(Laura Simon) [Order this photo]
Big box stores may be fast and convenient, but anyone who frequents a farmers market knows you just can't bottle the taste of a homegrown tomato or made-from-scratch cookies.
"You can see the person who grew the food or produced the jar of jelly you're going to eat in the morning. It's so important in today's world, and most people don't realize it," says Sharon Penrod of rural Jackson. "We also hope to educate our customers about eating what's local and fresh."
Sharon and her husband Monte's farm, located near Dog Hollow and northwest of Neely's Landing, has been in Monte's family for over 100 years. Today, the Penrods use the farm to grow flowers, pecans and black walnuts, raise cattle and sell firewood. Sharon also uses products from her own farm and other local producers to make fresh jams, breads, cookies and more.
"I like the cookies the most," says Sharon. "I have no children but I love to interact with kids. I always give them samples." Free samples are also a great sales tactic, something that Monte jokes that he had to teach his wife.
"You just have to get it past their palate," he says.
Other farmers market vendors have also found this to be true, including Grant Gillard, who makes and sells honey, and Mike Edmunds who, along with Dr. Richard Martin, produces and sells black walnuts.
Gillard, a preacher at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, uses his free time for beekeeping, harvesting honey and bottling it for sale at farmers markets.
When Gillard first learned about beekeeping -- as a college student looking for an easy A to boost his grade point average -- he never thought it would be something he'd continue throughout his adult life. But even after becoming a minister, Gillard remained fascinated by the chemistry and sociology involved in bee colonies. When he moved to Missouri in 1993, he began helping local residents by collecting swarms of bees.
"It took off on its own," he says. "You can only use so much honey, and there are only so many relatives you can give it to at Christmas, so I started working the farmers markets and selling it in grocery stores."
The black walnuts at Edmunds' table also offer natural health benefits.
"Black walnuts are very good for you; they're the best nuts you can eat. They're high in omega-3s and they have no cholesterol," says Edmunds. "Studies have shown that eating a handful of black walnuts every day is one of the best things you can do. They're one of those super foods."
Edmunds has been producing First Fruits Black Walnuts at Martin Tree Farm, located between Gordonville and Dutchtown, since 2003. He says that when Dr. Martin bought the farm in 1987, it didn't have a tree on it. He liked walnuts and decided to plant walnut trees, only learning years later that he had bought trees of an extremely high quality. He and Edmunds now sell the walnuts at farmers markets in Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Carbondale, Ill., and at local health food stores, Jones Heritage Farms, Country Mart and even some sites in St. Louis.
Edmunds believes the best way to enjoy the walnuts is to actually visit the tree farm, which has become a bit of a "showplace" in Southeast Missouri. In addition to the acres of walnut trees, the farm has a wiffle ball golf course, a lake and boats, and trails. They've hosted school field trips, church retreats, agriculture groups and even a state walnut convention.
"It's unique. There are not a lot of orchards that are strictly walnuts," says Edmunds. "It's like a retreat here ... The trees are loaded with nuts. You can walk through and hear the nuts dropping to the ground."
Gene Dillow, who lives south of Jonesboro, Ill., began farming in 1984 and now carts onions, potatoes, broccoli, peas, cucumbers, squash, peppers, eggplant and "whatever else is in season" to farmers markets in Cape Girardeau and Carbondale.
"I've lived here since the '70s. In my productive life, I grew and sold cut flowers in Florida," says Dillow. Now retired, Dillow enjoys the opportunity to do what he loves and work at his on pace.
"There's no stress, no pressure, and I can be my own boss," he says. As for the customers, says Dillow, "The food is fresher, and that makes it more nutritious. It also helps us local growers."