“Do any of your vendors have watermelons?” Questions overheard at a Michigan farmers market

Even though Memorial Day weekend is the un-official start of summer it make take more time for your favorite summer fruits and vegetables to appear at your local farmers market, that is, from a local farm!

You might not find all of the vegetables you are looking for at a local farmers market if they are out of season. l MSU Extension
You might not find all of the vegetables you are looking for at a local farmers market if they are out of season. l MSU Extension

The following are some questions that were asked at a farmers market in Michigan recently. The answers can be helpful to understand how seasons affect local food and how this season is progressing.

Q.   Do any of your vendors have watermelon?

A.   From Michigan? Shoppers at farmers markets will not see those until August at the earliest. But there may still be watermelon from other states on sale at farmers markets. Some farmers markets in the state may allow produce to be bought from outside the state and re-sold to customers, just as grocery stores have produce from around the world. Those watermelons are still good, they just are not from Michigan. For local watermelon, shoppers will need to understand the virtue of delayed gratification because watermelons take 70 to 90 days (depending on the variety) to grow and ripen. For farmers that were just planting over Memorial Day, that means that watermelons will start to appear around mid-July for 70-day varieties and mid-August for 90-day varieties. Check back at the market later in the summer – think Labor Day picnic, not Memorial Day picnic.

Q.   When does the good stuff get to market? Like sweet corn and tomatoes?

A.    So glad that the question identified what the “good stuff” is! While many people do think that early season produce like asparagus and rhubarb is “good stuff”, most also love corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, musk melons and more! The seasons for some of these items are later in the summer- sweet corn will appear at markets in mid- to late July.

To make seasons for fruit and vegetables more complicated is that some farmers are using passive solar green houses, or hoop houses, to start some crops earlier and keep growing them longer. Tomatoes are often grown this way and they will also probably be priced higher if they are at market earlier than during the regular season. The MSU Center for Regional Food Systems has created a Michigan Produce Availability Guide that includes information about what things are field-grown and what might come from a hoop house or greenhouse or might be stored from last year.

Q.   Why aren’t there more farmers here? There’s not much to choose from!

A.    At many markets that plan annual opening in May, the early market season is a bit quieter. The reason is that cold weather prevented early season planting. When the weather did warm up this spring, heavy rains delayed planting. The question might arise, “Why is wet weather bad for planting, I thought that plants need water?” Plants do need water, but fields that are too wet can be bad for planting, especially if heavy equipment is needed to cover a large area. Heavy equipment can compact soil that is water saturated and even get bogged down in mud. And if it continues to rain after planting, seeds and young transplants can be washed out. So even though farmers want rain, timing and amounts of moisture are very important too!

Michigan State University Extension promotes the use of local food systems for your everyday food needs and much of that can be found at a farmstand or farmers market close to you. For more information on local food systems, contact the Community Food Systems team.

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