Images by Blakeney Cox
Under an ashen sky, a scattered crowd gathers at several tin-roof-covered booths inside a wooden shed. A canvas sign, suspended by bungee cords, advertises strawberries for sale. The sign flaps in the wind as customers return to their vehicles with bags of fresh produce. On the far left, a small red pickup is parked under the roof, its bed filled with pink milk crates and a large plastic container. A lady in jeans and a buttoned-up denim jacket sits on the tailgate, which is flanked by wooden tables with rows of Ball mason jars filled with jams, jellies, hot sauces, and other goodies. Beside them, a dozen or so tiny toy soldiers huddle inside a small Tupperware container with a hand-printed sign: Have A Free Soldier As A Reminder To Pray For Our Military.
Three days a week, Jan Hoadley parks the truck inside her booth at the Walker County Farmers Market off Airport Road and sets up shop. This is the second year here for her business, Slow Money Farms. “This is the pre-season, the early stuff that isn’t gonna wait until the official opening day, May 20th,” she says.
Jan has lived in Nauvoo for twelve years, but she ended up there quite by accident. Originally from the small town of Neponset, (“no stop light, watch the dogs as you drive through”) Illinois, Jan was in the process of moving to Mississippi when friends strongly advised her to wait because of a storm coming through. “By the time Katrina was done, there wasn’t anything in south Mississippi to go to,” she says, her words punctuated with a good-natured laugh.
While waiting for tomatoes, peppers, and other items to ripen, Jan has some unique items of her own for sale. “I do some oddball stuff to go with what everybody else sells,” she says. “I do herbal vinegars, which flavors soups or stews, casseroles. You can also use it for glazing or marinades. I’ve got some hot sauces. Every once in a while I have ice cream toppings.”
Some items, however, are not edible. “I have three different types of herbal salves,” Jan says. “One is a healing herb for irritated skin. The others are basically for sore muscles and achy joints. One has pepper in it, and some people find that a bit irritating to the skin, so I’ve got ginger. I’ve had customers who say it has helped them. That inspires me to grow more.”
Tomatoes—the best sellers—are not yet ripe. Currently the most popular items are hot peppers, jellies, salves, and chocolate fudge, also available in chocolate-raspberry. “I try to offer some things that are a little different, kinda push that envelope a little bit and add some different flavors,” Jan says.
Why do farmers like Jan do what they do? At the end of the day, it’s about choices. “I think most of us here are pretty passionate about food choices, fully realizing that most people shop the convenience of a grocery store and that’s fine,” Jan says. “On the other hand, it’s having a choice to get something that is beyond the store.”
Jan admits she also enjoys the interaction with other people. “We’re open to answering questions and sharing what we do,” she says. “In July we’ll have a Tomato Sandwich Day, with free tomato sandwiches. Also, last year Julie [Calvert] and I came up with the idea of having a harvest festival. We’ll try that again around September after the main season.”
Down at the J. Calvert Farms booth, Julie Calvert pauses during a rare lull in business to talk about her items. “Right now I have strawberries, beets, onions, turnip greens, kale, and lettuce,” she says over the sound of tires crunching on gravel as another vehicle approaches. “Before long I’ll have some squash and more vegetables as the season comes in, like peaches, watermelons, cantaloupe, green beans, peas, and okra.”
A customer approaches and greets her, and the lull is over.
On the right, a white van is parked in a booth opening, rear doors open, facing the road. Inside it hangs a sign with Whited Farms, Oneonta printed in green letters. Roy Glass stands between the doors, wearing a blue checked flannel shirt draped over a gray T-shirt and an easy smile framed by a goatee. Roy has been coming to the Farmer’s Market for six years, Whited Farms a little longer. “We’ve got a seventy-five acre farm, and we go to a lot of different markets,” he says.
The table in front of him boasts a vivid display of robust, golfball-size strawberries, as well as cantaloupes and ripe green watermelons. What looks easy actually requires a lot of preparation. “We work really hard to have the best quality produce,” Roy says. “Most everything is picked the day before, so it’s going to be fresher than what you get in the store.”
Like Jan, Roy enjoys interacting with people. “I like being around everybody and making some friends,” he says. “I see a lot of the same faces from year to year.”
Someone said the best things that come out of the garden are gifts for other people. Sometimes those gifts come attached to new friends. 78