Local farmers markets provide a link between customer, farmer

2013-06-14T23:51:00Z 2013-10-15T15:54:09Z Local farmers markets provide a link between customer, farmerSusan Erler susan.erler@nwi.com, (219) 662-5336 nwitimes.com

A fixture at the Hobart Summer Market, Phyllis Verduzco fields all kinds of questions from customers, from whether her produce is organic to how to prepare the homegrown zucchini.

More than anything, "they want to know how local we are," Verduzco said.

Those types of exchanges between grower and consumer are exactly what produce growers hope for as farmers markets grow in popularity, said Porter County Extension Director Annetta Jones.

The number of farmers markets nationwide increased to 7,864 in 2012, from 1,755 in 1994, according to information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"One of the reasons it's great and that we promote locally grown foods is because we're encouraging consumers to know the farmer that grows the foods," Jones said. "Even the USDA is promoting get-to-know-the-farmer and to use those farm markets as a way to do that."

Food is at its most nutritious when it is freshest, Jones said. "If it is coming from local markets, they often pick it the morning it comes to market."

One of the benefits "is that if you know the farmer, the farmer is more receptive, more aware of what the consumer wants," Jones said.

The variety of produce grown by Javier Verduzco, Phyllis's husband, has expanded and changed over the years to meet customers' demands, Phyllis Verduzco said.

Recently, they added lima beans and crowder peas — along with larger-sized yellow watermelons — to the variety of produce grown on the 5 acres Javier Verduzco farms in Hobart, not far from the city's Summer Market.

Javier Verduzco plants the seeds indoors starting in January, and as the crops ripen starting in June, he picks them the night before or early morning of the Summer Market, held from 2 to 7 p.m. on Thursdays at Festival Park, 111 E. Old Ridge Road in Hobart.

"If they ask for it, we will grow it if we can," Phyllis Verduzco said.

A farmers market boot camp held earlier this year in LaPorte County trained farmers in the use of social media to help promote their business and honed skills needed to work directly with customers, said LaPorte County Extension economic and community development educator Mary Foell.

"There are more farmers that are thinking about promoting their product through other than just word of mouth," Foell said. "Consumers are looking not only for the freshest product, but also for something they know is reliable and for different kinds of produce."

Shawn Sonnerburg, markets manager for Frank Farms, of Berrien Center, Mich., brings fresh fruit and vegetables to the Miller Beach Farmers Market, 667 S. Lake St. in Gary, and to six other markets in Chicago.

The farm's strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples and other fruits are a big draw for customers, Sonnerburg said.

"People are wanting to eat healthier than they had in the past," Sonnerburg said. "They want to get personal, to learn from the farmers what's going on."

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