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home : news : local   May 24, 2016

8/11/2014 10:17:00 AM
You can grow veggies but can you sell them? (video)


Mike and Debbie Skowera bag yellow wax beans at their stand at the Spring Valley Farmers Market. The Skoweras of rural Granville saw the 2004 Granville-Utica tornado bring a stop to their business 4-Sisters Fresh Produce after it damaged their greenhouses and washing facilities. But it didn’t take the pair too long to start back up again, albeit on a smaller scale. “We’re retired and getting senile — so we don’t have the sense to quit,” Mike quipped.  The pair had many unique items at their stand, including walla-walla onions, Parisian and yellow carrots,  bi-color and white sweetcorn, and honey made with bees from their property.NewsTribune photo/Chris Yucus
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Mike and Debbie Skowera bag yellow wax beans at their stand at the Spring Valley Farmers Market. The Skoweras of rural Granville saw the 2004 Granville-Utica tornado bring a stop to their business 4-Sisters Fresh Produce after it damaged their greenhouses and washing facilities. But it didn’t take the pair too long to start back up again, albeit on a smaller scale. “We’re retired and getting senile — so we don’t have the sense to quit,” Mike quipped.  The pair had many unique items at their stand, including walla-walla onions, Parisian and yellow carrots,  bi-color and white sweetcorn, and honey made with bees from their property.

NewsTribune photo/Chris Yucus
Tamara Abbey
Mendota Bureau Chief



Janae Reynolds of La Salle was taking care of three large gardens last year, hers and two for her family.

Her thumb was a little too green to keep up with the abundance of vegetables.

“(My father-in-law) said, ‘Hey, why don’t you take this to the farmers market,’” she recalled. “That’s what started it all, just a conversation.”

She’s not alone. At this time of year when zucchinis, tomatoes and green beans are ripening faster than people can eat or give away, some turn to the farmers markets to try and sell the excess produce. Janae and her husband, Travis, now take produce to several area markets, but this year they planned their Tonica-area garden for those markets.

Growing the garden
Charlene and Peter Carmichael of Triumph also planned their garden for this year’s market after they were successful at selling extra hot peppers at a few markets last year. When the Carmichaels moved to a house in Triumph with almost three acres in 2011, it wasn’t their intent to turn it into a small business.

At first Charlene started digging areas for flower gardens.

Then they added the peppers.

Next thing she knew, Peter had the tiller out and the vegetable garden now measures 100 feet by 120 feet. They start all their own seed and also use seed they’ve saved from the previous year to keep expenses low, but Charlene knows they probably have spent more on the garden and market than what they make on a typical Saturday morning.

“It’s a lot of work,” she said. “That’s a lot of food out there.”

While she saves on seed costs, she said they also invested in a shade shelter, a table and an extra cooler. And that doesn’t count the hours they spend tending the garden.

“Our evenings are out here,” she said.

For now, Charlene said they only participate in the Mendota market, but that could change as she gains more experience.

Janae has a lot of help from her husband, Travis, and their children. But they don’t live on the farm so they have to travel to Tonica to do all the picking and packing for farmers markets in La Salle, Oglesby and Spring Valley.

They planned for the markets this year and planted plenty of produce. Just as some of the more desirable products like tomatoes started ripening, the garden was raided by thieves.

The investment hasn’t quite paid off for them either, though. Between the theft and the investment of approximately $1,000, she hopes to at least break even this year.

“This is harder than you think it is,” Travis said. “It’s like a 24/7 job. You gotta hoe, till and it’s a lot of manual labor.”





Like the Carmichaels, the Reynolds’ go out and pick fresh produce for the markets. They don’t keep anything at the end of the day. It’s either used by family members or given to friends.
 
They pick according to the market too. Travis said they usually bring more to the La Salle market since it has more traffic than the markets in the smaller towns.

But Travis knows this will probably be more of a self-sustaining hobby than an actual job even though he said they’ve probably covered their initial investment.

“We’re doing pretty good,” he said. “But I don’t see people making a living at this.

“I just don’t see it as feasible for a full-time job.”

Small business or hobby?
Part of the trouble is the length of the season. Bryon Walters, Mendota market manager, said the season lasts only 18-20 weeks.

“It takes a commitment to do this and do it properly,” he said. “Those vendors that treat it like a small business are more successful.”

But that doesn’t mean the farmer or backyard gardener with excess zucchini isn’t welcome. He said it’s not unusual for people to pull up and have a trunk full of vegetables ready to sell. And usually, they are allowed to set up shop, even if it’s only for a day.

The cost of selling
Mendota’s market does have strict rules and a fee for space. The cost is $10 for a day or $75 for a season. The La Salle market charges $5 for a day and $65 for the season. Market manager Leah Inman said the fee keeps the market self-supporting so they can advertise. She said they have had as many as 22 vendors depending on the time of year.

Neither Spring Valley or Oglesby charge vendor fees. Debb Ladgenski said Spring Valley offered the market space for free in order to stimulate business in the city.

“This is a service for our residents,” she said.

People can buy fresh produce that is grown in the area and that money then gets re-invested in the local economy. Oglesby also views it as a way to provide a service while bringing people downtown.  Farmers markets do adhere to current state and county health department rules.
 
Tamara Abbey can be reached at (815) 539-5200 or mendota@newstrib.com. Follow her on Twitter @NT_Mendota.










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