May 19, 2012 10:49:52 PM
By Micah Green
Despite the fourth warmest winter in United States history, there was plenty of produce available at the Starkville Community Market on Saturday.
The community market has been a staple on Saturdays from May through August since 2006, giving local artisans and farmers an opportunity to sell their products.
Fresh vegetables, fruits and baked goods from small farms and kitchen bakeries from the region are the obvious main attractions, but the market also boasts a growing selection of artists selling hand-made crafts.
Mark Duncan, the market's director, said he expects more vendors will participate in the market within a couple of weeks.
"After March it kind of cooled off a bit, so everything has kind of been in a little bit of a flux right now," he said. "It's been a little bit slower than normal, but by June all of our farmers should be ready."
A warm winter for a farmer can be both an obstacle and an asset.
James Earnest, co-owner of Prospect Produce Farm in Houston, Miss., said that while higher temperatures can increase the chance of pests and parasites surviving the winter and harm the crops, the warm weather can also result in a crop that is ready to harvest sooner, often leading to larger yields.
"If you don't keep planting, you'll miss out," Earnest said, as he stood in front of his table stocked with blackberries, potatoes, honey, cabbage, onions and squash. "Either way, the insects will usually have at least some impact."
Lancaster Farms of Starkville operated the biggest booth on site Saturday morning. Eric Lancaster, who owns the farm along with his wife, displayed three tables full of tomatoes, squash, zucchini, jelly, lettuce, potatoes, chard, spinach and broccoli. Two rolling, five-foot shelves packed with assorted herbs and flowers stood beside the tables. Lancaster said he was thankful the warm winter had virtually no effect on his crop, but recognized the ever-present threat facing every farmer.
"Everything from my farm will be available this summer, and we grow pretty much any vegetable you can think of," he said. "The only things we may have trouble with are insects, but we'll just have to see."
Because of the large role insects play in nearly every harvest's outcome, the Entomology and Plant Pathology Club from Mississippi State University were present on Saturday, offering insect identification for farmers or gardeners unsure about a pest problem. Kevin Chase, the club's president, said a group of members will be at the market every Saturday, selling honey to raise money for the club later this summer.
Beaverdam Farms' Dustin Pinion made the 116-mile trip from Indianola to Starkville with more than just selling produce in mind. Pinion, an MSU alumni, worked this past summer at Polyface Farm in rural Swoope, Va. Polyface Farm is best known for the innovative and environmentally friendly methods used there, and for its appearance in the 2008 corporate farming documentary Food, Inc. Pinion said he took what he learned from his time in Virginia and is now hoping to bring a message of sustainability and naturalism to Mississippi farming by focusing on chemical-free farming.
"In our society today, we spend twice as much on health care as we do on food and we need to start looking at our food as medicine," he said. "I look at it two ways: You can either pay pharmaceutical companies or you can pay the farmer."
Pinion also said he thinks the stakes are high if the world continues to rely on corporate farming, and that each individual makes a decision on whether or not to support environmental health, and even each one's own physical health, on a daily basis.
"The true cost of food is an illusion. If it's not paid for at the cash register, it's paid for in degradation to the environment," he said. "You vote three times a day. If you vote with your dollar for factory farms and factory foods, you're going to get more factories. If you vote with your dollar for small scale, local farms, you're going to get more small scale, local farms with healthier alternatives."
The Starkville Community Market will continue through the summer on Saturday mornings.