Keeping It Simple-Top Questions this Season

Little Wagon Produce has been in business over 25 years. That’s a lot of time to reminisce and observe how customer preferences and questions change over the years. One transition we’ve seen is the way in which customers want their produce. For example, many non-locals want really small produce, especially when it comes to yellow and green squash.They want it little, before its even matured. This is challenging because it doesn’t keep well in the heat. Our locals usually want the exact opposite so we try to provide both options. I’m not sure why the preference for smaller. It doesn’t seem to taste as good to me and honestly, you get less for your money!

We also get a lot of questions on a daily basis. Customers want to know what’s in the field behind the stand. Mom explains the difference between soybeans, field corn, and sweet corn. At one time we even had a jar with shelled field corn and soybeans so we could show the difference. More and more customers are becoming removed from their food. They have never grown a garden or picked produce. But the questions are getting more complex. They may have read an article on GMO’s or the advantages of buying organic, but they have NO IDEA the physical effort it takes to grow, cultivate, and pick produce, especially corn, and even carry a full basket of corn. Farmer Dan even has carparl tunnel in his hands from pulling sweet corn so much. The consistent routine of twisting an ear off the stalk has given him much pain in his arm and elbow.

But just to give you some insight, here are a few customer questions from this season:

5. How many flowers are in a 6 pack? Yes, seriously, a customer really asked this.

4. Do we sell fishing poles? Uh, no. But maybe we should?

3. Is a green tomato ripe? No, a green tomato is not ripe. A red tomato is ripe. I still don’t think the customer understood.

2. Is our produce organic? No. Farmer Dan has a license to apply chemicals. He does so sparingly. Chemicals are very expensive so we do not waste them. A fellow farmer from Maryland wrote an excellent blog about how “Spraying isn’t Dousing“.

1.Is our sweet corn GMO? No. Although GMO sweet corn seed is available now, we have not tried it yet. Will we in the future? Possibly, if it yields well, has the same supersweet taste, and minimizes how many chemicals we spray topically. The customer shook his head and was not satisfied. His comment was, “It is GMO. How else do you get the bi-color (yellow and white) corn?”. Questions like this are getting harder to answer and the answer is not simple. Farmer Dan taught us that the customer is always right, but in this case, he was wrong. I’ll tell you more in my next blog…

As you can see from above, the questions vary tremendously. Some simple, some complex. There are many times where the markets are busy, the heat oppressive and questions are just too much. But Mom and Dad still go out of their way to be polite and try to educate them as much as possible. Our answers are simple. We tell the truth about our practices. We do not believe in false marketing and would never say we are organic just to attract customers. And we will never advertise that we are “GMO-free” just to attract more business.

Seeing how Mom and Dad treat customers with respect and tell them the truth taught us a lot growing up. It created a loyal, respectful business that our family is proud of. Our story never gets old. We had too much produce in our garden so we put out a wagon and an honor box. It grew from there. It’s that simple. We want to share our food and knowledge with you. So even as customer fads come and go, Little Wagon Produce will be answering your questions another 25 years from now. God willing.

The Significance of June 30

June 30. It seems like an insignificant date year after year. For many, it simply means……

  • half of 2014 is already over!
  • summer is officially here!
  • Little League All-Stars are under way!
  • State 4-H camp is over until next year!
  • the DE State Fair is less than 20 days away!
  • the 4th of July holiday is just around the corner!

But in DE state government, it is significant. It’s the end of our state’s legislative session (no exclamation point). This means late nights for many state employees and legislators as they try to wrap another year’s budget and policy making. This will mark the end of the 147th General Assembly. It ran from January 2013 to present. Any bills left in limbo are forever gone. All legislation must be introduced as new in the next session, which will begin in January 2015.

