Abby's Mums

Abby's Mums

Abby's family sold mums during the 2016 market season, but she's her own boss this year. All through the month of October, her parents drop her off with an enormous trailer of mums and let her navigate her own way as the youngest member of the Neosho Farmers Market.

"It’s a little weird, but I get along with everybody and I like working with adults,” she said with a laugh. "It helps me with skills that I’ll need to learn in life, and it’s easier to learn on my own."

She stumbled into the mum business thanks to her uncle, a longtime mum-grower. "He said, 'I think I’m going to get out of the mum business but, Abby, you’re more than welcome to them if you like.'” After mulling over the prospect for a few months, she finally bought his mats and irrigation system and got to work.

Byrdhouse Farm

Byrdhouse Farm

Behind the spread of pies and breads at the Byrdhouse Farm booth, the friendly but shy baker Lucy Byrd is fairly reserved—until you start asking her about pie. It’s just the trigger she needs to jump start a discussion. Everywhere on social media, it seems, pies are trending, and she’s definitely got an opinion about that.                                                                                                

“I see people going for the showy, glitzy look instead of the real flavors and it just disappoints me. Pie is part of who we are. There’s a tradition here of flavor and richness. You need to go back to that. Eat real food.”

Lucy loves the farmers' market because it brings people together in search of a common goal: access to fresh, local food. “As a small farmer myself, I believe we need to be supporting each other, and I think that we need to be eating locally.”

For her baked goods, Lucy uses as many local ingredients as possible, striving for quality and authenticity. The woman even grinds her own whole wheat. It’s an old-fashioned principle that harkens back to a simpler time.

Devotees of old-fashioned pies are sure to delight in Lucy’s baked goods. Pie is so central to her life that she skipped the whole wedding cake business and instead opted for 20 fruit pies and homemade ice cream. It might sound unusual, but it’s really. She comes from pie people.

When she was six years old, she stumbled into her grandmother’s kitchen on Thanksgiving Day and found all the women of her family—mother and aunts and sisters and cousins—gathered around a table, laughing and carrying on intimately over plates of pie. Lucy, who was a picky eater and didn't like pie at the time, asked what the fuss was all about.

They turned to look at her and said, “Sweetie. This is pie.

To prove their point, they invited her to sit and someone placed a small plate of blueberry pie before her. “It was so good that it made the back of my tongue ache,” Lucy recalls. “The flavors… it changed my world.”

From then on, she was hooked. Today, she uses that very same blueberry pie recipe for market. And her other pies—razzleberry, cherry, blackberry, peach, even sweet potato—all come handed-down from the women of her earlier generations. She has her mother’s cookbooks, time-honored and dog-eared, worn at the seams, marked, stained, smeared with use. She consults the recipes of her grandmother, born in 1895, which are often little more than a list of ingredients.

Heritage matters, but quality matters, too, and that’s what Lucy finds in these antique instructions.

Old recipes ask for more natural ingredients—honey as opposed to corn syrup in pecan pie, for example. “Old pies are less sweet and [have] more flavor. They always taste better. You can taste better. I have people that come back to the booth all the time and say, ‘That pie tasted like the pie my great-grandmother used to make.’ And I say, ‘That’s because it comes from the recipes that your great-grandmother used to use.’ That is the best compliment. It makes my day.”

Treasures of Eden

Treasures of Eden

After retiring from a life-long career as a cake decorator and pastry chef, Tina Anthony found an unusual outlet for the skills acquired during her career.

“I saw a magazine article in Victoria Magazine and they had these beautiful little petite fours. When I looked closer, they were made of soap. I thought, ‘I have got to do that.’”

So began her second life as an artisan soapmaker. Treasures of Eden Body Boutique specializes in an enormous range of uniquely hand-crafted products that include everything from deodorant to face masks to bath salts. And, of course, soap.

“There’s people who make soaps, and there are soap artists. It’s different. I’m a soap artist.”

Her unusual soap decorating style mimics what one might find on in an upscale bakery. They can resemble layer cakes or pies and other indulgent goodies. At the Neosho Farmers Market, her soaps are often initially mistaken as fudge, or even brownies. And with ingredients like coconut powder and espresso beans, these little pretties look good enough to eat.

And that’s sort of the point.

But she’s also interested in health and is always researching how different ingredients — like bavasu, olive, flax seed, or rice bran oil — affect the skin. In addition to being a creative outlet, Tina's interest in soap making is practical, too. The main reason she began making soap was because she couldn't tolerate the fragrances used in commercial soaps.

"My pitch for natural soap is that you’re not getting any chemical detergents, sodiums this and sodiums that. You’re getting pure oils, most of them organic, and they’re really good for your skin," she says. “I care about organic ingredients because I want to get as good of quality of oils as possible. I use my soap, and I have a very high standard."

Tina uses as many organic and/or GMO-free ingredients as possible, and she can provide 100 percent vegan soaps by request. She also uses botanical extracts, herb teas, hemp milk, aloe vera juice, and even beers, ales, and lagers.

