A visit to the farmers market never lands on a list of weekend chores. Between mopping floors and mowing the lawn, a trip to the supermarket barely makes the to-do list.
But a trip to a farmers market is an outing; a feast for all the senses that draws families into the community. Right now, visitors to the dozens of markets in the area will be in for a treat: It’s prime time for produce.
Harvest time means fresh sweet corn, tomatoes in an array of colors and flavors, squash and more. And those in charge of markets both large and small say that as people become more health-conscious, business is booming.
Diane Hershberger and Rodger Kube, owners of Stony Crest Urban Farm, set up shop at the Waldo Farmers Market every Wednesday afternoon. It’s a tiny market, tucked behind the parking lot of Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore. It’s small but mighty, says Hershberger, adding that all produce sold at the market is organic unless otherwise marked.
“I think people are really getting interested in making sure that what they’re eating is truly healthy,” she says.
While the Waldo market is in only its fourth year, City Market, nestled in historic River Market, has been thriving since it opened in 1857. Deb Connors’ mission, when she was hired as market master in 2003, was to “clean the place up,” she says.
That meant bringing it back to its very rich roots: connecting farmers, ranchers, bakers and craftspeople to those seeking the freshest foods and finest goods.
“When I got here, there were a lot of T-shirt vendors and buy-and-sell trinkets,” says Connors, who checks out all the farms that sell at the market. “Today we have 120 farmer vendors at any given time, and about 35 craft vendors. The person selling the craft has to be the person who makes it.”
Her favorite part of the job, she says, is visiting the farms.
“You sit under the shade trees with the farmers, and you talk about their lives,” she says. “It’s incredible how hard they work.”
No need to head to farms to shoot the breeze with farmers, bakers or craftspeople. Market vendors are happy to spend a few minutes telling you about the flavor of a tomato, how to find the perfect melon, or the time that ear of corn was picked (usually in the wee hours of the morning).
Stop by a stand like Dragush Produce at the Overland Park Farmers Market and you’ll find the line between “friend” and “customer” is pretty blurry.
George Dragush, his wife, Betty, and two of their grandchildren are greeting customers at the booth on a warm Wednesday afternoon in August. Like many along the row at this charming market, this is a family farm. They’ve watched the market grow since they first “pitched a tent” in 1989, says George Dragush, pausing to shake hands with a customer. (Dragush’s tomatoes were featured in the Aug. 27 food section; find recipes in the Eat + Drink section on kansascity.com/living).
“Many of these people have been coming here for years, and I greet them like they’re members of our family, because that’s just how it feels,” he says, turning to sort sweet potatoes in a box perched on a beat-up truck.
Customer Ray Jackson pauses to pat his buddy on the back and adds, “If this guy sells out of tomatoes, I go home and cry.”
Today, we take a look at three vendors at popular local markets.
Huns Garden at City Market
Watch Chaxamone Lor in action on a burning hot morning in August, and you’ll spot an artist. She and her husband, Pov Huns, own Huns Garden, a small farm in Kansas City, Kan., that focuses on organic veggies and flowers.
The heat doesn’t slow her from pulling sunflowers, zinnias and tall bits of ornamental grass into brilliant arrangements.
But catch her in a rare lull, and Lor will open up to reveal a life, to borrow a line from Carole King, that has been a tapestry of rich and royal hues — much like her arrangements.
At first, they set up at the farmers market “just for fun,” says Lor, who has four children with Huns. “But in 2010 I lost my job. Finding another was hard, so I decided to focus on my garden.”
The first year, around six years ago, was the most difficult, Lor says. “Imagine sitting here at the market all day and only selling six bundles?”
But word got out, and in an hour on a recent Saturday, the couple and their teenage sons have easily sold 20 arrangements, along with basil and veggies.
Craig Shannon and Emily Lord walk by and greet the couple enthusiastically. The two neighbors consider shopping at the market a highlight of their week. And this is clearly one of their go-to vendors.
“Look at the arrangement she made me,” Lord says, showing off a riot of pink and peach zinnias she bought for $10. “Her flowers are so fresh, and she’ll do an arrangement with just the colors I want.”
The market is a great place to get out and talk with people, Shannon says.