This year’s session was plagued by low revenues, a proposed gas and water tax, e-cigarette laws, and another potential casino bailout. There wasn’t much room for anything else; therefore agriculture took a normal backseat. Here’s a roundup of ag-related legislation from this past session (click on the link for more info):

  • HB 385 w/ HA 1– Industrial Hemp
    • This is Rep. Dave Wilson’s bill to allow DDA and/or any higher education institution in DE to create and operate the pilot programs to study the growth, cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp. According to NCSL, 15 other states currently have laws allowing for hemp production. So far it has only passed the House. Time may run out.
  • SB 245 w/ SA 1 – Dangerous Dogs & Animal Fighting
    • I don’t really consider this an agricultural bill but it comes through on my RSS feed. It pertains to the treatment of animals when seized for criminal activity, etc. It passed the Senate and just came out of the House Health & Human Development Committee.
  • SB 201 w/ SA 1 – Humane Killing, Authority of DDA
    • This is an interesting bill but needed, in my opinion. It clarifies the duties of the newly established Office of Animal Welfare within Public Health to oversee “companion animal” programs as well as shelter standards, previously managed by DDA. It also updates DDA’s role to focus on poultry and livestock species. It passed both chambers and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
  • HB 122 w/ HA 1, HA 2, & SA 2 – Amending Registration of Farm Vehicles
    • This bill requires farmers to register their farm vehicle with DMV and display an official “FV” tag, which replaces the former white, plastic Farm Vehicle Use tag. This stemmed from rampant illegal abuse of the white plastic tag. The new tag is only available through DMV. The cost is $10 with a signed affidavit, confirming that they meet requirements for being a farmer. For more specifics see this blog post from the DE Farm Bureau. I need to print this for Farmer Dan and my Grandfather. They love going to DMV (no exclamation point).
  • HB 150 w/HA 1, HA 2 – Raw Milk Bill
    • Sponsored by Rep. Outten (my district), this bill sought to legalize raw milk for public consumption within Delaware state lines even though the FDA  does not support. It was defeated in the House last June (2013). But a May 2014 House of Representatives e-newsletter highlighted this bill again, touting a “far more tightly focused bill” and stated it would be circulated for sponsorship soon. Haven’t heard anything since. There are some audio cuts on the House of Reps website.
  • HB 63 – Freedom to Farm 
    • Sad to see this bill sit on House Ready List for more than a year. Perhaps it got complicated because it was a constitutional amendment? Or no one advocated? I sent an email to the Secretary of Ag and my legislators in support. Maybe something bigger and better is planned for next session?

A few other semi-related ag bills:

  • HS 1 for HB 60 w/ HA 1, HA 2, HA 3 – Direct Shipment of Wine to DE Consumers (for those in the grape business)
  • SCR 64 – Establishing the DE Waterways Management and Financing Advisory Committee (for DE Watermen)

Keep in mind, the session isn’t over yet. Interesting things can happen in the wee hours of June 30 (no exclamation point).

 

Top 5 Consumer Questions from 2013 Farmer’s Markets

You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers! As many of you know, Little Wagon Produce can be found at many local farmer’s markets in Sussex County. Here’s the questions (and answers) Mom and I witnessed the most from consumers at local farmer’s markets in Delaware this past year:

#5 Question: Do you have strawberries?

Answer: It depends on when you ask us! On Delmarva, strawberries typically ripen in May. Sometimes it’s early May. Sometimes it’s late May. It’s rarely before May because the threat of frost usually lasts until May 15. It’s rarely in June because the temperature becomes too hot. As you can tell, strawberries are fickle. Too much rain, they rot. Too much heat, they get mushy. Too cold, they don’t ripen. Therefore, if you see a farmer with strawberries in July and August, they aren’t from the Delmarva Peninsula! And that’s why we don’t sell strawberries in July. We try to only sell produce which we grow. I often take this Availability Chart below, provided by DDA, and post it to help customers understand.

Availability Chart

#4 Question: Are you organic?

Answer: No. Why? Because Farmer Dan learned how to farm the conventional way and wants to keep prices reasonable for our customers. He has a pesticide license and only sprays the vegetables when he sees evidence of an insect or weed. He does not spray sporadically because chemicals are very expensive.

Research shows that organic does not necessarily mean a healthier product. A recent review of over 400 scientific papers concluded organic and conventional foods remain equally healthy. In order to be certified organic, we would have purchase an expensive license, buy and plant more seed so that we have enough yields, and employ more labor to remove weeds by hand. This is the reason organic produce costs more.

Our advice? Simply wash your produce thoroughly, whether it’s organic or not! I love this video from a farmer in Kentucky who shares her take, as a mother and farmer, on organic produce:

#3 Question: Can I freeze corn?

Answer: YES! Many customers share ways that they freeze it. Here’s one way how:

Freezing Sweet Corn

#2 Question: How long does sweet corn last?