Tina works in the cozy but bright kitchen of her historic house near downtown Joplin.  She uses a special soap calculator to calculate properties like hardness, conditioning, and cleansing. Cold processing techniques produce a workable batter that she can manipulate into complex shapes and designs.

The soaps firm inside of a silicon soap mold, and then Tina uses a simple tool that looks similar to a cheese slicer to cut the loaves into 1"-thick bars. Though she takes special care to decorate the surface of the soap, she never knows what the inside will look like until she cuts it open.

"That is the soaper's thrill," she says. "It’s an artistic outlet, and it makes me feel really good."

It's not uncommon for people to approach Tina's booth at Market because they think she's selling candy or individually-wrapped pieces of cake. Many of her other soaps look like earthy, smooth blocks of gemstones or dreamy ombre landscapes pretty enough to display as art. And with varieties like gardenia, lavender, lemon paradise, pumpkin ale, and more, she definitely has the best-smelling booth at market. These handcrafted, one-of-a-kind soaps make great gifts for others or a small self-indulgence for yourself.

“The most common thing that I get with customer response is that my soaps are too pretty to use. My counter is, ‘If I don’t spoil you, who will?’

Want to try before you buy? Grab a free sample next weekend. Tina is at Market every Saturday and also sells on Etsy.

 

 

Weaver Birds Rugs

Weaver Birds Rugs

“I’m a recycler. That’s why I have a used bookstore here,” says Dorothy Black Cliff, owner of Read Again Books in Granby.

Dorothy might be a bookworm, but she caught the weaving bug ten years ago and hasn’t been able to shake it since. At the heart of her bookstore are tables stacked with watermelon-sized rounds of yarn, bags of commercially-discarded fabric called selvage, and an assortment of looms. Surrounded by used books, Dorothy repurposes old fabrics for her other business, Weaver Birds Rugs.

“Everything that I weave is made out of recycled materials. Even when I buy something new, like the selvage, that is discarded from factories. We’re so wasteful—you buy something and it doesn’t fit and throw it away, or it wears out and throw it away. But taking those items and cutting them up is a way to continue to reuse our resources.”

From these so-called scraps, Dorothy produces beautiful textured rugs. Scarves and sweaters? Just not her thing. Instead, she specializes in creating products for the home. T-shirts, jeans, and sheets find new life in Dorothy's hands. With these discarded materials, she brings modern creativity to a craft with an ancient roots.

“I grew up with old-fashioned rag rugs in my home and I like the old-fashioned part of it. It’s an authentic, old craft. It’s been around since primitive times, when they wove reeds and grasses. They didn’t have plastic bowls and things. They wove and did it by hand. That was weaving. They carried water, they made mats to sleep on.”

Dorothy first learned to weave from a childhood friend in her home state of Iowa. After just a week of lessons, she was hooked. Once she returned to Missouri, she bought a small table-top loom.

“I made a lot of rugs on that little thing,” she recalls. “Twenty-one inches is the widest it would weave.”

Five years later, she got her first floor loom. Today, she owns four floor looms and three tabletop looms. She broke into the commercial market by participating in craft shows in Sarcoxie, Butler, the George Washington Carver School, and the Carthage Maple Leaf festival.

“I like the open, outdoor places. I don’t like being crammed into a little ten-by-ten space,” she says.

When the Neosho Farmers Market was revived in 2015, the venue was just a natural fit for her. Every time she sets up a booth, she also brings a loom so that customers can watch her in action and even sign up for lessons. People are drawn to her products not just for their beauty and durability, but because they're reminiscent of simpler times.

“They’ll say, ‘Oh, my grandma used to weave.’ I think [nostalgia] is part of it, and the other factor is that they’re buying something locally and not something that’s mass-produced in another country and shipped over here. And the uniqueness. Nothing I make, no two looks exactly alike.”

Sunflower Farms

Sunflower Farms

Kris Huckeba is a Pineville Elementary teacher who used to enjoy the leisurely summer vacations that come with the job by doing, well, not much. But that all changed when her husband gifted her with a particularly addictive new technology.

“My husband got me an iPad mini four years ago and we had a little tiny garden. I guess I was using it too much and he said, ‘I’m going to expand the garden because you need something to do,’” she said with a laugh.

That tiny garden turned into a half-acre lot bursting with corn, squash, peppers, green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, melons, and more. Nearby is a young orchard stocked with blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries, boysenberries, apple, pear, nectarine, and white grapes and red grapes.

And flowers.

Lots of flowers.

“I have a vision of retiring from education in five more school years and being fully prepared to continue with the growing. I want to lean towards flowers. But I have to find the people that need them.”

That search is a still-evolving process of trial and error.

“Sunflowers are big. Zinnias are not. And people rave and rave and rave and rave about how beautiful my gladiolus are but they just keep walking by.”