“You get a great vibe about the town from this market,” he says. “We’ll just mill around and talk to people. It’s a cultural experience.”
The bouquet that Lord holds will last at least a week — far longer than those you can buy at the supermarket, Huns says, showing the air-conditioned vehicle where the couple store their flowers at the perfect temperature. He and his wife moved here from Laos in the ’80s.
For Huns, who has a medical background, it’s essential that they grow their vegetables without chemicals.
“Things like sorrel and bitter melon are good for health,” he says, pointing to the produce. “Some can reduce blood pressure, others give an immune boost.”
Meanwhile, his wife’s passion is the flowers.
“I tell my children, I love them all the same, and that’s how I feel about my flowers,” says Lor, who grows tulips and peonies in the spring. “I love every flower, and I take great care of them. That’s why my customers return.”
Fahrmeier Farms at Overland Park Farmers Market and City Market
The best way to make it as a farmer might well be nestled in a cliché: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
When you visit the Overland Park Farmers Market on Saturdays, you’ll likely meet Bret Fahrmeier and his wife, Lorin, selling sweet corn, tomatoes and other produce.
At City Market on Saturdays, you’ll likely spot the family patriarch, Ron Fahrmeier, behind a booth selling wine, along with veggies like kale, peppers and Japanese eggplant. You can also buy beef and other meat, but it’s the Fahrmeier Family Vineyards wine that draws the crowds, who line up for tastes of award-winning reds, rosés and whites.
Ron’s wife, Joan, is an integral part of the farm, as well, but she’s taking a break from the farmers market scene these days to watch their grandchild.
They get to sleep in a bit in the morning, she says with a laugh.
Farming has changed through the years, she says, and they’ve had to keep up with the times. It was their three sons who came up with the idea to expand into wine and produce.
On a recent Saturday, their son, Brandon, is at City Market with his dad, pointing to a variety of wine that has won several awards.
“Basically it started with our grandparents and livestock, along with row crops,” Brandon says. “Then the boys went to college, and we came back with ideas about how to open a greenhouse and start the wine.”
That diversity has kept the family operation alive, says Brandon’s younger brother, Bret. And surprisingly, he says, hot weather hasn’t kept crowds away.
“A lot of people are fair weather fans,” Bret Fahrmeier says with a laugh. “If it’s raining, they stay home, and that stinks for a farmer who got up at 3 a.m., because we’re bringing those tomatoes, even when it’s pouring.”
Farmers don’t live by markets alone, he says, pointing out that the family farm near Lexington, Mo., does a brisk business with CSAs (community supported agriculture) and with you-pick products, such as green beans, pumpkins and berries.
“What’s great about the market, though, is you get to educate people,” he says. “If you really want to know what’s in your food, and where it really comes from, talk to a farmer.”
Kevin Edwards at Waldo Farmers Market
He may not be dressed all in fur in mid-summer, but visitors to the Waldo Farmers Market will have no trouble finding Kevin Edwards.
Edwards is the owner of K. Kringle & Co. artisan breads, cookies, scones and sweet rolls, along with an assortment of unusual jams. But in November and December, “I’m a professional Santa,” he says with a grin.
It takes no effort to imagine the Independence baker, who works out of an industrial kitchen in a church, as Santa. He has the long white hair and beard, the rosy cheeks and even the twinkling eyes. But more to the point, he clearly loves people.
He and his helpers — his wife of 33 years and a daughter — work late and wake early to ensure baked goods are fresh at this market. This Waldo location is dear to Edwards, who has sold at more than a handful of farmers markets.
“I’ve been in busier markets, but I like this one because it’s so laid back,” he says. “Nobody is in a big rush.”
Like all the vendors in this market, he’s committed to using as much local produce as possible.
“I’ve switched over to a different kind of cinnamon, and there are three different kinds of apples in this jam,” he tells Kamela Bates, who studies the colorful jars.
She lives in the neighborhood and considers this market a gem.
“I love getting the fresh stuff,” Bates says. “Plus, you can’t get that home-grown taste from the supermarket. And it’s nice to support local businesses.”
She’ll go on to visit vendors in tents like those set up by a group called New Roots, a Catholic Charities’ nonprofit that helps refugees farm in a new country. An ice cream vendor sells unique flavors of homemade ice cream, and another vendor is selling grass-fed beef.
