Farm Progress

What’s Cooking in Illinois: Corn and soybean farmers, consider what you could grow to sell at a farmers market — and connect with consumers.

Charlyn Fargo Ware

October 17, 2018

3 Min Read
RHUBARB: What’s more down-home than a strawberry rhubarb pie?

With harvest nearly finished and fall fieldwork underway for a lot of farmers, I’ve got a challenge for you to think about for next year.

Is there a crop you could grow that would put you in touch with consumers?

Like the conversations in our country of late, I see a growing disconnect between farmers and the consumers I talk to daily at the grocery store where I work. It may have started with the decline in the number of farmers in rural areas, but it’s continued with others telling the farm story.

Increasingly, farmers need to be the one telling their story to consumers — about pesticides, GMOs, organic vs. traditional farming, everything.

It hit me when I visited my son at college in Holland, Mich. Despite the late September temperatures, the downtown farmers market was thriving. So many people attend that the city of Holland built a large center so the market can be year-round, held inside when temperatures get too cold.

Apples, sunflowers, honey, squash, tomatoes, rhubarb, granola, Brussels sprouts, purple broccoli, plums and the last of the homegrown sweet corn were in abundance. Most of the booths had a farmer and farm family talking to consumers.

For the past two years, Mike Arnsman of Allagen, Mich., has grown a half-acre of Canada red rhubarb to sell, along with tomatoes, peaches and other vegetables. He also shares with consumers what it’s like to be a farmer these days.

“My dad used to come here 20 years ago and talk to consumers and sell produce. I got to thinking I needed to keep doing this, just to share our story,” Mike said.

He told me about his rhubarb — that as it nears the end of the season, it isn’t quite as sweet, so I’d need to add a bit more sugar to my pie. And he also told me about his farm operation — how he cares for the land and takes care of it for the next generation.

I bought some of Mike’s rhubarb to take home, but I also bought his story.

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SELLING A STORY: For the past two years, Mike Arnsman of Allagen, Mich., has grown a half-acre of Canada red rhubarb to sell at the local farmers market — and while he’s at it, he tells consumers what it’s like to be a farmer these days. 

Hector Valencia takes farm products like tomatoes and turns them into fancy ketchup and condiments. He’s a restaurateur whose wife’s family had a farm, and the couple now sells apple, beet and carrot ketchup and pineapple chipotle sauce, as well as organic granola.

“People care about what they eat,” Hector said. “They want to know about the ingredients and where they came from.”

Isn’t that the truth?

So that’s why I pose this challenge to Illinois farmers: Find a crop you can market to consumers, so you can tell the bigger story about why agriculture is so important to all of us. I may have heard from Michigan farmers, but the message is universal and, unfortunately, that message is being drowned out by other voices.

Meanwhile, here’s a recipe I put to work with Mike’s rhubarb. This strawberry rhubarb pie was a big hit at our house.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Pastry for a 2-crust pie
2 cups sugar
⅔ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
3 cups rhubarb, cut into ½-inch pieces
3 cups strawberries, sliced
1 tablespoon butter

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out pastry.

In large bowl, mix flour, sugar and orange peel. Stir in rhubarb and strawberries. Spoon into pastry-lined pie plate. Cut butter into small pieces. Sprinkle over filling. Cover with top pastry that has slits cut in it. Seal and flute. Cover edge with 2- to 3-inch strip of foil to prevent excessive browning; remove foil during last 15 minutes of baking.

Bake about 55 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and juice begins to bubble through slits in crust. Cool on wire rack at least two hours.

Fargo is a dietitian for Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill. Send recipe ideas to [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Charlyn Fargo Ware

Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with Southern Illinois University Medical School in Springfield, Ill. Email recipe ideas to her at [email protected].

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