After 18 years of having babies, making jam, organizing farm markets, running a cannery, teaching new canners, and keeping a (mostly decent) house, I’m finally ready to make a change — a BIG change!
So… No more farmer’s markets. A happy, and a sad decision. And a decision I have agonized over. I will especially miss the cool, crisp mornings, greeting the other farmers as we hustle to set up our booths, smelling the sweet hot coffee brewing, and salivating over fresh bread baking in a nearby wood-fired oven. (NO better breakfast than fresh coffee, hot, smoky bread, and a little cup jam or honey to dip in…)
However, my 50-year-old bones won’t miss lifting thousands of pounds of jam jars in and out of the work truck. Lifting, carrying, setting up, and tearing down a tent, several 6-foot tables, cases of product, signs, banners, samples, and special orders is a job NOT for the faint of heart! One lovely lady in perfect make-up, coiffed hair, floral perfume, and elegant silk cruise wear drops by my booth twice a summer to comment on how red-cheeked and sweaty I look…
Trust me, I know I look a mess after an hour of tough, physical labor, but isn’t that part of being a farmer? And isn’t that part of feeling strong and empowered – to be in charge of my own business, my own little corner of the world? Am I hot, sweaty, with cheeks on fire? Perhaps. But I’m also energetic, capable, and sure in my ability to make people happy with a little taste of their home, their history…
When we helped organize the first local market, Waynesville Farmer’s Market, in 1995, people believed a farmer’s market was a sort of flea market or hippie gathering. Certainly perceptions have changed a lot since then! Now, every trendy downtown is trying to organize a market (or two). I remember managing a market in nearby Springboro, which caused me acute embarrassment. Each year, before the farm market commenced in the spring, I had to appeal to the zoning board for permission to assemble in the Tractor Supply Company parking lot. And every year, someone on this auspicious board asked the same question: “Will you be selling Elvis paintings on velvet, or queen-sized mattresses and the like?”
Nowadays, markets have multiplied so greatly, there aren’t enough farmers to fill all the wannabe farmer’s markets. So if a southwestern Ohio market should be lucky enough to persuade Dale Filbrun’s Morning Sun Farm to bring their eggs to market, they are considerably fortunate! However, there is a rare occasion when a citified customer will balk at produce that isn’t grown right in their own town. “I don’t think peaches from 20 miles away should be considered local. Isn’t ‘real’ local supposed to be from our own town?,” they wonder.
I reply, “Look around. Where would you like to grow peaches in West Chester? There’s hardly 10 square feet that hasn’t been paved! How would bees survive? No crops, no bees. No bees, no pollination or honey. No pollination, and the chances of growing fruit trees is slender. Be thankful that the farmer will drive this far!”
In only 18 years, I’ve seen farmers pushed further and further away from the cities. Our definition of “local” has been stretched. I giggle at Krogers, passing under the sign touting veggies from “local farmers.” Read the fine print. “Local” to Kroger means within 450 miles!
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m grateful for lettuce, zucchini, and cucumbers in the winter. However, I see farmers driving farther and farther to get their goods to market, and gas sure isn’t cheap! Exponentially, a local rhubarb farmer (using pricey local labor) traveling 30 miles to bring in 100 lbs of fresh-picked rhubarb has much higher overhead than a super store ordering 10,000 pounds of rhubarb shipped on a semi from a California mega-farm (using quite cheap labor, to boot).
Obviously, I’ve got strong feelings about the farmer’s markets. And although I’ll soon depart from their ranks, I’ll continue to buy as much raw materials for our products from local farmers as I can get my hands on. My connection to them is deeper than 18 years of shoulder-to-shoulder work. We’ve raised children together, toasted birthdays with glasses of their homemade blackberry wine, and had fun searching for Halloween pumpkins under the harvest moon long after the “regular customers” have left for their homes. These farmers, our friends, are a part of my family’s fabric forever.
As I said, I hit 50 last summer and felt that I needed to do something out of the ordinary. A BIG change. So I strolled around downtown Lebanon for several days in January, taking pictures of empty storefronts, and perusing those pictures at home. I finally decided a certain empty storefront called to me. I found the owner’s name (Russ), and called him. Turned out he lives on my road and our girls were scouts together! (Oh, I just love, love living in a small town…)
Russ and his lovely wife, Pam, decided that turning the empty office into a store that they could rent might be a good idea for a little extra income. Russ moved his small office up to the unoccupied second story of this three-story corner building, and soon after began updating the first floor for our new shop!
After much thought, Pete and I decided to call the shop “The Jam and Jelly Lady.” We already owned the domain name, and had worked hard to build our brand over the years, so we felt a different name for the store would be a detriment to our goals.
The shop will not only sell lots of our jams, relishes, and salsa, but become a mecca of hard-to-find canning supplies. Besides the regular Presto and Ball supplies, we will have:
- Tattler reusable canning lids
- All-American no-gasket pressure canners (the Cadillac of canners)
- Gloveables, retro-designed rubber gloves
- Unique canning accessories: counter-top compost bins, herb shears, herb keepers, dissoluble labels, premium jars, collectible jars, stainless steel water baths, etc.
We’re also stocking lots of delicious, locally made specialties that have made their way from farmer’s markets to our own table for years:
- Crisenbery Baking Company’s organic breads, Lebanon
- Country Manor Mixes, Milford
- La Crema Coffee (including a blueberry tart variety), West Chester
- Chesapeake Popcorn (made with homemade caramel!), Liberty Township
- Main St. Sweets (cotton candy, chocolate treats), Mason
- Chris’ Honey, Lebanon
- Vino Wine Slush Mix, Cincinnati
But the best part of opening a new shop is the renewed family energy. Pete, the kids, and I have had tremendous fun at the dinner table, planning out every minute detail of the new shop, right down to the gumball machine; places for visitors (husbands) to rest their weary feet while the rest of their party (wives) continue to shop; cute pennants as window treatments; and opening day treats.
Just as the farmer’s markets offered my family a chance to work, play, and dream together, this new endeavor is a woman entrepreneur’s dream. I can have my jam and eat it too – that is, I can have a job I’m passionate about, and use that job to involve my family in a most unique way. 18 years of farmer’s markets gave my children a great work ethic, problem-solving capabilities, marketing and accounting skills, and the ability to be creative and think on their feet.
My mid-life crisis may just be one of the best trips our family has ever been on! We’re excited, united, and can’t wait to serve you at our Grand Opening! Please, if you have a moment, stop by our new shop (52 East Mulberry Street, Lebanon, 45036) between June 8 and 16 (closed Mondays and Tuesdays). We would love to give you a tour and ply you with am amazing sampling of our our local foods. Don’t be surprised to see my family hustling to help you, either! I’ve got the feeling that the little “birthday gift” to myself may be enjoyed by Pete, Jessica, Will, and Jack even more!
Thanks for reading, and please help us celebrate!