For Edwards, who stepped out of a hectic corporate job, farmers markets are the way to go.
“What I love about this is you’re right there with the customer,” he says. “I know that everything a family buys from me is the very best, because at a place like this, you develop relationships.”
A bounty of farmers markets
Following is a list of some of the most notable farmers markets in the area. It’s worth noting that many now accept SNAP dollars, and some markets, like the one in Brookside, offer double SNAP dollars.
Bad Seed “Funky” Friday Night Farmers Market
Organic fruits and veggies, baked goods, gourmet mushrooms, goat cheese, eggs and free-range meats
Where: 1909 McGee St.
When: 4-9 p.m. Fridays through Nov. 21; check site for winter hours
Blue Springs Farmers Market
Fruit, vegetables, flowers, meat
Where: Corner of 11th and Main streets
When: 7 a.m.-noon Saturdays through October
Brookside Farmers Market
Fresh vegetables and herbs, flowers, meat from grass-fed animals, eggs from free-range chickens, handmade products for home and body, and baked goods including vegan and gluten-free items
Where: Corner of 63rd Street and Wornall Road
When: 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays
Produce, meat, eggs, baked goods and crafts from more than 140 vendors
Where: 20 E. Fifth St.
When: 6 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays; 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday through October. See site for winter hours.
Gladstone Farmers Market
Produce, eggs, crafts, baked goods, meats
Where: 7117 N. Prospect Ave.
When: 2-6 p.m. Wednesdays; 7 a.m.-noon Saturdays through October
Independence Farmers Market
Fresh veggies and more
Where: On historic Independence Square, 170 W. Truman Road
When: 5 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays and Wednesdays through October
KC Organics and Natural Market at Minor Park
Organic produce, free-range and heritage breed meats, honey, mushrooms, edible flowers, herbs, grains, artisan breads, cereals and pies, as well as fresh eggs
Where: 1235 E. Red Bridge Road
When: 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 18
Lee’s Summit Farmers Market
More than 50 vendors with produce, meat, baked goods, crafts and plants
Where: Corner of Second and Douglas streets
When: 7 a.m.-sellout Wednesdays and Saturdays through Nov. 29
Liberty Farmers Market
Vegetables and fruits
Where: 1332 W. Kansas St.
When: 7 a.m.-noon Wednesdays
Merriam Farmers Market
Locally grown fruits and vegetables
Where: 5740 Merriam Drive
When: 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 11
Niles Garden Market
A variety of organic herbs and veggies
Where: 1911 E. 23rd St.
When: 4-6 p.m. Tuesdays
North Kansas City Farmers Market
Vegetables, honey, fruits, baked goods
Where: Caboose Park (corner of Amour Road and Howell Street)
When: 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Fridays through October
Info: Go to NKC.org and click “Play”
Olathe Farmers Market
Produce, plants and fresh flowers
Where: 1205 Kansas City Road and at Black Bob Park, 14500 W. 151st, Field 1
When: 7:30 a.m.-sellout Saturdays through Oct. 25; 7:30 a.m.-sellout Wednesdays through Sept. 24
Overland Park Farmers Market
Produce, meat, eggs, baked goods
Where: 7950 Marty St.
When: Saturdays, 6:30 a.m.-1 p.m. through Sept. 27, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Oct. 4-Nov. 22; 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesdays through Sept. 24
Raytown Farmers Market
Emphasis on organic vegetables, baked goods, preserves
Where: 6210 Raytown Road
When: 2-7 p.m. Thursdays; 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays
Shawnee Farmers Market
Produce, eggs, honey, baked goods, crafts
Where: 11110 Johnson Drive
When: 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays through October
Info: CityOfShawnee.org, click “residents,” then “city services”
Troostwood Youth Garden & Market
Organic veggies and herbs
Where: 5142 the Paseo
When: 1-6 p.m. Wednesdays; 3-8 p.m. Fridays; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays through late October
Waldo Farmers Market
Organic veggies, free-range and organic beef, home-crafted ice cream, baked goods
Where: 303 W. 79th St.
When: 3-7 p.m. Wednesdays through September