Sunday, July 24, 2011

Kit goes to Market

Kit has always hoped to bake and sell goodies. Arkansas like all states regulates it's food industry. Arkansas has required use of a commercial kitchen for all foodstuff offered for sale. Kit's immaculate kitchen is cleaner than any restaurant kitchen I've ever seen. But, Arkansas law specifically excluded use of home kitchens, until recently. I suspect that there had been some political motivation. However, under counter pressure from emerging local markets, Arkansas lowered their standards to match the USA FDA. This revision opened the door for Kit.

Kit has joined the Hillcrest Farmers Market. Hillcrest is a classy and well kept residential and shopping area first built in Little Rock in the 1920's. If we were in another country and found an area like Hillcrest, we would call it "charming." To get her started, we made a "small business loan" to Kit from our savings. She baked cookies, muffins, granola, her famous poppy seed bread, and several gluten free cookies. She calls her bake business "Celebrate". Nearly everything sold out the very first week. She's already made enough profit to repay her loan.

Kit's enterprise has opened the door for Drew as well. In his raised bed gardens, he can raise commercial quality vegetables. But, he hasn't produced enough quantity yet to justify the fees to rent a stall in an open air market. However, the combination of baked goods and vegetables certainly justified the fees. His vegetables sold out as well, even though we had deliberately placed the prices high hoping to bring some home for ourselves. A commercial peach farmer once coached me, "If you can grow it, you can sell it." Turned out that he was right.

Failure of the pumpkin crop - coyotes like watermelons

Drew's gardening expertise is using intensive raised beds. But, hoping to start a larger scale U-pick pumpkin farm we had put in a trial field plot near the river last spring. The almost organic plants flourished. Straw was placed between all of the rows to give a resting place for each pumpkin. But, not very long after this photo was taken the plants started to wither. Tiny holes appeared at the base of every plant. Squash vine borers destroyed the entire crop. We expect to try again next year. Then we'll have to use some chemicals. We'll spray before the fruit forms. Nobody is likely to eat the pumpkins anyway.

We had also put in an trial plot of watermelons. The plants at first did not thrive. Not until the hot weather of mid June did the plants start to grow rapidly and form fruit. Lots of healthy melons of various varieties appeared. I poured on the water using our irrigation well. The melons were nearly ripe when in one night something ate 20 or more. In a couple of days, nearly all of our melons were destroyed. The damage didn't look like raccoons who typically make a small hole and hollow out the middle with their hands. Teeth marks looked like small bears ate the watermelons. "Coyotes ..." a commercial farmer told me "... absolutely love watermelons." That fit. We do hear a lot of coyotes singing at night very near the house. And the plants had been crushed down by animals larger than raccoons or woodchucks. It still might have been a family of bears. The previous owner killed 3 bears on this property in the 1990's. But, my bet is on our resident pack of coyotes.

Finally, the good news. Drew's raised beds are doing very well. This year we had every type of garden vegetable we tried. Nearly everything was commercial quality. We anticipate only improvement as we yearly enrich the soils and get more experience with Arkansas conditions.