Answer: The best way to store fresh corn, besides freezing, is to keep it cool. We recommend storing it in the refrigerator and leaving it in the husk when storing. The husk protects it from the air, which causes it to dry out. Our super sweet corn varieties last up to 7 days if kept in the refrigerator! Trust us, it works!

And the #1 Question: Is your corn GMO?

Answer:  No. Why? Genetically modified sweet corn seed has not been available long. We have chosen not to purchase it. This type of seed tends to be more expensive and we don’t feel it is worth the cost because we are not growing large amounts for a cannery, etc. Most vegetable seeds are not GMO altered. Currently, there are only 8 crops commercially offered from GMO seeds in the U.S. Please check out the graphic below. This website and link offers great insight to GMO answers: www.gmoanswers.com

47624_FINAL_GMO_Infographic_JpegHiRes-573

We look forward to answering more consumer food questions and educating the public at the 2014 Farmer’s Markets! Happy New Year!

Are you Farmer’s Market Ready?

A sure sign of spring and summer is farmers markets; many of which have begun already this year. Little Wagon Produce has been busy with two so far-the Milton Farmer’s Market on Friday afternoon and the Riverwalk Farmers Market, which is in downtown Milford every Saturday morning. This week was the return of the Georgetown Farmers Market which is on Wednesday afternoons.

I always look forward to returning to the Riverwalk Farmers market every spring because we’re amazed at the loyalty of many of our customers year after year. Many of our regulars ducked showers last weekend to see us and to find Mother’s Day flowers or produce.  The past 2 weekends, I’ve received many of the same questions such as “Do you have sweet corn yet?” and “Are the strawberries local?” These are great questions and it always helps when the farmer is right there to answer. Anytime my Dad visits the market he is usually surrounded by inquiring customers about the food he grows.

Farmer Dan is on right. Its rare to see him at the market! He's usually in the field.

Farmer Dan on right. Its rare to see him at the market but the customers love to talk to him! He’s usually in the field picking the produce or keeping the irrigation going.

Sometimes I take this chart, made by the DE Dept. of Ag, to offer customers insight about the growing season in Delaware. It helps a customer understand that sweet corn is never ready in Delaware until the last week of June or thereafter. So please don’t believe any of the false advertising you may see!!! I can also assure you that almost all produce will be a little later than normal this year because of the cold wet spring. No strawberries have been local until this past weekend. I know this confuses customers because last year the weather was extremely mild and strawberries came on early. I try to remind customers that farmers are always at the mercy of Mother Nature. Here are some more tidbits to help you be “farmers market ready”:

  • Bring cash! Many vendors are small businesses and cannot afford the fees accompanied with credit card machines.
  • Bring your own bags! The recyclable grocery bags work great for this! By doing this, you will help the environment and help us because plastic bags are an additional expense to vendors that we usually do not pass on to the customers. We even have to pay more and go out of the way to find heavy-duty plastic bags to hold a dozen ears of sweet corn.
  • Bring a friend! Word of mouth is the best marketing for us!
  • Don’t be afraid to ask! Many markets have an information booth or a “Market Manager” to oversee the routine each week. Some markets even have a bell that rings before you can sell anything (Milton).
  • Spread the love! Hopefully you will find more than one vendor to patronize. In Milford, there are many wonderful downtown businesses such as Dolce Coffee Shop, Blooming Boutique, and Georgia House Restaurant.
  • Bring your smile! Many vendors love to talk and engage their customers, including us.
  • Stay updated! Many thought the market was canceled last Saturday because of the rain but we were open. Check to see if your local market has a Facebook page and/or website.

Thank you to all our loyal customers who already know the ropes! And for all the newbies, I hope to see you soon! For a market near you, see the 2013 Farmer’s Market Directory here.

Rearranging

I was doing so good. I started the year off right with 6 blog posts in January of 2013. I refreshed the blog homepage and caught up on my ag reading. I rearranged and cleaned up from the wedding and the holidays. But then life happens. Things change and you rearrange again. Some things get done well. Others get lost in the transition, such as my work with this blog. But I’m catching up and looking forward to the future! Here’s the reason for so much “rearranging”:

On Feb. 1, we settled on a new home and a small farm. We have been cleaning, painting, and rearranging ever since.

On Feb. 1, we settled on a new home with some acreage. We have been cleaning, painting, and “rearranging” ever since.

