This year’s Farmers Market Guide goes beyond a list of addresses and websites to tell the stories of farmers you might see throughout the season. We profiled those who make convenience foods, grow vegetables, create cheese and produce grass-fed beef. Of course, there are many more farmers than room in print to tell their stories, which is why The Reader has also designated the first week of every month as Local Food Week. During those weeks we will dedicate space and time to the local producers who grow our food and share what’s in season as well as news and events surrounding local food.
Take time this year to introduce yourself and get to know your producers. Many farmers’ market websites provide links to vendor sites where you can learn more about CSA programs, farm tours, and most importantly, food growing philosophies.
Farm Name: L & L Jacobsen Farm (Range West Beef)
Farmers: Luke and Lori Jacobsen
Location: Marquette, Ne
Products: Grass-fed Beef and Organically-fed Pork (Grain Place Food), pastured chicken eggs
Designations: Grass-fed and pastured
Years as Farmers: 34 years
Which Markets in 2012: Village Pointe, Downtown Omaha
Peter Jacobsen stood in the Omaha Stockyards wearing a 3-piece suit and a pocket watch. He posed in front of mud-caked cattle just brought in by rail. It was 1904 and it was the beginning of ranching in Nebraska for this Danish-immigrant family.
Luke Jacobsen, his great grandson continues to tend the same land his family settled in 1892 and although cattle is still the family focus, it has taken on new meaning in today’s world and marketplace.
Part of his evolution as a farmer and rancher included switching his cattle operation from grain-fed to grass-fed beef, which wasn’t without risk or expense. He credits his wife’s job as a first-grade teacher for giving them the flexibility to transform valuable and high-paying farmland from crops to pasture.
Concerns over his own health, the loss of his mother-in-law at a young age and his mother’s personal battle with breast cancer motivated Jacobsen to question methods used in production agriculture. But it wasn’t until a 2004 trip to South America where his curiosity in grass-fed beef became a dedicated commitment.
“Argentina has been using grass-fed beef for a long time and what I saw there really sparked my interest,” Jacobsen said.”
By 2007 he started selling grass-fed beef and the following year he sold it via the Omaha Farmer’s Market. At the time few people knew about or even understood the value of grass-fed beef in the Midwest, but interest is growing and Jacobsen feels this is just the beginning.
“We have a little more support now, but not the kind you see in typical production agriculture. We probably don’t have the research and development going on because most of the focus in Ag is on cheap and plentiful, which doesn’t always mean the highest quality,” he said. “I really feel like that is one of the problems we have in our country. We’ve ignored the differences you find when you focus on quality — including nutritional elements that go into our food.”
Keeping his farm and cattle operation small is just fine with Jacobsen who says he has no interest in becoming a large-scale operation tending to 5000 acres.
“If that farmer goes away, no one will notice, but when you create food of a different aspect, of a certain quality … if I went away, someone would notice,” he said.
As an aging member and the fourth generation he hopes new photos of family with cattle will be on the horizon, perhaps wearing a dress rather than a three-piece suit.
“My granddaughter, Ava, says she wants to be my farmer, so it might skip a generation.”
Farm Name: Small’s Fruit Farm
Farmers: Renee and Jim Small
Location: Mondamin, Iowa
Products: Fruit and Vegetables (Strawberries, Raspberries (black, red and purple) apricot (July or August) tart cherries and apples (30 varieties))
Years as Farmers: 5th Generation
Which Markets in 2012: Downtown Omaha Farmers Market, Aksarben Farmer’s Market
For most of us the early, warm spring days bring welcome relief from winter, but Renee and Jim Small look at the ebb and flow of temperatures differently. Their hoarse and hearty laughter is often bookmarked by sleepless nights and fears of crop loss.
“There’s a lot of seriousness on a farm. A lot of it. So you have to laugh when things are going alright,” said Renee. “While everyone is talking about how great the weather is we are hoping we don’t loose everything in the coming frost. We don’t say it, but that’s what we’re thinking.”
Fruit farmers differ from row crop farmers in that they can’t replant a crop of apple trees in a season, like you could a row of arugula or corn. If an early heat wave causes trees to bloom before the threat of frost has been burned away by the pending arrival of summer they lose their entire income for a year. With concerns such as those, it would be easy to wonder why anyone farms at all. Although Renee can’t say why others do it, she knows why they do.
“I’ve seen people come in with their children and then their grandchildren. We get to see generation after generation bring their families out and enjoy the farm and have a great day.”
