Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. The second part will run in the weekend issue, June 28-29.
Fifteen-year-old Hannah Ownby, Union, wants to save enough money to buy her own car, so on Saturday mornings, she brings a collection of handmade wooden plaques that she has cut, sanded and painted with inspirational and decorative sayings to the St. Clair Farmers Market, where her mom, Jen Ownby sells homemade quick breads.
Likewise, Sherri Corbett drives in from Cherryville, about an hour away, to sell her homemade jams and jellies to bring in a little extra money as she and her husband adopt three children.
And Jane and Chuck Held, of The Nutty Pig Farm in Davisville, about 60 miles away in southern Crawford County, offer pork samples from heritage breeds many people may never have heard of — red wattle and large blacks, as a way to grow their customer base in this area.
On any given Saturday from May to October, there are between eight and 15 vendors set up at the St. Clair Farmers Market (formerly Route 66 Farmers Market), which this year has moved to a new location on the parking lot behind the St. Clair City Hall at 1 Paul Parks Drive.
The market previously operated in a grassy area near the St. Clair Health Mart Pharmacy.
Start talking to any of the vendors set up here and you learn they are here not just as a means of earning some cash, but also as a way to share their craft or hobby with others. Equally as satisfying is the fellowship they get from visiting with customers and each other.
For their part, the customers say they not only love the items they find at the market, they appreciate the expertise that comes along with them, plus the knowledge of where their food is coming from and the fact that they are helping a neighbor.
“Roger, that was the best chicken I’ve eaten in my life, and I’m serious,” Teg Stokes told Roger Bardot of Bardot Family Farm, which on this day was selling eggs from grass-fed chickens.
“I bought fresh-killed chickens from Roger this week, and they were amazing,” she told another customer standing next to her.
“His chickens are simply the best in the world,” her husband, Frank Stokes, added.
Revived and Kicking
The St. Clair Farmers Market underwent a revival about three years ago. It had previously been located on Main Street near the gazebo and held on Friday nights. It wasn’t very successful, though, primarily because of the location, said Paula Dace, a current vendor and grower who helped organize the new market.
Terry Triphahn, former director of the Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the market then, and Janet Hurst of Lincoln University, asked Dace for her advice on what could make the market more successful.
She didn’t hold back — change the time, location and stop charging the vendors, at least initially, until a good customer base is established, Dace told them.
They took her advice and asked if she would be willing to lead the way. Dace agreed.
The market was relocated to a lot on North Commercial Avenue, which gave it much more visibility.
“It went over great,” said Dace. “The word spread, and we got more vendors.”
Dace offered a vacant building she had as a place where vendors could gather for monthly meetings. Hurst, who serves the St. Clair area as a farm outreach worker for Lincoln University’s Innovative Small Farmers’ Outreach Program, led classes there on topics like How to Grow Your Farm.
People came from as far away as Columbia on Monday nights to take the six-week class, which cost $200, Dace noted. That’s how informative and helpful it was.
“By end of the six weeks, people had learned about having a budget, a business plan . . . they had to stand up in front of the group and present it,” said Dace. “It was awesome. It really made you think, so you weren’t just growing some tomatoes and bringing them in to sell at the market, but how to make it more of a business.”
Since then, many vendors have had increased success in selling their products. One lady who sold goat’s milk soap at the market built up such a customer base she now mainly just sells from her farm, said Dace.
Hurst continues to work with the vendors and often asks if there’s anything specific they want to learn about.
“She has taught us how to graft tomatoes,” said Dace. “She offers to bring in various speakers, whatever kinds of things we want to learn. We had a goat seminar — how to trim goats’ hooves, how to raise them. She’s brought in the Division of Weights and Measures . . . ”
In fact the St. Clair Farmers Market has experienced such success that this year the vendors decided to break away from the Chamber sponsorship and become their own nonprofit group with officers.
Dave Wagenseller is preident, Ken White is vice president and Lynn Weigl is secretary/treasurer. There also is a marketing committee and a hospitality tent, which on this day offered free lemonade and iced tea and chances for a quilt raffle.
Customers are mostly local people, but the market does get some who drive in, including tourists traveling old Route 66.
Now that the market is established and doing well, it has started to charge vendors again for the space. It’s also a means of ensuring there will be some vendors there each Saturday, Dace noted.
If they pay up-front, before the market opens for the season, they get a discount. Others, who prefer just to come sporadically, pay $10 each time, said Dace.
Grass-Fed Chicken Eggs
Like many farmers markets, the St. Clair Farmers Market features items that are something of a specialty, or not something shoppers can find easily in the stores.
Many of the vendors are farmers, like Roger Bardot, who, along with his siblings and their families, lives on the 125-year-old family farm in Lonedell.
