The farmer’s market in Fayetteville, Arkansas is known for its colorful flower bouquets as much as it is for fruits and vegetables.
Most of the vendors who sell heirloom tomatoes are also selling zinnias and dahlias in a rainbow of colors.
Around since 1973, the market on Fayetteville’s historic square has grown into a hip place on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. I was there last Saturday. Visiting the market helped me get a good picture of what Fayetteville is like.
I saw it this way: A miniature Austin without so much “weird” crossed with Oxford, Mississippi without so much Oxford shirts or Faulkner.
New urban gardeners with their organic kale and food trucks
2. Rugged farmers from places like Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove who’ve been working the terraced slopes of the Ozark Mountain foothills for decades and
3. Many Asian family farmers introducing squash blossoms and edamame to the local food scene.
Arkansas’ growing number of Asian farmer includes Xiong’s Farm in Decatur, Arkansas. They have been selling at the Fayetteville Farmers Market for six years.
Arkansas is on the forefront of the growing edamame industry. It was the first state to commercially grow the edamame soybean variety. And, the town of Mulberry near Fort Smith is home to the annual Edamame Festival. Learn more here.
So Arksansas is now home to the Edamame Festival as well as the Purple Hull Pea Festival (Emerson).
It’s National Farmers Market Week, and I appreciate my Shreveport Farmers Market and the smaller markets in my community. But I also enjoy visiting other markets when I’m on the road.
I was traveling on Interstate 20 the other day and made a stop in West Monroe, Louisiana. I’ve always loved Antique Alley there and never seem to have enough time to cover the whole strip.
I was glad to check out Miss Kay’s Sweets & Eats. The Duck Dynastypersonality recently opened a bakery and lunch spot in a renovated 1920s-era building that was once West Monroe’s first gas station. I was in a hurry so I grabbed some potato salad to go. (I’m a tough potato salad critic, so if that’s an example of the quality of other items on the menu, I’ll be back!).
I enjoyed the mural on the side of the building (see top of page) and was glad to know the West Monroe Farmers Market wasn’t far away and open six days a week, so I hopped on over. Here are a few pictures from that quick trip.
With the enticing displays of watermelons at the grocery store, you may not feel the need to drive to a produce stand or farmers market to find a juicy sweet one.
But sometimes you find yourself on a Louisiana country road in July, passing handmade signs advertising hay for sale, fresh farm eggs and, less frequently, melons.
I was on such a road, Highway 4 in Bienville Parish, the other day when I came across all of those signs, including one for Plunkett Farms Watermelons near the General Store of Castor.
It actually advertised watermelons and black Angus, but since I didn’t have the need (or room in our Camry) for the latter, I concentrated on the melons.
Highway 4 is already off of the beaten path, but you have to go even farther –another half mile or so on a dirt road–past the main house, rusted tractors and sycamore trees to get to Plunketts 20-acre watermelon patch.
There I found Ronald Plunkett and his helpers under a canopy shading them from the harsh afternoon sun. The melons weren’t piled up there, but I was invited to ride in a cart to the field to pick the one I wanted.
Plunkett himself goes out early in the morning, hand picks the ripe ones and piles them up at the edge of the field. By the time he opens at 7 a.m., there’s often a line of truck peddlers waiting to buy them. Plunkett’s father began growing watermelons 68 years ago, and the Plunketts have sold to Brookshire’s and Walmart until the vendor rules got too onerous for him. He has another 25 acres of watermelons planted elsewhere.
We were on our way to Jonesboro that day, and I would have loved to have chatted more but I did get to ask Plunkett and his helpers how to pick the perfect watermelon–whether you’re in the field, at a farmers market or at Kroger.
“Look for a brown scar. I don’t know why but that’s how I have the best luck,” said one guy. I did a little research online where one report suggested brown scarring or webbing meant there was more pollination of the flowers that produce the fruit on the watermelon vine. More pollination = more sweetness, many reports say.
Other tips I’ve read about include:
(1) a creamy yellow “field spot”
(2) a brown rather than a green stem and
(3) uniformly shaped, whether round or oval.
I asked Plunkett for his best advice:
“If it’s shiny on the outside, it’s not ripe. It dulls as it ripens,” he said.
