Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Muskegon Farmer's Market Plods Through The Winter As the Vendors Plan for the Future by Planting Trees.

The farmers market changes from Saturday to Saturday. Jean's Produce had returned after the really cold Saturday the previous weekend. Jean had sold the entire supply of grade A honeycrisp apples earlier, before my late morning arrival. She offered me a good price on Jonathans, and I don't know Jonathans from McIntoshes. So I turned the pecks of Jonathans down. Several vendors had pecks of Homeycrisps on sale, priced much higher than Jean's bigger baskets. So I remembered seeing the value section at the far end of Jean's stall near the door and asked if she had Honeycrisps of lesser quality. "Yes, but they are seconds." "I guess I can trim them, pick out the good ones. One bad apple doesn't spoil the whole bunch, as the Jackson Five have sung". And so I carried out two bushels of Homeycrisps out to my car, one dollar a bushel. A few had blemishes and soft spots when I inspected the bushels. Nothing to frighten off a guy who had picked apples straight off the orchard trees.

Amish Bob had gone to Kentucky for important meetings, information shared by his wife, who was working her booth with a quiet young woman who wore a white head scarf, sitting on a metal chair, reading a book with a thoughtful expression on her face. I was happy to see the family back but dismayed to see a table spread only with breads and cookies to sell. Two weeks ago, I had purchased a beautiful, thick blueberry pie for a mere four dollars. I asked if she had sold out. "Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot to bake the pies! I'll make sure to bake pies next week!" My manners must be improving. I didn't exclaim, "How could one forget to bake those yummy pies?" I said thank you and moved along. Now I am obliged to showing up and buying pies next week.

I ordered up a coffee from the Aldea coffee guy, and he pointed out who enjoyed the "Pay it forward" coffee I had bought last Saturday. The man looked too much like Harry Chapin & he was helping to sell wood-fired bread at Laughing Tree. I paid for my pour over and gave him money for one more pay it forward coffee. This time I added, "It's okay if the identity of the recipient is kept from me". He agreed. He was fussing with a new coffee system called an aero-press, and he taught how the press made a coffee concentrate. The aero-press was that good at extracting coffee flavor from the beans, allowing him to make a quality coffee faster and with fewer beans. He admitted he was a gadget geek, always reading coffee news looking for an edge. He might look like a lonely barista trying to make a quick buck on Saturdays. Truth is, his operation supports a ten person operation in Central America, harvesting, pruning and planting orchards of high altitude coffee trees. This summer, the Aero-Presses will be for sale.

I had run through my three pounds of frozen blueberries, so I was crushed when I didn't see the man standing at a card table with a chest cooler on top, leaning on it, his frozen three pound bags awaiting purchase. His blueberry farm has an address on Hilton Park Road, halfway to Ravenna, and I've considered making an early evening run to stock up. Maybe if he doesn't show up this coming Saturday, I'll make the trip. There's still blueberry fields adjacent to the Lakes Mall, so finding a farmer with frozen blueberries to sell near home couldn't be impossible.

Kasza Sugar Bush had taken a pass for this warmer Saturday, and even the woman from Oceana Vineyard had returned after the cold snap. That disappointed because drinking the Aldea Coffee with a leaf shaped lozenge of Maple Sugar candy has an irreplaceable charm. I was wondering just how much premium maple syrup the family could be selling during the winter farmer's market. Their product will keep until the crowds return in Spring. 

Aldea Coffee has teams of Latin-Americans planting coffee trees. Kasza has just put in an orchard of two-thousand Maples in Hart, Michigan. The trees are specially bred to produce sap with more sugar, promising more syrup from a single tree. Bought from a nursery in Missouri, a special rootball system suppresses the tap root. The trees can be tapped ten years from now rather than three or four decades. So we have Aldea Coffee experimenting with coffee makers and Kasza experimenting with trees. As the Aldea guy said, "Farmer's Market people tend to be innovative geeks". As long as I have good coffee and pure maple syrup at my market for a long time to come, I'm all for innovation.

Will Juntunen

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