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Seasonal fresh foods

JANICE DENHAM PHOTO   Harvey Yoder regularly makes a fruitful trip on Wednesdays from his family’s farm in Mt. Vernon, Ill., to St. Louis to deliver fresh produce to restaurants, as well as sell juicy tomatoes, colorful sweet potatoes, melons, squash, beets and other seasonal fare at the Schlafly Farmers Market in Maplewood.

Although not a vegetarian, Liz Fathman doesn't shy away from eating vegetables. She even likes eggplant-laden baba ghanoush that her husband cooks.

They subscribe through Local Harvest Grocery and Cafe to a box of food harvested weekly from local farms. Fruits and vegetables compose most of it, omnivores receive a meat option and extra farm products like jam or popcorn may be included. Facing the same delicious prospects as farmers, she looks differently at abundant vegetables.

"I made a decision one day to wrap my head around the fact that food comes in seasons, to go with the flow," Fathman said of her surprising adventure. "It changed my eating habits a lot. I enjoy cooking more. I enjoy cooking for people more, because I love figuring out what we have."

Fathman, publications manager at Missouri Botanical Garden, and Maddie Earnest, co-owner of Local Harvest Grocery and Cafe wrote "Missouri Harvest: A Guide to Growers and Producers in the Show-Me State" (Reedy Press and Webster University Press, $18). It provides a tour of family farms that connect those who carefully grow the food using what Earnest calls 'sustainable farming" methods, with those who eat it.

Earnest said interest in channeling this food into home kitchens continues to surge. Farmers respond positively.

"Listening to them after this summer's drought, I find it very inspirational. It is a challenging profession. They keep thinking about what they are going to do next year," she said.

In 2012, Local Harvest Grocery expanded its grocery and sandwich shop in St. Louis city's Tower Grove South to include a cafe, with 125 employees and customers forming a chain to move into the new space. Its second location opened in June at the Old Post Office downtown. By Oct. 1, a cafe and grocery are expected to open on Old Big Bend at I-270 in Kirkwood.

Farmers did not blink at providing more fresh supplies at the expanding enterprise, Earnest said. They planted extra to fill the shelves and plates.

Plates of pleasure

Earnest can hardly wait for the cool-weather planting of Brussels sprouts to mature. She eats them only in season. She is ready for apples, which are now starting to fall from trees, too.

Farmers at Schlafly Farmers Market in Maplewood on a recent Wednesday were breathing relief with cooler weather, in spite of continued drought.

While apple trees at Centennial Farms in Augusta cannot be irrigated, Ellen Knoernschild said supplies of Empire, Golden Delicious and versatile Mutsu should continue for several weeks. They will be joined by Ruby, Jonathan, Gala, Cortland, Ozark Red and Honeycrisp.

"The main concern is setting fruit buds for next year. I don't know how many will set because it is so dry," she said. Other areas of the farm continue to produce with irrigation.

Mary Ellen Raymond of Weidner Farm is harvesting root vegetables without irrigation. Along with autumn specialty potatoes with purple skin, Austrian crescent fingerlings and Kennebecs, she digs golden beets, onions and garlic from plants in Chesterfield and near Edwardsville.

Delicata, with creamy flesh, was last week's squash specialty from Three Rivers Community Farm in Elsah, Ill. Butternut and other winter squash, as well as sweet peppers, tomatoes and carrots, will be harvested to join it at Schlafly Farmers' Market, according to Segue Lara.

Harvey Yoder of Yoder's Produce near Mt. Vernon, Ill., said the autumn crop is growing well.

"I planted watermelon and tomatoes at different stages so more will be coming in at different times," he said.

Ivan's Fig Farm in Dittmer provided probably the most unique flavors with a plentiful fig crop after a warm winter. "I should have three or four more varieties by the first of the month," said Steve Richmond as he carefully placed an order of four in a carry-out package lined with tissue.