Whatever method you use, Plunkett said the least is the thumping.
“You’re not doing anything but making your finger sore.”
Castor is about an hour southeast of Shreveport and 18 miles west of Saline, a town known for its watermelons. Along my drive the other day, I found some other signs. One advertised Saline Watermelons and gave a telephone number. Another house with a patch outside simply had “Melons” painted on a white sheet. Bienville Parish is a colorful slice of rural Louisiana. If you want to learn more, read here or here.
Most summers we make a trek or two over to Mitcham Farms in Ruston, Louisiana for their delicious peaches.
It’s usually in mid-July when the freestone peaches are in their prime. But with this year’s mild winter and lack of chill hours for the trees, Mitcham’s has already exhausted their supply for the season.
Ditto other places I checked–Ed Lester in Coushatta, Frierson Orchards and several orchards in Texas.
No more peaches this year.
So I expanded my research and found Efurd Orchards just south of Pittsburg, Texas. The bad news is that it is an hour and 45 minute-drive from my house. The good news is the Efurds expect to have plenty of peaches through early September, and the drive makes an interesting road trip through the Piney Woods of East Texas.
Efurds is a entertaining destination farm stand with a whole lot more than peaches and preserves. When we were there mid-week, the place was a abuzz with daytrippers and peach questers wandering around the vintage vehicles on the grounds, meandering around the antique artifacts in the open-air market and lining up at the homemade ice cream counter.
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Oh, yeah and loading up on peaches. On that day, juicy Red Contenders were ripe; this week, Redskins are expected. Customers not only were buying pecks of peaches, but tomatoes, watermelons, peas and any fruit or vegetable that grows in East Texas.
Owner Greg Efurd and his daughter were busy at the cash register and chatting with customers. They explained that the 20 varieties of peaches they planted allowed them enough diversity to have peaches when many others don’t.
The Efurds have been growing peaches since 1972 and now have about 15,000 trees spread out on 150 acres. They also grow other produce. It’s especially busy in the spring when strawberries are getting ripe and the fall harvest season when the stand is ablaze with pumpkins and colorful mums.
There are several routes to take from Shreveport, each with its own interesting diversion. We exited Interstate 20 onto U.S. Highway 80 east of Marshall and followed state highway 154 through the woods, stopping at the Bear Creek Smokehouse company store to stock up on their local sausages and bacon. We ate hamburgers at Swanner’s, in Gilmer and bought a yellow-meated watermelon at the cute Lineberger Produce on U.S. 271 heading toward Efurds.
Lineberger was selling peaches too. Further up the road we found McPeak Orchards, itself a nice stop with peaches and a good bit of produce.
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After Efurd’s, we wandered a few miles north of Pittsburg to get a look at the gargantuan Bo Pilgrim bust, which sits atop a gazebo at the Pilgrim’s poultry distribution center. Pilgrim is Pittsburg’s most famous resident. He once headed the nation’s largest poultry operation. Pilgrim’s is now owned by a Brazilian company but Bo Pilgrim’s presence is seen everywhere in Pittsburg,
Along the way, we passed a few more homespun garden produce stands; some in covered sheds; others spread out on folding tables in the front yard.
Texas isn’t lacking in “trails” to entice road trips. There’s bluebonnet trails, barbecue trails, wine trails, even presidential trails (LBJ, the Bushes and JFK Museum).
But I think we’ve just added our own peach trail to that list.
Efurd’s is on U.S. Highway 271 three miles of south of Pittsburg and is currently open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. While in Pittsburg, you may want to check out some of these places below, although the vineyards and the museum are only open Thursdays and weekends and the hot link place is closed Sundays. Check the websites for specific hours of operation.
Los Pinos Vineyards: One of 19 wineries on the East Texas Piney Woods Wine Trail, this one is just 2.5 miles away from Efurd Orchards on County Road 1334.
Northeast Texas Rural Heritage Museum: This is actually two museums — Depot Museum with a life-size replica of the Ezekiel Airship, a local flying invention that predated the Wright Brothers’ first flight; and Farmstead Museum, with historic buildings and demonstrations by people dressed in period costumes.
