Vermillion's plunge into the heart of the summer season can only mean good things for both vendors and customers at the Vermillion Area Farmers Market.
In mid- to late-July, enough time has passed in the growing season of area gardens to bring the arrival of fresh produce that has the highest appeal to local taste buds.
In other words, things at the Farmers Market will only get better and better with each passing week.
"We're getting to the point, just in the last couple of weeks, when the produce is really starting to come in. Part of the reason for that is the weather this year has really been unstable, said Rebecca Terk, operator of Flying Tomato Farms and president of the Farmers Market. "We've had a lot of producers who've had some flooding issues, so we're just starting to see the bulk of the summer produce come in. This is when it starts really getting exciting."
The Farmers Market began its third season of setting up every Thursday afternoon, from 3 to 7 p.m., on the corner of High and Cherry Streets in the parking lot of the Clay County Fairgrounds.
In early June, the market also began meeting every Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to noon in the public plaza in downtown Vermillion located at the corner of Main and Market streets.
"When we first start up the market in May, usually we have some greens available, such as spinach and salad mix and radishes, and things like that. As we go forward, we start to get more diversity," Terk said. "A lot of the truck farmers in this area do more of the summer crops, so a lot of times in the early part of the season, we don't have a lot of vendors with a lot of produce, and then once we hit July, then we start to get a lot of sweet corn and green beans and the new potatoes and the peppers, and it just explodes.
The growing season will end this fall with the Farmers Market offering melons, pumpkins, squash and other things.
"We have 13 vendors today, and starting now, this will be when we really start taking off in terms of the produce vendors coming back," Terk said during July 15's market. "There are a few of our regular produce vendors who have not yet been here this year, because they don't quite have enough to bring, or maybe they had some early crops get flooded out."
Terk's enterprise – Flying Tomato Farms – offers early spring greens and specialty crops to the frequent visitors of the local Farmers Market.
"I grow a lot of heirlooms, and some of the same crops that a lot of other growers do, but I will do special varieties or different ethnic varieties, so that's my niche," she said. "I'm really small, so I'm really specialized.
"I also have a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) so what I bring to the market is what I'm harvesting after I've already delivered produce to my vegetable share members," Terk said.
Through the CSA, which is separate from the Farmers Market, she delivers vegetables to local families.
"People will buy a subscription or share at the beginning of the season, and then I will deliver vegetables to them basically through the entire market season," Terk said.
Participants in Thursday's Farmer Market included:
Gary and Barb Johnson from Yankton. They offer their "Lick Smackin' Jellies" to local shoppers. "They do a huge number of varieties of jellies, and they sell at a lot of different craft fairs across the state. They have been regular vendors of ours for about five years now," Terk said.
Gail Bickel. The Vermillion woman has been a vendor with the Vermillion Farmers Market for a number of years, offering jams, jellies, preserves and sometimes has some perennial crops.
The Goosemobile, from Canistota, is operated by Tom & Ruth Neuberger. The Neubergers started their business by offering homegrown chickens, then added turkeys, geese, ducks and free-range eggs to sell their customers. Today, they also raise a variety of livestock for their grass-fed beef, free-range pork, lamb and goat meat products, and they have expanded their product line to include meat patties, links, brats and other convenience foods.
"They produce some of their own, and also sell other producers' meats, all raised in South Dakota, grass-fed, and free range," Terk said. "They come once a month to our market, and that's been really exciting for us. They already have a good customer base in Vermillion."
Patti Bancroft. The Vermillion woman is a certified organic producer for the Vermillion Area Farmers Market. "She does a lot of different kinds of vegetables crops, and this is her first week here for this season, but she's been a producer and a vendor for us for a number of years," Terk said. "She also does some gourd crafts, including beautiful hand-painted gourds, and medicinal herbs and things like that."
Irish Twins Handmade Soaps. Irish Twins Handmade Soap is a cottage industry owned by Erin Nelson of Beresford and her "Irish Twin" sister, Dawn Schwandt of Rapid City. The sisters' products are handmade of natural ingredients. Soaps are made with the oils of olive, coconut, sweet almond, castor, and sunflower, and butters such as shae and cocoa. Irish Twins uses no fragrance oils, only pure essential oils, herbs and garden botanicals such as chamomile, peppermint, calendula, comfrey, lavender and rose petals. Oatmeal, coffee and cornmeal are added to some bars as a gentle exfoliant.