Jim, like many generational farmers, doesn’t romanticize the job. “It’s really the only thing, I’ve ever done.” That may be because Jim is a fifth generation fruit farmer. In 1894 his great, great grandfather bought some apples from a farmer in Iowa’s Loess Hills. The following year he returned to buy the orchard and started what became the family business. Jim’s son Trevor has shown some interest in the farm, and he hopes it will continue to live on in the family for at least one more generation, but he also knows it’s a lot of work.
“It’s always busy. There’s always something to do on a farm,” said Jim. The branches he pruned from more than 30 varieties of apples, apricot and cherry trees during the winter months were used to start warming fires in April. It saved some of the harvest, but there won’t be much for apricots this year, the late frost just didn’t spare them.
Farm Name: Soup-N-More
Farmers: Allen and Rebecka Fleischman and son Garrett
Location: Tekamah, Ne and Lyons, Ne
Products: Dehydrated Soups, bread, cookie and cake mixes, fresh produce and Hard Red Winter Wheat Flour and Golden Flaxseed ground into Flaxmeal (special order)
Designations: Uses organic practices, not certified
Years as Farmers: 2007
Which Markets in 2012: VPFM, Downtown Omaha, Aksarben
Rebecka Fleischman didn’t intend to start a business; rather she had hoped to save her own life. Doctors couldn’t identify why the then 39-year-old mother of four passed out at random times, had vomit inducing migraines and a triglyceride count of 3,998. A number that should be under 150. She couldn’t drive, slept 16-hours a day and felt miserable.
“Doctors were telling me I should be dead. I was on 122 pills a day. I saw a new doctor and we developed a 5 year plan,” she said explaining that she cut chemicals and additives out of her diet one at a time. “With every chemical I cut I started feeling better, but I missed convenience foods. I was walking around Hy-Vee thinking I will never be able to make a meal without it being a big deal or a hassle. I practically had a breakdown. When my husband said, ‘What did our grandparents do?’ I said, mine canned, and that’s how it began.”
She spent the summer learning how to can and dehydrate vegetables. From there she started compiling, analyzing and adapting old family recipes and others she found from the 1900s and 1950s. In 2010, she received some media attention for her homemade spinach flour.
“I got so many calls from that one story, that I thought, maybe this could be a business,” Fleischman said.
The Fleischman’s grow almost everything used in their Soup-N-More mixes, which include bread, cookie, cake, soup and salad dressing among others. They even grow and grind their own flour.
“We usually have 3 or 4 pounds of flour with us [at the Farmer’s Market], but if someone wants more they just have to ask and we will bring it to market the following week,” she said.
Wheat flour and Flax meal sell for $3 and $3.50 per pound, respectively. Bakers can substitute ¾ C. of wheat flour for 1 C. of all-purpose flour, while flax meal can be sprinkled into oatmeal, smoothies or used in baked goods to replace some butter, oil or eggs.
Farmers markets are for lovers of food and lovers of cooking, but not every day is Saturday and few of us have time during the week to linger over stovetops and cutting boards preparing home-cooked, farm-fresh meals from scratch. That weekly time constraint, but desire for healthy additive-free food is exactly why Soup-N-More has found a home among the market going public.
Farm Name: Shadow Brook Farm and Dutch Girl Creamery
Farmers: Kevin Loth and Charuth Van Beuzekom
Location: Lincoln, Ne
Products: Farmstead goat cheese, flowers, produce
Designations: (organic, sustainable, conventional etc)
Years as Farmers: 17
Which Markets in 2012: Downtown, Aksarben, Old Cheney Rd (Lincoln), Midtown Crossing, Hay Market (Lincoln)
Kevin Loth and Charuth Van Beuzekom are farmer’s market mainstays. They have been selling baskets of sprouts and looming lengths of delphinium, larkspur and snapdragon at the southeast corner of the Downtown Omaha Farmer’s market for nearly 20 years.
Today, just as it was when they first started, they are known for salad mixes. Only then they grew 10-30 lbs per week and now they sell out of 500 lbs per week.
“When we were in California everyone grew spring mixes, but in Nebraska it was a new thing and it was a lot easier than having to buy, wash and chop your own lettuce, so it caught on like wildfire,” she said.
As seasons crawled closer to decades their family grew to include three boys, now ages, 18, 16 and 11. Their farm, Shadow Brook, has also grown to include a contracting business, and a goat dairy operation, called Dutch Girl Creamery.