Pittsburg Hot Links: The hot links is a food item peculiar to this slice of East Texas. They are typically served in a bowl with saltines, cheese, onions and pickle slices . The Pittsburg Hot Links restaurant is in downtown Pittsburg.
Something is always going on at Faith Farms & Arena on Highway 527 in the southern Bossier Parish community of Elm Grove.
Every other Sunday afternoon there’s a farmers market with a neighborly feel. I went just before the Fourth of July and found fresh tomatoes, sweet corn, juicy watermelon and beef for the grill. Plus, there was plenty to take home for the freezer — purple hull peas, pintos, crowders and such.
The farm has been owned by Larry and Debbie Roberts for more than 20 years and is now managed by grandson Colton Wilkins, who has cattle and horses and typical agriculture crops of wheat, corn & hay.
But there’s so much more to this family-run operation that will keep you coming back again and again.
Colton’s mother, Candy Wilkins, the Roberts’ daughter, is the event manager and has been adding activities during the past year to meet the need for more family entertainment. Besides the biweekly farmers market, there’s:
*Farm animal petting zoo, play area and pony rides. (You also can bring your own horse ($10 fee) have a good place to ride.
*Sunday lunch and Monday/Wednesday suppers. Candy’s husband Buck is usually frying catfish for lunch on farmer’days ($10). Meals are offered for sale (eat in or to go) on Monday and Wednesday nights for an affordable $7 to $10.
*Kernel Kobb’s Corn Maze. Beginning Sept. 23 through Oct. 31, Kernal Kobb’s corn maze will bring more activity here along with haunted house — the Gentleman Death’s Shocktale Show, run by Shreveport’s longstanding Gas Light Players theatre group.
There’s a plethora of activity throughout the year–horse riding events, Valentine’s Dinner, an Easter egg hunt, Polar Express family movie night, bible studies, concerts and charity benefits.
You don’t have to drive far from Shreveport-Bossier City to experience a little country life. If you only have a few minutes, drop by and pick up some fresh produce or a meal to go. If you want to while away an afternoon arrive early, eat lunch in and air conditioned portion of the arena, let kids play or ride ponies and enjoy a fun Sunday summer afternoon on the farm.
Next Farmer’s Market Dates: July 16 & 30 noon to 4 p.m.
I often hit the Shreveport Farmers Market with a specific theme. Last week it was herbs. My next trip may be grass-fed beef. And the next may be zuchinni relish. (Yes, I have come away with five different varieties without making all of the relish booths).
Since I have a vegetable garden and I’ve already picked my own berries at Shuqualak Farms, I had fun hunting for herb-related products the other day. I’m sure I missed some, but here’s three interesting vendors you may want to visit:
Sundew Herbs: Carol Jeter has been selling healthy herbs at the market for a number of years now and has added beautiful succulents to her reasonably- priced live herbs, handmade soaps and herbal products and gifts.
The herbs I have bought from her usually flourish, and she gives great tips on how to how to make that happen. She’s an early summer vendor and won’t be around later in July and August but you can follow Sundew Herbs on Facebook.
McKissick Herb Farm: I saw the McKissicks herb and produce farm while driving along Buncombe Road the other day and caught up with Marilyn McKissick at a recent Shreveport Farmers Market. McKissick is a registered nurse who has researched the health benefits of essential oils. She sells several varieties at the farmers market along with her produce.
I’m new to essential oils but have been reading about lavender oil as a sleep aid. I figure it’s worth a try (and a whole lot cheaper than a new $1500 Posturepedic mattress or even a $100 My Pillow investment). And it smells wonderful!
She also had “thieves oil,” an essential oil recipe that dates back to the Middle Ages. There are many legends — in one thieves robbed from bodies that had succumbed to the bubonic plague. The oil concoction spared them from getting the disease.
I also came away with a cleaning spray made with organic-based ingredients and essential oils of lavender, pepper mint, lemon and eucalyptus.
The McKissicks also are early summer vendors, when their produce is at its prime but will be back at the fall market that begins in October.
Red Earth Wildcrafted: You may have seen Emily Mills around town giving talks on medicinal herbs, leading plant walks or foraging around for wild food.
