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The Other Six Days

How local farms prepare for the Capital City Public Market

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Boiseans wake up early on summer Saturday mornings for the chance to get the freshest lettuce, the plumpest tomatoes or out-of-this-world onions. But for the vendors at the Capital City Public Market, their day doesn't just begin when the sun comes up on Saturday. For many, readying for the weekly market is a yearlong process.

Rice Family Farms is one of the larger farms at the market, with a 28-acre certified organic operation located in Meridian.

"We are going to start harvesting another row of red leaf for the co-op and then we will start harvesting for the market," said Irene Lagunas, farm supervisor at Rice Family Farms.

Lagunas stood in the middle of a large field full of lettuce, kale, chard and onions. That weekend, farmers began transplanting sweet potatoes, and later in the year they'll plant tomatoes. It was one of many fields on the property, which also houses greenhouses and at least three residences. The homes of Gilbert and Lee Rice, father and son, sit next to each other at the end of a private road with fields on either side.

Gilbert, the patriarch of the family who started Rice Family Farms 20 years ago, passed away May 24 at the age of 91. Though his death dealt a big blow to the family, the vegetables still needed tending.

Lagunas' path to the farm was also through her family.

"I started working here when I was 15," she said. "My dad worked here, and we would come after school to help out."

Lagunas left the business to work in the corporate world but returned three years ago to work full time.

"I love it here because there is something different every day," she said.

The Rice family's story is similar to others at the market.

"Our land is probably worth more than the business, but this is our living," said Janell Hathaway, one of the owners of H&H Farms.

H&H Farms sits at the end of a road littered with suburban houses in Eagle. Timm Hathaway's father moved to Idaho to start the farm, and Timm followed 23 years ago from Washington.

The farm consists of four large greenhouses, full of different types of tomatoes, jalapenos, cucumbers, herbs and peppers.

"I think those are banana peppers," Timm said, pointing to a plant nestled between some jalapenos and herbs, "But I didn't plant any of those this year."

Timm and his employees watch over the plants in the greenhouses, and watering is done automatically on a timer. Janell has her own shed out back. When the plants are harvested, a minimum of three times per week, they are brought to the shed and she takes over, stickering and separating the vegetables.

"I come in here and turn the music up," Janell said. "They love the music."

The shed is stacked 5 feet high with boxes of tomatoes. There are boxes for the Saturday Market, boxes for fruit stands and boxes for grocery stores, even boxes for retail behemoth Walmart. And those unsuitable to sell are not wasted--many are either canned or fed to their donkeys.

"At one time or another, we have sold to every store in the area," said Timm.

Because this farm is the family's bread and butter, changes in climate, diseases and other factors can affect their livelihoods not just in the short term, but for an entire year or more. Though Janell explained that planting in a greenhouse rather than a field minimizes harm, she said they still have many factors to deal with.

"These plants need to be babied," she said. "They are very volatile to things."

Weather is another factor. H&H normally plants in January and begins harvesting in April. But because very few farms produce tomatoes before this, they decided to plant earlier one year to get tomatoes to the market before anyone else.

"The one time we planted in December, our gas bill ended up being $15,000," said Janell.

They didn't try that again.

But for all the large farms with multiple avenues for selling their products, there are also many small vendors whose Saturday market sales comprise a large part of their income.

If you venture down Idaho Street at the market, you'll notice four booths run by refugees, where you can find everything from kale to herbs to freshly cooked sambusas, a fried breakfast concoction.

"We harvest for the market on Fridays; it takes about four to six hours," said Elysia Ewing, marketing coordinator for Global Gardens, a nonprofit that takes donated land and teaches refugees how to farm and manage it.

"Many of them were farmers in their country," said Ewing. "We teach them how to harvest the plants that grow in our climate."

Refugees work their own plots, all of which are at least one-quarter acre, and then sell the veggies at the market. Global Gardens also has a Community Supported Agriculture program. A customer who signs up for a CSA share pays a flat $415 fee and receives a box of veggies each week throughout the season.

Global Gardens has property all over Boise, including at local businesses such as Grace Assisted Living and the Girl Scouts.

"We are always looking for land to be donated," Ewing said.

The program helps refugees choose which vegetables to grow, and the winter months are spent learning growing, harvesting and even marketing methods.

Though Saturday market sales subsidize their incomes, many refugee farmers also have other jobs.

"[He] works for a laundry company, [she] works for the school district," said Ewing, pointing to different workers at the booths.

A number of farms with booths at the Capital City Public Market also sell to local stores. Global Gardens provides produce to Boise Co-op, Three Girls Catering, Open Table Catering and the new Farm and Garden Produce stand in Hyde Park. Rice Family Farms also sells at the co-op, select Albertsons locations and the Sunday Market in Bown Crossing, among others.

H&H is a rarity at the Saturday market, in that only a small percentage of what they produce makes it to the market.

"Our setup at the market is very minimal," said Timm. "Only about 2 percent of what we do is for the market."

But H&H still preps for the market all week, as Janell sorts out which tomatoes will go to which store, market or restaurant.

Rice Family Farms, like Global Gardens, harvests for the market on Friday. It boxes up what it expects to sell and loads it into a truck. The boxes are then brought to another area of the farm, where they are washed.

"We harvest for the Saturday Market and Sunday Market at the same time because we don't harvest on weekends," said Lagunas.

Lagunas said there are very rarely leftovers from the Saturday Market, unless something out of their control happens, like rain.

"Sometimes we even sell out before the market is over," she said.

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