At a glance, cut flowers sometimes get a bad rap for frivolity. But at just $5 a pop for 5-7 gladiolus or a generous bouquet of zinnias, her arrangements are a frugal luxury. If flowers feel like a self-indulgent splurge, they’re at least an economical way to brighten your mood. According to one Rutgers study, 100 percent of women given flowers broke into a genuine smile, compared to 90 percent for fruit baskets and 77 percent for candles.

For the environmentally conscious, it’s also worth noting that the non-seasonal blooms typically offered in supermarkets leave a tremendous carbon footprint compared to those raised and harvested locally.

Kris, a Southern California native accustomed to the popularity of cut flowers back home, is learning as-she-goes with bouquet arrangements in an attempt to reach a customer base that she knows exists and is growing.

“I think it’s a cultural thing. You’re either a person that embraces them or you aren’t. I just don’t think the fresh flower market is that big out here—but it’s growing. It is moving into the area because the farmers markets are becoming bigger and the vendors are pushing flowers. I want to be one of the people that’s doing that. If I’m going to work this hard, I want to enjoy what I’m growing. And I much more appreciate the beauty of the flowers.”

Her appreciation for blooms goes beyond the cheery face of a sunflower or the long-necked grace of a gladiola.

“It’s the way that I see God on earth. I don’t worship Mother Earth or anything like that, but it makes me believe that there’s a Creator because I just have a hard time believing that the flowers would get together and say, ‘Let’s do the Fibonacci together.’”

The Fibonacci sequence is commonly known as “the Golden Ratio” or “nature’s numbering system” and refers to the mathematical patterns and sequences of living organisms. Flower petals, seed heads, sea shells, spiral galaxies, hurricanes, DNA molecules, and even human limbs and our inner ears follow the Fibonacci sequence.

Next time you’re considering that farm-fresh bouquet, remember that they’re not just something pretty to put on your dining table, but a universal reminder of the shared language of, well, everything. Flowers have a noble agenda. Surely that’s worth $5.

Middle Indian Creek Farm

Middle Indian Creek Farm

It’s hard to miss Glenda.

She’s the tall Texan with a big colorful tablecloth. She’s always smiling. She greets everyone who passes by, even if they don’t greet back. She says her “yes sir’s” and “sure ma’am’s” with all the loyalties of her military-brat childhood. And she always works her farmstand solo.

Back on the farm, however, her 80-year old mother Marlene runs the show.

“She just tell me what to do and I do it,” says Glenda. “The woman is a hoot.”

The Magic Spelt

The Magic Spelt

Five years ago, baker Gina Campbell lost 80 pounds from cutting wheat, corn, and soy from her diet. But when she started eating wheat products again, 50 pounds came back.

"I knew, then, that's the problem," she says. "But not having bread is like cutting off a limb!"

So she set out on a search for an alternative. After disappointing experiments with various gluten-free flours, she found a magic solution in spelt.

"It literally almost made itself. That's why I call it, 'The Magic Spelt.' It looks good, it tastes good."

Though not exactly gluten-free, it tends to be less reactive than common commercial wheat. It's one of the oldest cultivated crops in human history and is rumored to have first been used more than 8,000 years ago. Whole grain spelt products are high in protein and fiber, making it a great addition to modern diets.

When Campbell first started working with spelt, the bulk of her baking experience was in sweets like cupcakes and cookies. It took several rounds of trial and error, but she finally found a series of recipes and methods that work for her. At market, she sells whole and white spelt sandwich loaves, round loaves, white baguettes, frozen biscuits, and tortillas. Though not certified organic, she seeks ingredients that are as naturally-sourced and organic as possible, and even employs local honey for a sweetener.

Stop by her booth every Saturday for a free sample of her sandwich bread, and be sure to slather on some complimentary butter!

Kiele V Spice Company

Kiele V Spice Company

Michael Kiele's growing philosophy is best summed up in his mantra: "Every plant has a purpose."

This explains his riotous garden, an ambitious amalgam of straw bale beds, leafy greens beautiful enough to display in wedding bouquets, self-seeding garlic, walking onions, and a plush carpet of native plants -- say, milkweed and tiny confederate violets, just to name a few -- too precious to remove. In this space, nothing goes to waste. Michael and his wife Bethany live in a picturesque neighborhood near downtown Neosho, but location hasn't dampened their farming ambitions.

Yang Farm

Yang Farm

Managing a 40-acre diversified farm isn't easy, but having six kids and turning it into a family-wide effort sure helps. When Nandy and Seng Yang decided to buy land outside of Granby, Seng agreed to handle the bulk of the farm work. He manages 50 cows and tends 1.5 planted acres of potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, lemongrass, radishes, cilantro, green onions, garlic, sugar cane, and more.

"My husband was raised as a farmer and he's used to it. This is nothing to him -- but torture to me!" says Nandy...

One Tree Farm

One Tree Farm

Fifteen years and two kids ago, Cortney and Dewain Riddle had a problem: their newly-purchased property was so overrun with grasshoppers that their window screens were falling apart. That's where the chickens came in...