Christie Urwiller of Urwiller’s Melon Patch, a farm located between Ravenna and Cairo in central Nebraska, has been farming for more than 40 years. With her husband, Urwiller grows watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, pumpkins, decorative gourds and more. And every Saturday, you’ll find them at the Kearney Area Farmers Market, where consumers can buy their farm-fresh produce.
“Everything we grow, we take to market,” Urwiller says. “We were trying to find another outlet along with our roadside stand, so we started going. It’s a great outlet for repeat customers.”
Urwiller says that since they’ve been in business for so long, people know their name, and really look forward to them being at the farmers market.
“When we’re not there, customers really miss us,” she says. “Seeing repeat customers is what I like the most. It’s exciting knowing they’re looking forward to seeing you come back and buying your produce.”
The Kearney Area Farmers Market may not be the largest, but the impact that farmers like the Urwillers make is huge for the community – and for those like it across the state.
“The Kearney Area Farmers Market has about 30 vendors,” says Kathy Bishop, the market’s manager. “It’s seen some growth since we started, but really the growth is in the customer base.”
Bishop says consumers will find a variety of delicious, local food, as well as a variety of people at the Kearney market.
“Kale is very popular. We also have delicious early tomatoes and a few vendors that make great jams, jellies and honey,” she says.
She adds that some vendors participate in the market as an offshoot of their larger farm while others are simply backyard gardeners.
“Some are retired, some have full-time jobs, some are part-time,” she says. “All our vendors really believe in what they grow.”
Bishop says it’s interesting to see the variance in who comes to the market too. “We have a lot of elderly customers. Our middle- aged consumers remember their parents growing and cooking homemade food, and the younger population has an interest in getting back to that.”
Big and Small
Though Nebraska’s largest city, Omaha, is considerably more populated than Kearney, it embraces local food just the same. Both the Old Market and Aksarben Village farmers markets are located in Omaha, offering goods from more than 100 vendors every Saturday and Sunday, May through October.
Kylie Feilmeier has been the market manager of both for about a year, responsible for things such as administration, vendor relations, vendor placements, social media, marketing and more. She says that managing the markets has helped her gain a newfound respect for Nebraska’s already vital agriculture industry.
“Agriculture has always been a big part of Nebraska, and farmers markets tie in well,” Feilmeier says. “I think the movement to improve the way people eat continues to be an important part of our communities. That farmer-consumer relationship is so important, since consumers are being educated by those who are actually in the fields growing the food.”
Gary Stubbs of Gary’s Garden sells produce at the market.
Each of the Omaha markets are made up of mostly produce vendors, and Feilmeier says seasonal items seem to draw consumers the most – things like asparagus, morel mushrooms, sweet corn, watermelon, pumpkins and apples that aren’t available year round.
Visitors can also expect local bakeries, specialty meat producers, cheesemakers, artisan items such as handmade soaps and lots more. Sometimes there are even performers for consumers to enjoy, whether it is a small musical group or a solo guitarist.
“You can find a little bit of everything with a stop at the market,” Feilmeier says.
A Common Goal
Though there is a significant size difference between the Omaha markets and the Kearney market, all three aim to continue improving and fulfill the same goal of connecting consumers and farmers.
Feilmeier sums it up best: “Educating people on the food they eat is just as important as actually eating it.”
Ginger Orange Spring Vegetables
- 2 bunches (16-20 ounces) broccolini
- 8 ounces asparagus
- 4-5 ounces sugar snap peas
- 1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh ginger root, grated
- 2 teaspoons orange zest, finely minced
- ⅓ cup orange juice
- In a large pot, boil 5 quarts of water. While it boils, place ice water in large bowl or container.
- Trim asparagus and sugar snap peas. Trim ½-inch off of broccolini stems. Cut asparagus and broccolini into roughly 2-inch pieces.
- Once water boils, add all three vegetables and cook for about 2 to 2 ½ minutes or until al dente. Remove immediately with slotted spoon and place in bowl of ice water.
- Heat olive oil in large 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add minced garlic, ginger and orange zest. Saute for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add orange juice, heating and stirring for 1 minute longer.
- Drain vegetables and add to skillet, tossing lightly and cooking only until the vegetables are hot, but still bright green, about
2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately.