The first harvest of the spring has alighted, along with the openings of various Mid-South farmers’ markets. The warm winter weather’s parting crescendo is an early bud and bloom, bearing gifts galore to grateful gourmands.
Keith Forrester, proprietor of Whitton Farms in Tyronza Arkansas, north of West Memphis, shows a stray visitor a large refrigerator full of blushing tulips.
“These just got picked like this week, okay?” he says. He has stunted their full bloom as best he can. They sit in buckets of cold water, the bulbs still attached.
This is just one of the challenges this season for local farmers, dealing with an early harvest for a market that typically opens in April.
Remember back in February, when those winter temperatures rose into the sultry 70s and erupted in the premature proliferation of flip flops and cargo shorts?
Yes, the plants remember that, too.
And so at tomorrow’s opening day of the Memphis Farmers Market downtown and the smaller Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market, which is the traditional beginning of the season for many local growers, vendors like Forrester will be eager to find homes for flowers that bloomed just ahead of the demand.
Jill Forrester, who runs Trolley Stop Market, a popular lunch spot where many vegetables originate from the family farm, says that likely there shall be much more product for the plate as well.
“Strawberries about a month ahead of schedule, asparagus a month ahead of schedule,” she says. “You’re gonna see a lot of leafy greens, beets, carrots, bok choy, the typical spring crops that you would normally see essentially or either about two weeks to a month ahead of schedule.”
An early season can be good or bad for business, and not just for farmers. When the Memphis Botanic Garden held its annual Daffodil Dash a couple of weeks ago, the daffodils had already dashed away.
On the positive side, buyers will have a diverse bonanza to choose from here at the beginning of the season.
Though the Agricenter Farmer’s Market doesn’t open until May, Mark Hoggard said there was some discussion about an earlier start this year. They’ll stick to the schedule, but buyers need to be ready to jump.
“We may come in to opening the market to a great amount of local, fresh produce that is ready to go.”
For local farmers like Jill Forrester, this growing season may have been unusual, but not entirely unexpected.
“When you are a farmer, you are the ultimate gambler, you just have to roll with the punches whatever they are,” she says.