The cold, wet spring Northfield and much of the state has been experiencing has regular Riverwalk Market Fair vendors — and consumers — wondering if they will see lettuce and other leafy greens and early season vegetables any time soon.
Local produce was limited at Riverwalk Market Fair’s grand opening last weekend and is likely to be limited again this weekend.
“Rhubarb, radishes, lettuce and other salad greens are always ready in time for the opening of Riverwalk Market Fair on the first weekend in June,” says grower Kathy Zeman of Simple Harvest Farm in Nerstrand. “This year, only the rhubarb was ready for opening day.”
Zeman said she hasn’t seen adverse weather like Northfield and Southern Minnesota has been experiencing this spring in a long time, if at all.
“We’ve had cold, wet springs, but this one is going to have long-term repercussions for everybody,” said Zeman, 55, who has been at Simple Harvest Farm for seven years, but around farming her entire life. “Last year it was tropical, this year it was arctic. I don’t recall ever seeing them back-to-back like this.”
To grow produce profitably in Minnesota, farmers must start seeds weeks early and transplant outdoors. With this year’s very late spring vegetable seedlings lingered in pots, becoming leggy and less robust.
When farmers are finally able to transplant to fields outdoors, the plants are not at the peak condition. The combination of weaker seedlings and very wet weather is resulting in severe delay of local produce at Riverwalk Market Fair and other area farmers markets.
This spring has been too wet to transplant until recently.
“In growing ‘degree days’ we are behind, but the wet has really held everyone up,” Zeman said. “When water-logged soil is worked it dries in hard blocks and is destructive of the soil’s overall health. Sandy soils dry faster and are doing better, and anyone west of I-35 is doing better because they got less moisture in May. Eventually some growers ‘mud in’ the transplants, which also slows their growth.
“Springs like this remind us to love resilient garden perennials like asparagus, strawberries, horseradish and rhubarb,” she said.
According to Riverwalk board member Barbara Burke, “this is the first time in our four-year history that we’ve not had produce and flowers from local farmers at the Riverwalk Market Fair’s opening day.”
Betsy Allister and Andrew Ehrmann operate Spring Wind Farm near Northfield, and are regular Riverwalk Market Fair produce vendors,
“Due to the snow, we were delayed two weeks from our ideal first planting date of April 15th,” Allister said. “We have light, sandy soil, so once the snow melted we have generally been able to get our transplants in the ground close to projected planting dates.”
The weather has been cooler than average, she said, so Spring Wind Farm crops are growing much slower than usual. She said they won’t have the diversity of spring crops that they are usually able to bring to the market in June.
We project that farmers market sales in June will be down by at least 50 percent,” she said. “We don’t foresee any lasting damage because of the cool weather. As long as the summer warms up in the next month we will be eating tomatoes and melons in September with the cool, wet spring at our backs.”
Her partner says that Spring Wind Farm will have lettuce when they open for the first time this weekend at Riverwalk, but it will be noticeably smaller.
“It’s not as fun when you don’t have abundance and variety to offer people,” Ehrmann said. “We’re just happy to be there and have something to sell. We’ll take a hit in the farmer’s market and wholesale sales end of our business, that’s for sure.”
Little local produce is available yet at area farmers markets and food co-ops. Matt Malecha, Riverwalk Market Fair board member and produce manager at Northfield’s Just Food Co-op said.
“While local produce is delayed, all it will take is a couple warm days to change that,” Malecha said. “We have not had hail, or flood, or other catastrophe that wiped out the crops.
“Just like Minnesota weather, the local produce situation can change quickly. Local produce will appear at Riverwalk Market Fair as soon as it is available, and the Co-op will switch to locally sourced produce as well.”
Reach Managing Editor Jerry Smith at 645-1136, or follow him on Twitter.com @NewsNorthfield
Riverwalk’s Teresa Tillson contributed to this story.