Charuth shares what it meant to come from non-farming backgrounds with wide-eyed idealism to build a business and a life from the land. There are many ways for two college-educated, industrious people make a living that are easier on the body and more rewarding for the pocketbook.
“I think in some ways we are either really stupid or really stubborn, probably both,” Charuth said laughing. “There is a big part of us that wants to prove you can do this. You can have a good, quality of life farming.” For them, it meant their kids went to summer camp, took violin lessons and the family traveled.
Part of Kevin and Charuth’s commitment to (or stubbornness about) farming is developing a livable, sustainable business model. Research and experience has shown them the best way for small scale farming to provide quality of life for farmers is to diversify and develop each branch as its own micro-business. Employees are treated more like family who can grow along with the business branch that inspires them the most.
Even with their long-run and success as farmers, it hasn’t been without continued sacrifice and struggle. The contracting company funded the farm for many winters and tough seasons. The dairy started as a sidebar passion of Charuth’s and has become its own growing entity with increasing needs and demands, including the need for a new building. She maintains approximately 100 goats for the milk she uses in Dutch Girl Creamery’s farmstead cheeses. This month, she will have a link on Shadow Brook’s website to launch a Kickstarter campaign. She’s hoping to raise enough money to help expand the dairy and construct a building.
“We have all the equipment, we just need the shell,” she said.
In the meantime, she will keep working between the farm and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Dairy Plant, where, much like on the day I interviewed her she will be elbow deep in buckets of curd and whey.
Area Farmers Markets
67th and Center Streets
Sundays: 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
May 6-Oct. 14, Oct. 21
Now in its third season the Aksarben Farmer’s Market will have more than 75 vendors. On Oct. 21 it will host an additional farmer’s market day to help celebrate Omaha Food Day. Accepts SNAP. During the months of May and June, SNAP users will receive an extra $5 bonus each week.
Franklin St. at W. 20th Ave
Saturdays: 8 a.m.–12 p.m.
May 26-Oct. 6
The Bellevue Farmer’s Market doubles as a flea market and will host a community celebration on opening day featuring live music from The Upstairs Blues Band.
Maple St. & Military Ave.
Saturdays: 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
May 5-Sept. 29
Offers live music every Saturday.
Brentwood Square Market
84th and Giles Rd
Thursdays: 4:30 -7 p.m.
June 7-Sept. 27
This is first year farmer’s market with vendors signed up to sell honey, jelly, jam, baked goods, jewelry and produce.
Charles Drew Health Center
30th and Grant St.
Wednesdays: 3-5:30 p.m.
June 6-Sept. 5
Hosts 6 produce vendors. Accepts SNAP and WIC. During the months of May and June, SNAP users will receive an extra $5 bonus each week.
Omaha Farmers Market
11th & Jackson St.
Saturdays: 8 a.m. -12:30 p.m.
May 5-Oct. 13
The Omaha Farmers Market is celebrating its 19th season. Visitor can peruse more than 100 produce, prepared food and arts vendors. Accepts SNAP. During the months of May and June, SNAP users will receive an extra $5 bonus each week.
9102 N. 30th St.
Sundays: 10 a.m. -3 p.m.
June 3-Sept. 30
The Florence Mill is an historical ag. building. Market operators say making the market kid-friendly is a major driver, which is why the first Sunday of every month kids can enjoy pony rides, bubbles and crafts.
Gifford Park Neighborhood
33rd and California St.
Fridays 4-8 p.m.
June 8-Sept. 28
Lincoln & Washington St
Wednesdays: 5-8 p.m.
June 6-Sept. 12
Will have live music from 6-7 p.m. every Wednesday except for Papillion Days and the Fourth of July. It’s a family friendly farmers market with a playground close by. Plenty of parking.
168th and W Dodge Rd
Saturdays: 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
April 28-Oct. 6
This west Omaha market is entering its sixth year. VPFM offers cooking demonstrations by Metropolitan Community College’s Institute for the Culinary Arts, is a farmer’s only market (you won’t find any wind chimes or silverware jewelry) and also offers space for community groups and organizations.
Wohlner’s Midweek Market
33rd & Farnam St.
Wednesdays 4-7 p.m.
June 6-Aug. 8
This Wednesday market is a great option when waiting till the weekend just won’t do. Shoppers can visit rain or shine as it is held inside the parking garage and will feature food-only vendors. Wohlner’s will also provide cooler storage for shoppers should they want to eat dinner or catch a show before heading home for the night.
Summer Miller writes about food, mostly of the local sort. Send her an email at email@example.com