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Vegetable crops show promise despite all the rain

By Michael O. Fine

Rowan Cooperative Extension

On Tuesday, I traveled around the county and visited with Rowan County vegetable farmers. With record rainfalls in 2018 and lingering wet conditions through the beginning of this year, farmers were experiencing some anxiety as their traditional planting dates approached and fields were still in need of plowing, disking and bedding — a task many farmers do in February most seasons.

But as anyone who has grown their own food knows, no two seasons are alike. Each year is to be treated as a new opportunity to face the challenges that nature throws our way. For vegetable farmers, the bitter taste of 2018 weather patterns, which included early season droughts and late season monsoons, gave rise to a clean slate of hope and anticipation for the 2019 growing season.

I am always inspired by the strong optimism of our vegetable growers in Rowan County as they gear up for another season. As someone once told me, “Farmers must be the most hopeful of all people because they bounce back from a hard season with a vigor that only someone who believes in a positive future can sustain.”

After my visit with local farmers and seeing the preparations being made for the growing season, I would have to agree with that statement. So in this article, I’ve decided to deliver a quick local food report to entice our palates and heighten the anticipation for the 2019 growing season.

Remember, every dollar spent on local foods keeps our agricultural land productive and families employed. And, in most cases, that dollar is spent again within the same community. The end result is a self-sustaining community with economic resiliency.

My first stop was Mike Miller, who owns and operates Miller Produce. Mike showcased a beautiful selection of early season tomatoes in his high tunnel. These tomatoes were planted at the end of December and were already 6 to 8 inches tall.

Mike told us that by using his high tunnel to protect tomatoes from freezing nights, he is able to offer tomatoes to his clientele a full month earlier before field tomatoes are harvested.

Aside from his renowned tomatoes and sweet corn, Mike also produces a wide selection of seasonal produce including strawberries. He sells his produce at his farm stand on 2198 Miller Road in China Grove, as well as at the Salisbury-Rowan Farmers Market on Saturday mornings.

Next, we stopped at Twin Oaks Farm, which is operated by Tim Sloop and Greg Hartsel. Twin Oaks Farm specializes in tomatoes and peppers but boasts a wide selection of early-season crops like strawberries, greens and lettuces.  Tim and Greg were busy cleaning strawberry beds and transplanting seedlings into their final transplant trays, where they can continue to grow until field planting begins next month.

After a fabulous burger at Graham’s Grill, we trucked over to visit David Correll at Correll Farms LLC. This year, it was a challenge to get the ground ready for his early crops but last week when the weather broke and the fields dried out, Correll jumped at the opportunity and prepped his beds. It payed off as his crew was busy transplanting early season crops such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, collards and chard.

Correll Farms sells its produce on Saturday mornings at the Salisbury-Rowan Farmers Market as well as through its CSA weekly box.

Last stop was at Patterson Farm Inc. Doug and Michelle Patterson were there to greet us. Michelle was prepping for the approaching school tour season while Doug scouted the strawberry fields for flowers and, yes, even a few early fruits.

According to Doug, this strawberry season is looking to start a little earlier than usual as we already witnessed fruit formation on the plant, a sign that ripening fruit is roughly 20 days out.

Other reports included our local peach crop, which, luckily, is not yet in full bloom. In seasons past, Piedmont peach growers have experienced warm winter weather that caused trees to produce blooms and buds well before the danger of frost and freezes had passed. Consequently, a late March or early April frost proved detrimental to the crop.

This season, we are hopeful in reporting that trees are just emerging from winter dormancy and the chances of a good crop are higher than in years past.

We truly are lucky to live in a comparably rich vegetable producing county, and I can’t wait for the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables this season. Next time you enjoy a meal with locally produced vegetables, remember the hard work of some determined farmers who fought through two hurricanes and never-ending rain with hopeful optimism of the season ahead.

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