Today they are selling grass-fed chicken eggs.
“They are able to go out on grass every day and eat grass, plus they get grain supplement,” said Bardot. “We move them around to fresh grass all the time. They eat bugs and worms. We also have cattle. We’re just doing eggs right now, hoping to get into selling grass-fed beef.”
The Bardots are relatively new to the St. Clair market. They began selling here last fall.
“I think people want to know where their food comes from and how it’s raised,” said Bardot. “Our eggs here are only ever a week old. In the grocery store they can be months old.”
Bardot’s brother Robert Jr., works in a booth alongside him selling brats and hot dogs from the Hermann Wurst House that he grills on a Wood Master’s pellet grill.
The grill is heated using wood sawdust that has been pressed into pellets rather than charcoal or gas.
“It’s recycling sawdust,” said Robert Bardot Jr., who is a distributor for the grills.
Fiber Crafts, Jewelry
Alicia Papin and her stepmom, Eileen Papin, have a booth selling Alicia’s costume jewelry and Eileen’s fiber craft, which includes fleece blankets and ponchos, necklaces, paracord bracelets and rag rugs, among other things.
Eileen Papin, a retired social worker, has been a vendor at the St. Clair market from its beginning when it was located on Main Street.
“My sister and I wanted to take a trip, that’s why I started doing crafts,” she said. “We started with the (fleece) blankets, selling them to raise money to go to Ireland for a week. And I just kept on going.”
Eileen Papin said the booth is a good source of extra money for her, but she makes her items more “because it keeps me busy and out of trouble,” she said.
“I like coming here and meeting all the different people, and they give you ideas too. I enjoy talking . . . this is my chance to talk with people. In the wintertime especially, you can’t get out a whole lot, so this gives me something to do to keep me occupied.”
The rag rugs that she makes were a lesson from her grandmother.
“She taught me when I was 8 years old,” said Papin, noting she uses old sheets from thrift stores.
“They make beautiful rag rugs,” she remarked. “Beautiful patterns and colors. And it’s a great way to recycle. Even worn-out sheets look good as a rag rug.
“My mother used to send me over to my grandmother, when I got in trouble . . . and she’d sit me there stripping the rags and putting them together, and finally she showed me how to do the crocheting. It’s just one stitch, and I remembered it.”
Fuller Flavor Pork
Nutty Pig Farm owners Jane and Chuck Held said they joined the St. Clair market this spring after a customer of theirs from the area suggested it. The heritage breed pigs they raise— registered red wattles and large blacks — are raised on pasture and Ozark forest.
“They roam in the woods,” said Jane Held. “Each family has an area of woods they can get into, and then we also have pasture. It’s all separated off and we rotate. ”
The pigs are given no hormones, no antibiotics, no medication at all, unless they’re sick. But they never get sick, said Chuck Held.
“These were hardy breeds that were family farm pigs way back before the large hog operations came in and took over,” he said. “Actually they are both critically endangered species. The large blacks, there are less than 2,000 worldwide.
“As more people get exposed to the meat, that way there will be a good reason to keep more being bred,” he added.
The Helds said the pork that comes from crossing these breeds has a fuller taste than many people are used to.
“The white pork that you buy in the store doesn’t really have a lot of taste except for the seasoning,” said Chuck Held. “This pork actually has some body, it’s juicier.”
“You do have to cook these slower to keep it juicy, but it stays way juicier than regular pork,” said Jane Held.
Loaves, Jams, More
In the booth for Sterling Loaves and Jams, Brent Sterling was strumming his guitar as customers milled about the market.
His wife, Victoria, creates the homemade jams that are the staple of their booth.
“I try to use the freshest ingredients,” she said, noting that she also takes requests for flavors.
“I watched my mom do it all those years and it’s something I’ve always done.”
This is her third season at the market, and she feels at home here.
“I love the fellowship,” she said. “We’re like one big happy family. I love that.”
This is a hobby for the Sterling family, who live in Lake St. Clair. Brent works as an insurance adjuster, and Victoria is a homemaker. They live on a farm where they have goats and chickens.
The family has a bluegrass band, The Sterlings, and have made their own CD. They also are knowledgeable about using essential oils to heal ailments, like headaches and a sore throat.
Victoria is a distributor for Young Living Essential Oils, and she shares her experience of their healing power with customers who ask.
She started using essential oils herself last fall after having serious trouble sleeping.
“It’s a new way of life for us,” Victoria remarked. “Headaches, TMJ, strep throat, for my family they have been miraculous. With a headache, within a couple of minutes, the headache’s gone.”
Read about more St. Clair Farmers Market vendors in next weekend’s Missourian, June 28-29.