That’s all part of her role a a clinical herbalist. Trained by the Wildflower School for Botanical Medicine in Austin, Mills’ mission is finding ways to use native plants medicinally no matter where she lives. Now, she’s become an expert at using Southern plants, but her interest started when she and her husband lived in England and Spain.
I bought a few things, including an “aches and pains salve” handmade with red cedar, goldenrod, organic olive and sunflower oils and local beeswax. For a long time I thought I was highly allergic to goldenrod, but, according to Mills and other information I’ve read, it’s the ragweed that blooms at the same as goldenrod that causes the allergy symptoms.
Mills plans to be at the market until later in the season, so you can catch her there. Her products also are at The Agora Borealis art market in Shreveport and sometimes available on etsy.com.
I love stumbling upon summer produce on the side of the road like I did the other day when I was taking the backroads to a clock repair shop.
Driving down Buncombe Road on the west edge of Shreveport turned out to be a nice adventure.
It all started when I saw the muscadine vines and an “open” sign at On Cloud Wine, which bills itself as “the biggest little winery in Louisiana.” Outside, chickens, geese and ducks were roaming, and there were fresh eggs for sale in the porch refrigerator.
Inside, owner Debbie Keckler was cleaning some equipment used to produce and bottle 16 varieties of wine. One Cloud Winery makes all of the wine onsite with juices from all over the world and the muscadines growing just a few feet away.
Cajun Culade, a sweet muscadine wine, and Bourbon Street Jazz, White Zinfandel, and wine of the month, are just two of the catchy Louisiana-themed names. There’s also lots of cute gift items.
Hours are Monday through Friday 1 to 6 pm and Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm. The tasting bar is open Thursdays through Saturdays.
Next, I came across a truckload of watermelons and a canopy covering fresh vegetables at the intersection of Woolworth and Buncombe roads. Clyde Adams is there most Mondays through Saturdays. Everything he was selling that day came from his farm in nearby Greenwood, except for the red and yellow-meated watermelons that he brought in from DeRidder.
I picked up some squash and my first watermelon of the season, I did not regret it. It’s usually hit or miss when I pick watermelons, but Clyde thumped around and found me a winner.
A few miles down the road, I began seeing Burma-shave style signs announcing what’s upcoming—“cucumbers…raw honey…canning tomatoes…sweet corn 4 u freezer.”
I must have just missed the closing. The gate was locked so I’ll have to go back another time. The stand is called Matthew’s Garden, and it’s regularly open weekdays and Saturday afternoons.
Next to that farm is Mikissick Herb Farm. The McKissicks don’t have a roadside stand but sell fresh produce and essential oils at the Shreveport Farmers Market. I caught up with Marilyn McKissick last Saturday, who said the summer crop is winding down but she’s planting fall tomatoes.
She also said at least one more farmer may occasionally sell produce at the corner of Buncombe and Simpson Road
Along the way I saw Black-eyed Susans blooming, eggs and hay for sale and maybe an old tractor too. When I got to Greenwood, there was also produce for sale at the entrance of a BBQ restaurant, but I had already spent my budget.
So I recommend a summer drive down Buncombe Road. You never know what you might find.
That’s the question you are asked repeatedly in New Mexico. It refers to how you like your chiles. I saw plenty of chile and other red and green products on a re ent trip to the Santa Fe Farmers Market, along with splashes of orange, lavender, yellow and just about every color you can imagine.
The Santa Fe Farmer’s Market in the restored Railyard district is a colorful blend of vendors from small family farms near the Rio Grande with urban gardeners from artsy Santa Fe and Taos.
Lots of greens: Salad lettuces of mixed shades. Fresh green sugar snap peas. Sage sticks bundled and shaped like cactus or crosses. Lacy green carrot tops poking out of backpacks and tote bags.
And reds: Beets. Rhubarb. Hydroponic tomatoes– still too early for the ones grown directly in soil. Red radishes, some fat as softballs; others more like golf balls. Yellow-skinned Rainier cherries blushing with red and $8 a pound price tags. Mahogany red chokecherries, tiny cherries slightly astringent in flavor.
