Just pick a day of the week. Cape Alternative Farmers Market is 8 a.m. to noon Wednesdays, April through October, adjacent to the Red House. Cape Girardeau Farmers Market is held at 2:30 p.m. Thursdays, May through October, in the Town Plaza parking lot on Independence Street. Old Town Cape Scholarship Garden is open 3 to 5 p.m. Saturdays, July through October, behind the Spanish Street parking lot next to Mollie's Cafe.
Phyllis Hale of Cape Girardeau is a retiree who wants to support local farmers. She shopped at the Wednesday Cape Alternative Farmers Market downtown because she likes healthy food, the fresher the better.
"I'm looking for something better than what I can find in the market, where lettuces designed for a long shelf life are not always gentle on this tender stomach," Hale said. She has also been shopping at the farmers market at Town Plaza this year.
Hydroponic gourmet greens and herbs from Show Me Fresh Farm supplied Hale with the lettuce she was seeking. It offers seven varieties, all grown in a soilless, controlled environment -- water. Shelf life is longer because roots remain intact, allowing the plant to retain nutrients and moisture longer. Instead of pesticides, integrated pest management is used: Good bugs are brought in to take care of bad bugs.
Heartland, farm land
"It's been a really rough year," said Connie Scharenborg, another owner of Show Me Fresh Farm. "There has been illness among the farmers and the fruit growers can't drive here to sell the little bit they've got. We're at a breaking point now. If we would just get rain.
"Many people don't know where their food comes from," she said. "They're forgetting what is actually here. Cape County's major employer is farming. If people keep forgetting that, we won't be here too many more years. We've got to be supported to stay in business."
A fund-raiser table set up with squash, bananas and apples helps pay for the market's advertising.
Patchwork Acres, makers of goats' milk soap, is a vendor at the Alternative Market. Owner Barb Bailey knitted dishcloths to sell as she explained that the fruit and vegetable supplier from Kate's Orchard in Dudley, Mo., who would ordinarily have peaches and nectarines by now, was absent because the freeze in April left him with nothing to sell.
Patchwork Acres, however, has been able to expand its market this year to include produce grown from seed by Bailey's children, Tori and Aaron. "In another month they'll have green beans, cucumbers and squash. They got started late but what's come up looks good," Bailey said.
Hinkebein Farms has been at the Cape Alternative Market for about four years selling antibiotic- and hormone-free beef and pork. Owner Karlios Hinkebein has been in meat processing for 16 years, nine of them processing antibiotic- and hormone-free meat. "It takes a lot more ground and labor but I don't believe in confinement of animals," he said.
The Cape Alternative Farmers Market downtown location may not enjoy as much shade as its previous venue of Arena Park, but the breeze is an asset to shoppers and vendors. Vendors enjoy promoting downtown Cape as well. The downtown market offers locally grown and produced fruits and vegetables, jellies and jams, gourmet lettuce, pasture-raised beef, pork, eggs and goats' milk soap in many scents.
Endowing a scholarship
Within walking distance of the alternative market is the Old Town Cape Scholarship Garden, where organic vegetables are grown in a small patch. The Old Town Cape Scholarship Garden's $10,000 goal has ripened to maturity this year, after eight years of tending the produce and marketing it in the downtown area. An endowment that will allow the award of a scholarship sometime in 2008 and each year thereafter is the big news. The new goal is $10,000 more to endow another scholarship.
The market will open Saturday and the tomatoes at the Scholarship Garden look to be ripe for picking by then. For the tomato connoisseur, there are 29 varieties to choose from. Garden co-chairman Bill Dunn, who tends it regularly, said he has a diagram to tell the varieties apart. There are other vegetables for sale, including cucumbers, beans, pepper and herbs. Neon Lights Swiss chard grows at the garden's front border. This green leafy plant rimmed in bright yellow or red is hard not to notice as it brightens the background of every summertime shade of green.
"It's great for hikers," Dunn said. "It gives you a burst of energy."
The Scholarship Garden started with the specific intent to apply all proceeds received toward a need-based scholarship to be given to a student associated with Old Town Cape. A core group of eight or 10 people from a downtown neighborhood group started the organic garden and tend to it each year. The therapy aspect of gardening makes for a lot of fun between a good group of friends, but they never lose sight of the purpose of the garden: to help make higher education available to someone who might need some financial assistance.
The Thursday Cape Girardeau Farmers Market offers items that have been grown or produced within a 75-mile radius of Cape Girardeau. Seasonal produce and fruits, arts and crafts, baked goods, eggs, honey, cut flowers and plants are available.
335-6611, extension 133