"I've known Erin for awhile, and she does wonderful handmade soaps, homecare products and laundry detergents," Terk said. "She comes every few weeks down from Beresford."
Red Wagon Bread is operated by John Jordre of Vermillion. His products range from artisan breads to chocolate chip cookies, and according to Terk, the quality of his baking has made Jordre popular with local shoppers.
"Sometimes, he will be a few minutes late for market, and there will be a group of people just standing here waiting for him to show up, because his bread is so amazing and delicious," she said.
Other vendors offering products at the July 15 Vermillion Area Farmers Market included Peace and Love Tie-Dyes of Gayville, John and Linda Rokosz, who operate Ruckus Ridge Farm near Irene, Heather Sebert, who offers Heather's Homemade Bread, Gary Bye, who brings traditional "truck farming" crops to the market, such as new potatoes, melons, squash and pumpkins, and C. Brown Gardens of Merrill, IA.
Business was brisk at the C. Brown Gardens booth Thursday. "They brought the first tomatoes of the season today," Terk said, "so they've very popular."
The mother/daughter team of Crystal Solomon, who lives east of Vermillion, and Bekki Engquist, who lives north of town, are in the midst of their second year of bringing produce to the Vermillion Area Farmers Market.
"We normally just have the basics – corn, tomatoes, potatoes – but last year, and hopefully this year again, we will have eggplant, brussel sprouts, and cucumbers and beans."
As Engquist thought, a seemingly endless list seemed to come to mind of potential produce that the two women hopefully will bring to the market this year, ranging from jalapeno, green and red peppers, to spinach, strawberries, raspberries and melons."
Thursday marked the two women's first time at selling at this year's Farmers Market. "It's been pretty successful," Engquist said. "Last year, we did really well, and today, we're almost out of produce."
"I've always gardened," Solomon said. "When my kids were little, I did it out of necessity, and now I just do it because I really enjoy it and we love the fresh produce. We can and we freeze, and make apple butter."
"It's a fun family thing," Engquist said. "The grandkids go to her (Solomon's) house, and help in the garden, and my stepson likes to weed in the garden and plant his own gourds and pumpkins and watch those grow."
Solomon and Engquist brought two bushels of corn, eight pounds of potatoes, four pounds of carrots, a few pounds of peppers along with basil and lettuce to Thursday's market. "We're almost out of everything. It's good to run out," Engquist said.
Terk said a key to the Vermillion Area Farmers Market success is its ability to attract vendors who offer everything from homegrown vegetables to homemade crafts and soaps.
"If you visit some of the other, more successful Farmers Market in the region, you will find a lot of crafts, and some of the traditional sort of handiwork and baked goods that sort of go along with the traditional farm/home economy," she said. "In the past, you would usually have farm women who were not only raising a big kitchen garden, but they also had some chickens and they would get the egg money from selling the eggs. And they may bake some pies.
"We try to cultivate that as well, because there are a lot of wonderful things that people make in this area in small quantities. Maybe they can't make enough and have that economy of scale where it makes sense to sell through a big retailer," Terk said. "And there are some things we don't encourage. We certainly never want to have this seen as a flea market. We specify that it has to be home grown, homemade, garden-related, that kind of thing. So we really try to focus on the local economy."
Many of the items at the Farmers Market simply sell themselves, because they are so fresh, and simply taste better than what can be found in a supermarket. Terk said once word spread, through blogs and Facebook, that fresh tomatoes were available Thursday, there was a noticeable increase in traffic at the market.
"There are a number of people now who really want to have a sense of connection with their food, and even the products they use, like their soap," she said. "They want to know where it comes from. And people are really starting to worry about the industrial food system and safety issues."
The Vermillion Area Farmers Market also fulfills other needs that aren't so tangible. It's a place that may stir up feelings of nostalgia for some. For others, it's simply a good place to socialize.
"People have conversations with other people," Terk said. "The Farmers Market is really a community catalyst. It brings people together over food they like and what I really like about the Vermillion Farmers Market is how this is the place where the rural people and the town people and the university people can all come together in one place.
"This is the place where it can all happen, and it feels like a positive community experience," she said. "It's where people make connections and make friendships, and to me, that's one of the best things about the market."