Fresh chiles were there in abundance and also dried powders, dried wreath pods, green chile salsa and a slew of other products. It’s the same pepper; the stage of ripeness determines the color. New Mexico is to the green chile as Louisiana is to cayenne pepper, but did you know the chile is NOT New Mexico’s #1 agricultural food product. It’s the pecan, and we were surprised to see so many lush groves as we drove throughout the state. New Mexico is second to Georgia in pecan production.
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And a rainbow of other colors were there too including blue, orange and red corn.
Since, I was traveling, I had to skip the fresh fruits and veggies the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market and hang out at the bread vendors. My favorite was the Intergalactic Bread Company. I originally thought the name came from the Mediterranean flatbreads that kind of look like flying saucers. But, the vendor corrected, “it’s because the taste is out of this world.”
I recommend the green chile cheese bread.
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I just went berry picking at Shuqualak (pronounced “sugar lock” Farms in Frierson.
There’s usually plenty of berry options at local farmers markets, but there’s something about donning the straw hat and watching the sun rise as you head to a rural berry patch to pick your own.
Broox and Judy Burris run the blueberry and blackberry operation started by Broox’s father in 1986. The land has been in Broox’s family since 1916. He’s the fourth generation owner.
During berry season, the farm is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. There are about four acres each of blueberry and blackberry bushes. Check out the Shuqualak Farms Facebook page for up-to-date status.
Since I did get up before dawn, I was the first customer that day. I got a chance to chat with Judy, a fun person and a great source of information on how to get the best berries. “A gentle touch and they fall in your hands. If you have to tug, they’re not ripe enough yet.”
Shuqualak is a town in Mississippi. Broox’s father came across the town while traveling and felt it would be a good name for the farm since he called his wife “Sug” and the Choctaw Indian name meant “hog heaven.” He asked the mayor of Shuqualak if it was OK to use it.
So it’s Shuqualak Farms, but you won’t find any hogs there, no sugar cane — just blackberries and blueberries bursting with flavor as well as antioxidants, fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, manganese and a host of other nutrients that put them on many “super food” lists.
Shuqualak Farms is off Highway 175 and a 20-minute drive from the edge of Shreveport. I have ridden this route several times with bicycle groups. Just before you get to the Shuqualak Farms turn, you’ll pass Bit’s Country Store, our bicycle group’s stop for breakfast.
Whether you’re on a bicycle or not, I suggest you stop in and grab a sausage egg biscuit. The biscuits are melt-in-your-mouth fluffy.
Highway 175 intersects Harts Island Road, a popular Shreveport bicycling route. It’s about 11 miles from the LSU Pecan Station to Bit’s Country Store and less than a half mile from the store’s biscuits to Shuqualak’s blueberry and blackberry bushes.
In Louisiana I’ve always thought April was for strawberries, May was for blackberries, June for blueberries and July was the best time for peaches. But that may vary from year to year and by fruit variety. Like autumn fall color, berry season is short so you want to pick while you can.
“Mother Nature has the final say. This year we didn’t have a winter so the blueberries that normally just begin to get ripe June 1 have been early this year,” Judy said.
After you’ve filled your bucket, return to the Blueberry Barn, an old farmhouse built before the turn of the century, and sample a blueberry popsicle. You can buy some to take home or buy the syrup to make your own.
Blueberries and blackberries are $14 for five quarts if you pick your own. Blueberries also are usually available pre-picked for $20.
There’s also smaller kid’s buckets, picnic tables, harness buckets so you can pick with two hands, even canes to borrow for balance.
Even though I can’t usually load up on fruits and vegetables, I like to visit farmers markets while traveling to experience the local flavor and check out the booths and creative vendor names.
On a recent Saturday, I went to the Phoenix Public Market on the edge of downtown Phoenix.
Local tomatoes, organic herbs and oranges (orange trees are on residential lawns everywhere in Phoenix) were abundant. However, the best thing I ate came from Jerusalem Bakery. I got two outstanding borekas, sesame seed-topped phyllo dough with different fillings inside. One borek a was stuffed with feta cheese and kalamata olives and other with mushrooms, cheese and onions.
Although not a food booth, my favorite name was a shaving kit booth run by an Army veteran: “Shaving Private Ryan.”
Bicycle Trips, Road Trips, Farmers Markets and Lagniappe Along the Way