Numbers up at Keokuk Farmers Market

August 11, 2017 GMT

KEOKUK – The sun was up bright and early Saturday, and there was a slight breeze that made the early morning perfect for Farmers Market.

Keokuk’s weekly market features everything from home-grown produce and homemade baked goods to hand-wrought crafts including macramé chairs, scarves and hats, jewelry and dish towels.

There also were geodes, giant bubble sticks, embroidery, etchings, hooded towels, peacock feathers, flowers, honey, jams, plants and more.

The Keokuk Farmers Market also accepts WIC and Senior Farmers Markets Nutrition Program coupons.

The market usually runs from mid-May through mid-October and is from 7-11 a.m. each Saturday in the River City Mall parking lot along Main Street.

Julie Knoche of Sutter, Ill., is the market manager, as well as a vendor along with her husband, Ron Knoche. They own Sutter Produce.

“Usually, at 7 a.m., we get a big rush of people,” Julie said. “On the whole, this summer has done better than last summer. As far as the vendors go, we have about the same amount this year as we did last year. We have lots of regulars, but we also have vendors that come and go.”

Several Tri-State Area events such as Western Illinois Threshers Bee and the Back-to-School Festival were going on this weekend, so some of the regular market vendors didn’t make it.

“Hopefully, next weekend is a little better turnout, but we have still had really decent business in our stand today,” Julie said. “People buy the fruits and vegetables til the first frost. When kids go back to school, their minds turn to other things, as well as busier schedules.

“Also, most consider Labor Day to be the end of summer, but we do have fall gardens, so hopefully people will realize we still have amazing things to come buy during September and October. We will also have mums in September.”

Many area growers’ sweet corn has suffered from Japanese beetles.

“For the fact that we’ve had such a problem with Japanese beetles, it’s amazing the variety we’re still able to have,” Ron said. “My first two plantings weren’t too bad, but the third planting? I had nothing because of the beetles. Hopefully, the next one will be better.”

Beetles eat all the silk from the corn plants so they can’t pollinate. The beetles even strike plants that typically are resilient to pests.

“Aside from the things that we know they attack, they also attacked my basil this year, and my marigolds,” Julie said.

The Knoches sell homemade jams and jellies and a wide variety of fresh produce – peppers (hot and sweet), cucumbers, potatoes, cabbage, sweet corn, broccoli, squash (acorn, spaghetti and butternut), honeydew melon, pumpkins, eggs, green beans, tomatoes and more.

They also sell at the Carthage and Hamilton farmers markets in Illinois. Both Ron and Julie work full-time jobs, too, so they stay very busy. However, the Farmers Market is something they love doing.

Customers Joyce Taylor and Linda Apple, both of Warsaw, Ill., are cheerful regulars who come every single week to the market in Keokuk to purchase goods from Sutter Produce.

“We absolutely love supporting our local farmers,” Apple said.

“I have my own garden at home, but there’s things that we don’t grow, and this food is more natural,” Taylor said.

Another vendor is Lisa Meader of Lisa’s Loopy Stitches. She does embroidery and etching on cups, and she’s famous for her hooded towels. She will make towel designs to order.

Meader said she watches the weather because if there’s even a chance of rain, she won’t come. She doesn’t want any chance of mildew.

Customers also can find her business on Facebook.

Stephanie Pilkington and Allie Pilkington sell home-based fruits and vegetables. They said they go home with very little after the market is closed and they do very well. The Pilkingtons also will set up a booth at the Big Dam Street Festival later this month in downtown Keokuk.

They offer watermelon, cantaloupe, blueberries, peaches, pies (cherry, blueberry, pear crisp and peach), cookies, breads, cherries, sweet corn, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Giant bubble blowers

This year, the Pilkington boys – Evan, Austin and Blaine – also are selling homemade giant bubble blowers, as well as homemade solution to go with them. During the first hour or so of Saturday’s market, the boys demonstrated the giant bubbles that can be made with the blowers. David Wardlow came up with the idea.