At the end of February, our church lost a loved one, Mrs. Barb Hanson. She was one of the first ones that reached out to me as a guest this time last year. She helped me with our wedding and was so excited we chose Prospect as our church and on our wedding day. She was always smiling. The last time we talked, she was excited to come over and see our new house. We will miss her...

At the end of February, our church lost a loved one, Mrs. Barb Hanson. She was one of the first members that reached out to me as a visitor this time last year. She helped me with our wedding and was so excited we chose Prospect for our wedding day (as you can see above). She was always smiling. The last time we talked, she was excited to come over and see our new house. We will miss her…

In March, I began to teach a 7 week political course for Wilmington University. I usually teach quite a few courses over the winter as a part-time adjunct. It's my way to stay involved in teaching but it takes up a lot of my spare time. I also developed a health care policy course online. I take the material from the text and convert it to an online format using Blackboard. Very time consuming and challenging. All of the courses I'm involved in are for the new Government & Public Policy undergraduate program at Wilmington University. My goal is to lighten my load in the future to "rearrange" my spare time priorities.

In March, I began teaching a 7 week political course for Wilmington University. Since 2009, I have taught quite a few courses over the winter as a part-time adjunct. It’s my way to stay involved in teaching but it takes up a lot of my weekends and spare time. I also developed a health care policy course online. I take the material from the text and convert it to an online format using Blackboard. It’s very time-consuming and challenging. All of the courses I work on are for the new Government & Public Policy undergraduate program at Wilmington University. I’m looking forward to a break over the summer! My goal is to lighten this load as I “rearrange” my spare time priorities.

By the end of March, I had already found a greenhouse frame for sale. Breck, Dad and I went to pick it up. I can't wait to get it up at our new place. At the same time, Scott was working on framing in our pole barn.

By the end of March, I already found a greenhouse frame for sale. Farmer Dan, Breck, and I went to pick it up. I can’t wait to get it up at our new place. At the same time, Scott was working on the inside of our pole barn.

April is the month for birthdays in my family. Pop-Pop Messick, Danna, Derek, Devon, Alanna, Brielle, Jesse, and Townsend celebrated their birthday. Here Alanna celebrates turning 12! Brielle turned 9!

April is the month for birthdays in my family. Pop-Pop Messick, Danna, Derek, Devon, Alanna, Brielle, Jesse, and Townsend celebrated birthdays. Here, Alanna celebrates turning 12! Brielle turned 9! Where did the time go? They’re going to be taller than me soon!

Breck and Mom also got back into the greenhouse in late March and early April. Most of the flowers are ready now. Mom and I have been updating our website and working on farmer's market applications. Amber has been helping as well and decided to try out the Milton Farmer's market, which is on Friday nights from 3:30-6:30 pm. Its a success so far-they sold out of all flowers and veggies last Friday!

Breck and Mom also got back into the greenhouse in late March and early April. Most of the flowers are ready now. Mom and I have been updating our website (www.lilwagon.com) and working on farmer’s market applications. Amber has been helping and decided to try out the Milton Farmer’s market, which is on Friday nights from 3:30-6:30 pm. It’s a success so far-they sold out of all flowers and veggies last Friday! We begin Milford farmer’s market on Sat., May 4, 9am-1pm.

And by the end of April, we are getting ready to plant our own little garden. We're also "rearranging" the landscaping and the driveway. Lots of work to do! I spent most of the weekend washing windows.

And by the end of April, we are getting ready to plant our first garden. We’re also “rearranging” the landscaping and the driveway. Lots of work to do! I spent most of the weekend washing windows. Scott worked on the yard.

And last but not least, our pups have finally adjusted to all the rearranging. Lucy (black, female) was a little unsure at first but loves to sit on the back step in the sun with me now. She also loves to lick on the neighbor's kids! Deuce loves all the room to run and roll around. Lucy will be 1 year old in May.

And last but not least, our pups have finally adjusted to all the rearranging. Lucy (black, female) was a little unsure at first but loves to sit on the back step in the sun with me. She also loves to lick on the neighbor’s kids! Deuce loves all the room to run and roll around with his bone. Lucy will be 1-year-old in May. We hope for lots of puppies in the future!

