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Farmers Market Vendors Promote Local Foods, Enjoy Meeting People

Jason Parrott

Farmers Market season is in full swing throughout the Tri State region. You can find vendors and customers in Keokuk, Fort Madison, Burlington, Quincy, Macomb, Galesburg, Monmouth, and many more communities.  The list of items for sale is just as long, from baked goods to vegetables, fresh fruit to wood carvings.

Tri States Public Radio introduces you to a few of the men and women you might meet the next time you visit a local farmers market to pick up that sack of sweet corn or peck of pickled peppers.

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
Debbie Staudte at the Fort Madison Farmers Market on Aug. 15


Debbie Staudte – Woodland Hills Farm

Debbie Staudte is a farmers market rookie. Her farm, Woodland Hills Farm, is located on the west end of Fort Madison.

Staudte said she grows a lot of different things, including tomatoes, peppers, squash, and 23 types of berries and fruits. She said she also brings eggs, jam, and homemade scones to the market.

Staudte developed a green thumb as a child.

“We lived on about an acre and [my parents] let me have the garden spot in the back yard,” said Staudte. “It was fun. I had chickens back there so I would go out there and plant different things and the chickens would follow me around. I had two next door neighbors who I could ask questions and they would help me learn things.”

Staudte said she started selling at farmers markets because she had a surplus of food from her farm.

“I tend to get carried away with what I plant,” said Staudte. “I want to try too many things and then I have too much food that I am growing, so this forces me to take really good care of everything I decide to grow.”

Staudte said she enjoys selling at farmers markets because of the people she gets to meet and because it supports the local economy.

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
Karen VanBrocklin helps a customer at the Keokuk Farmers Market on August 13

Karen VanBrocklin – Alley Greenhouse

By contrast, Karen VanBrocklin of rural Montrose is a farmers’ market veteran having been a regular in southeast Iowa for nearly 25 years. She said at Alley Greenhouse, they grow tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, squash, asparagus, and much more.

VanBrocklin said while she sells to stores and allows people to pick up items at her farm, she really enjoys the atmosphere of farmers’ markets.

“You meet everybody from old to young and you see them every year,” said VanBrocklin. “They know you and you get to know them. When I started back in 1992, nobody knew who I was. I lived on an alley in Fort Madison, so I named ourselves Alley Greenhouse.”

Recognition is no longer an issue thanks to “Tomato Bob.” That’s her husband’s nickname, but it’s also the name of a cartoon tomato they trademarked and painted on the side of her bright yellow van.

She said he helps get kids interested in vegetables, which is important.

“Some kids do not know where vegetables come from,” said VanBrocklin. “They don’t know where an eggplant comes from or where a tomato comes from, so they can come to our farm and pick some out.”

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
Robert and Terry Nolte with their "retirement project"

Terry Nolte – Hickory Flats Favorites

Most farmers market vendors sell items out of the back of a truck or off a table, but not Richard and Terry Nolte. They built a yellow, red, and green vegetable cart that says “Hickory Flats Favorites” under the roof.

Terry Nolte said this is their retirement project.

“We have four gardens,” said Nolte. “We love to garden and we always have extra vegetables. I figure people who can’t garden probably want to.”

Nolte said they primarily sell corn, tomatoes and peppers along with pickles. She said the idea for the pickles came from her daughter.

“We made 64 jars of pickles a couple days ago,” said Nolte. “My daughter, she works 70 hours a week. She said, ‘Mom, I don’t want to buy cucumbers, I want them already made into pickles.’ I told her I could do that.”

Nolte said she and her husband do this because they enjoy talking to people as they shop at the farmers market and because they want to make sure there is fresh produce available for anyone who wants it.

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
Tyler Workman helps a customer pick out a large cantaloupe from his farm near Mt. Sterling.

Tyler Workman – Mt. Sterling (IL)

Tyler Workman came to the Keokuk Farmers Market with a truck filled with giant watermelons and cantaloupes. He confidently said they are the best at any farmers market.

Workman is a fourth generation grower who said he got his start working with his grandfather.

“My favorite farmers market memory is selling [watermelons and cantaloupes] with my grandfather while I was a kid,” said Workman. “He’s been doing it for 70 years now. He got me into it. I like how it all works, planting them and seeing them grow. I like spending time with grandpa. Don’t know how long he will be around so I enjoy making memories with him while I can.”

Workman said his family also raises livestock, but focuses on watermelon and cantaloupes when they travel the farmers market circuit of Keokuk, Carthage, Hamilton, Quincy, and beyond.

He said no matter the size, watermelons are $6 while cantaloupes are $4. He estimates the largest watermelon he’s sold over the years is about 65 pounds.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.