There also is a popular booth run by a group of Amish women, the Mast girls from the Revere, Mo., area. They offer home-baked goodies and produce including: sweet corn, breads (tomato basil, zucchini, chocolate zucchini, banana nut, rhubarb nut, pumpkin, pineapple zucchini and regular wheat and white), snickerdoodles, cinnamon rolls, tomatoes, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, triple treat cookies, jams and jellies, zucchini nut bars, chocolate nut brownies and multiple kinds of pies (pecan, black raspberry, blueberry, apple, peach, blackberry, cherry and strawberry rhubarb). This week, they also had many small pumpkins.

Home Fresh Market is another booth found at the market. It is usually run by Aaron and Lisa Ferguson, who pride themselves on raising all organic. The Fergusons were on vacation this week, so their neighbor, Michelle Long of Carthage, was running their booth for them. Half of the table contained her things, and the other half was filled with onions and tomatoes from the Fergusons.

“It’s so nice to have a morning market,” Long said. “Home Fresh Market runs markets almost daily. In the spring, they usually have an overabundance of strawberries.”

Long introduced many of Saturday’s shoppers to something called a ground cherry. She explained ground cherries grow wild and are related to a tomato. They can be used for salads, pies and jams, and some people even dry them like raisins, Long said.

The booth also offered tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, onions, potatoes, Brussels sprouts and red and yellow onions.

Youngest vendor

Probably the youngest vendor Saturday was Justus Berquam. He had a big box full of all kinds of geodes for sale. He explained that he is trying to save up to buy a .22 LR rifle, so he can learn how to hunt squirrels and rabbits. He said he only needs about $30 more to buy the rifle. He said that he was just at the market this one day, because someone told him that he should come down to try it.

“I have all kinds of sizes of geodes and I pretty much take the best offer that I can get,” Berquam said.

Another booth was Sonshine Succulents, run by Marty Eddleman of Kahoka, Mo. This was her first time at the Keokuk market. Eddleman said she started with a hobby and is now trying to grow it into a little business.

Prue Backlin sells items like dish towels, dish rags, knitted winter stocking hats and scarves. She also just started making items from 82 percent bamboo.

“My sales aren’t that great right now, because a lot of my stuff is seasonal,” Backlin said. “People usually start buying my things around fall time when the weather starts changing, but I do sell a lot of dish towels and dish rags.”

Steph’s Custom Jewelry, run by Stephanie Underwood, has been a part of the Keokuk market for about seven years. Underwood offers items such as homemade bracelets, necklaces and earrings. She also sells peacock feathers, which are really popular. She sells them for 50 cents each, which she said is a lot cheaper than at hobby stores. She says the peacock feathers draw people’s attention, because they are so pretty. A lot of shoppers buy them for decorations or to make flower arrangements.

“This will be the last season that we will be doing peacock feathers,” Underwood said. “My mom passed away and my dad is selling off the peacocks.”

The popularity of crafts has been down a little, Underwood believes.

“It’s been a little slow this year and it seems like there are less vendors than usual,” she said. “A lot of farmers are selling to stores now and people aren’t into crafts and nature much anymore.”

However, she holds her head up and smiles and says, “We keep doing this because we’re all like family. I love gabbin’ and socializin’.”

Last, but not least, was Betty Carle of Warsaw. Her booth is set up in the same place every Saturday, and she is always there. Carle will be 87 years old in March.

She is popular for making macramé chairs. When she first started making the chairs, Carle said it would take a full week to make one. She can now do one in 2 1/2 hours.

Carle started out using patterns, but quickly realized people wanted designs for which no patterns are available. She started looking at pictures and making them herself. She currently has designed 114 of her own patterns.

Carle said she gets very decent business every Saturday. In her spare time, she makes hats and scarves and gives them to children who need them. She said she can make anything by request. As for the chairs, she makes most of those in the summer. In the winter, Carle does most of her crocheting of other items she sells.

“I ain’t givin’ up ever,” she said. “This is 42 years that I’ve been doing this. I enjoy this so much. I’m just used to workin’. I can’t sit down. I am up at 6 a.m. every morning and go to bed at 10:30 p.m. every night. I enjoy meeting new people. I’ll be here as long as I can.”

Carle said her doctor told her, “When anyone finds ya, they’ll find ya doing a chair.” That makes her smile.