Cool growing season cuts into Duluth-area harvestThe calendar may read August, but this year’s cold, wet spring continues to resonate for those who harvest and eat locally grown produce in the Northland.
By: John Lundy , Duluth News Tribune
The calendar may read August, but this year’s cold, wet spring continues to resonate for those who harvest and eat locally grown produce in the Northland.
“I’ve not seen this type of prolonged cool growing season in the 35 years or so I’ve been here,” said Robert Olen, a St. Louis County
Olen, who has a produce farm between Esko and Barnum, was tending his booth at the Duluth Farmers Market at midmorning on Saturday. The market, sheltered in a red barn at Third Street and 14th
Avenue East, was its usual bustling self. Moms trailed by their children, couples who came on bicycles and people walking dogs examined greens, onions, zucchini and other produce as a string duo provided a mellow accompaniment. Vendors offered jars of jam, breads and pastries and natural soaps.
But some things were missing.
“There is quite a bit that’s not here,” said Michele Nordberg of the Lakeside neighborhood, who had two bundles of greens in her arms. “Usually I get all of my vegetables.”
What perhaps was most evident by its absence was the simple tomato. The tomato, it turns out, is quite the market driver for the farmers market.
“You come for tomatoes and $20 later you leave with two bags of stuff,” said Doug Hoffbauer, who has farmed in Midway Township for 36 years.
But tomatoes are a warm-weather crop and are a month behind this year, Hoffbauer said.
“Last year we were picking tomatoes on the Fourth of July, and (this year) we’re just starting to pick some now,” said Hoffbauer, who called this the worst growing season he has had.
Tomatoes are a significant part of his income, and July normally would have been a big month for them, he said.
Hoffbauer said he brought maybe 20 or 30 pounds of tomatoes to the market on Saturday, but he could have sold 700 or 800 pounds of them.
Any tomatoes were long gone by midmorning on Saturday. Gene Zachow of Clover Valley, who with his wife, Ann, has farmed almost 30 years and sold produce at the market for a dozen years, said there had been some cherry tomatoes at the market earlier in the day.
People are scouring the markets for produce because their own vegetables haven’t ripened yet, he said.
“People are looking for tomatoes, cucumbers because theirs are green,” Zachow said. “So they’re in the same situation.”
Olen said he’ll eventually have tomatoes and sweet corn to sell, but not yet. All produce sold at the market has to be grown locally, so there was no sweet corn to be seen on Saturday.
Sweet corn probably won’t be ready for at least two or three weeks, Hoffbauer said. Normally, he’d start picking corn around now.
Raspberries are behind, too, he said. The Hoffbauers picked their first raspberries on Friday; most years they would have started about July 10 and would be done by now.
But it hasn’t been a bad growing season for all crops.
“It has been a spectacular year for the cool-season crops,” Olen said. “The greens are lush, and the beets are lush, and the broccoli and the cabbage are lush.”
Cauliflower, onions and carrots also are having a good season, Zachow said.
Hoffbauer agreed. “But your warm-season crops are where you really have the opportunity to make some money,” he added.
Hoffbauer, Olen and Zachow all said they’ve taken a financial hit this season.
Olen laughed and said, “Yeah, but that’s not unusual. It’s just that we’re more nervous now at this part of the season than what we normally would be.”
But Olen said he enjoys farming in a cold climate.
“There’s a labor of love in it,” Olen said. “The thing that keeps you coming back is the challenge of growing in the Northland.”