the noon hour and can pack up to leave earlier in the morning.
Last Saturday, the market saw six vendors, and Chambers says there will likely be seven or eight this Saturday. That number will likely increase as growers enter the height of the season, typically when the most produce is brought to the market. Chambers predicts the height to be the end of June this year.
“At the height, we have a full market,” Chambers says. “Whatever is growing, we will have here for sale. Tomatoes, watermelons, melons, peaches.”
The market isn’t limited to just fruits and vegetables. Vendors can sell cut flowers, jams and jellies, herbs, baked goods and farm-fresh eggs. There are guidelines for selling specific items, such as egg producers must have a licensed permit to sell eggs, and baked goods must be made from a licensed, certified kitchen.
Additionally, all produce must be grown in Oklahoma. Chambers conducts farm visits to ensure vendors are growing their own crops or buying from fellow Sooner farmers. Because of the guidelines and practices of the market, the Ardmore market has been awarded the Oklahoma Grown Farmers Market status from the state Department of Agriculture.
Chambers says, over the years, the community has been very supportive of the farmers market, and the market has many benefits to the community, including offering a place for the community to meet for fellowship, finding produce not typically sold at commercial stores and helping to support local farms, many of which rely on market sales to supplement their income.
“Plus, you can’t get produce much fresher when it was just the picked the day before,” Chambers says of one of the top reasons the market has remained popular over the years.
Vendors say they keep coming back to the market because the facility features rest rooms and is covered, keeping produce out of direct sunlight and any rain showers that could hamper shoppers from coming out. Vendors named the friendly atmosphere as another positive aspect of the market.
Woodruff says she shops from other vendors for the produce she doesn’t grow, and they exchange growing tips.
“The people are friendly,” Woodruff said of the growers and the customers. “It’s a good place to come and sell your veggies.”
McConnell says she likes the interaction with the customers, giving tips on how to cook a specific vegetable or exchanging recipe ideas.
“It is a win-win,” she says of the market. “The customers are taking home better-quality produce, and they are helping out the local farmers.”
The market will host its annual grand opening day of the season on June 21. This market day will feature live music, cooking demonstrations, coffee and many vendors.
To ask questions or find out more information about the Ardmore Farmers Market at Market Place on Broadway, visit www.facebook.com/marketplacebroadway.