The Coppell Farmers Market welcomes a diverse group of farmers each week. By market criteria, they grow and harvest within 150 miles of Coppell, covering counties in all directions out from our community. As a result, they face similar challenges when the weather pattern across the area is consistent and yet have been affected differently by the recent extreme spring weather. Various other challenges face them individually depending on their particular crops.
A farm 90 miles west of us might be 8 degrees cooler than Coppell. Most farmers plant with the last average freeze date in mind. In 2013, some farmers’ tomato plantings were frozen out two or three times. A small plot with only a few tender plants might get by with the most delicate protected by frost cloth. A planting of 500 tomatoes is lost. These are small operations with limited manpower.
East of the Metroplex in blueberry country, varieties were impacted differently. Flowering is a critical time for those plants as they can’t tolerate a temperature below 30 degrees. An early bearing variety in flower during the last freeze that reached down to 27 degrees has only a few scattered berries. Other varieties that set blooms after the freeze were not affected. Those are the berries we saw at our market.
Greenhouses seem like a viable solution to some issues but they can have their own problems. There is the initial expense and time needed to build one. Many of our vendors are one and two person operations making this difficult. One year a plant vendor lost a greenhouse due to snow collapsing the cover and all plant starts inside frozen. Hail can beat a crop down in minutes, break a greenhouse that might not be replaced yet two years later, or knock early fruit off the trees.
Pests are another challenge. Once the weather turns dry, grasshopper infestations can attack with a vengeance. Walking between rows of squash last summer, swarms of them flew up with damage to the plants quite visible. Another farmer reported seeing grasshoppers lined up atop the wire fencing along the roadway, stripping an entire tree in a day then moving on to the next one. As a result, she does use pesticides occasionally, but only when the infestation is beyond ignoring on acreage and then on an as needed basis, not as often as recommended on the directions. Her family eats what she grows and she is quite particular about what they are eating, never using herbicides, and rarely pesticides.
Most people like bunnies, but these are another pest farmers face. Lots of bunnies mean lots of lost foliage and leafy vegetables. Bunny proof fencing is more expensive than livestock fencing but is a humane way to stop the problem. Some farmers plant outlying crops for the deer and such like, so they will not venture into market crops.
Unexpectedly, a power outage can have a devastating effect if agriculture depends on it, like hydroponics. For example, all of Elliott Grows’ hydroponic plants were lost due to a power outage in 2013. The power outage resulted in the loss of all of their plants that were still in the growing stage. All plantings had to begin again and need growing time.
So, appreciate the hard work of our farmers in overcoming challenges, keeping the faith, and bringing produce to our market.