Meat Monday’s

Back in July of 2012, the USDA caused quite a stir when it circulated a newsletter promoting the concept of “Meatless Monday“, which encouraged people to skip eating meat one day a week. Don’t believe me? It’s true and thanks to Ag Wired, the newsletter was uploaded to their server and can still be found here. Of course, the USDA pulled it soon after the backlash started; the Secretary supposedly did not give the article clearance. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association wasted no time questioning the USDA’s commitment to agriculture, particularly the livestock industry. In addition, two US Senators came up with the idea of “Meat Monday” while eating barbecue beef brisket, ribs and sausage in response to the USDA gaffe. The name went viral on social media sites; there’s even a Facebook page in honor of “Meaty Monday“.

Besides the fact that the USDA lost major trust and credibility amongst its own audience, there are plenty of reasons to actually eat meat and promote it, for that matter. Of course, there’s the scientific and the biblical view, which support the eating of meat. But I’ll stick to these 6 reasons, which include making you feel sexy! 🙂

With cooler weather, football playoffs, and the upcoming Superbowl, winter seems like the perfect time to tear into some new “MEATY” recipes. I’ll be testing out and posting a few meat recipes over the following winter Monday’s.  Here’s to “Meat Monday’s” and the hard-working, dedicated livestock producers out there-including my hubby and Farmer Dan!

OODLES of NOODLES CHILI BAKE

  • 1 (12 ounce) package wide egg noodles, uncooked
  • 1 lb lean GROUND BEEF
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15 ounce) can corn, drained
  • 1 (15 ounce) can chili without beans
  • 1 cup (or more) shredded Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 13×9 inch casserole or two 8 inch baking pans (you could eat one today and freeze the other!). Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside. Brown ground beef in a skillet over medium heat; draining off any fat if necessary. Combine cooked and drained noodles, browned beef, tomatoes and their juices, drained corn, chili and 3/4 cup of cheddar cheese and stir to mix. Top with remaining cheese and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes until heated through. Serves 8.

Goes great with a small side salad or even some fresh fruit. I picked this one because my hubby loves chili but I don’t really like kidney beans so I’m always looking for a compromise. You could even add some chili powder, onions, or fresh green/red peppers for added taste.

Here it is-precooked!

Here it is-precooked!

The Right Way to Advocate

As Farmer Dan told me growing up, “If you’re not gonna do it right, don’t do it at all”. Back then, I probably rolled eyes. But as I’ve matured, I understand what he meant. He was trying to teach me that there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything.

I take that advice seriously and apply it to everything I take on now, including this blog. One of my main concerns about initiating it was that I knew I had to do it right, which means researching topics, proofreading, and posting regularly. But I felt the challenge was worth it because agriculture needs positive advocacy. What I didn’t realize is…….there’s a right way and wrong way to advocate as well.

And I’m still learning the right way to do it. Sometimes I say too much and dig myself a hole as I engage with consumers directly at farmers markets. Sometimes I have a hard time not showing emotion and getting upset when consumers say negative things about farmers. Sometimes I have a hard time not replying to every little comment I see on social media regarding fad diets and claims rejecting animal based foods.  But I’m learning there’s a right way to respond and I’m getting better!

And I’m learning from advocates like Dr. Temple Grandin. Ever heard of her? She is a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. She was also the subject of a 2010 Emmy award-winning movie, called “Temple Grandin”, starring Claire Danes who portrays her life struggle with autism. If you have time this winter, trust me and watch this movie! I don’t watch many movies but I have to say this one really hit me hard not only because of its relation to ag but also because I formerly taught students affected by autism at Phillis Wheatley Middle School. So, how does this relate to ag? Well, she overcame autism and developed her talents to become a livestock equipment design handler. She’s designed the facilities for which half the cattle are handled in the U.S., including for firms such as McDonald’s, Burger King, and more. In a recent video just put out by American Meat Institute, she gives an overview of the beef handling and slaughter process and mentions that she’s going to do it the “right way”. She mentions that many undercover videos do not portray the truth and other videos are taken during tours where too many people often scare the cattle into abnormal behaviors. She supports the humane handling of animals and the use of best management practices, which she has obviously spent a lifetime researching specific to cattle. A true advocate for agriculture, she is a great example of “the right way to advocate” for anything in today’s world…..by telling the truth, researching the topic, and learning the best way to portray it.

***Caution: this video is graphic and shows the full slaughter process.