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Farmers markets feed many needs

Jessica Walliser
Farmer's markets offer a variety of goods.

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

We all have different reasons for gardening. For some, it's a therapeutic retreat; for others, it's the enjoyment of providing nourishment for their family. Maybe you garden for the pure beauty of it, or maybe it's the exercise and the opportunity to spend a few hours in the great outdoors with only the birds and worms for company.

For some folks, there is another reason involved: money. Western Pennsylvania is home to more than 70 farmers markets, and each provides income for many small farmers and gardeners from all around our region.

I was once one of those farmers. Ten years ago, I spent my days planting and harvesting crops to sell at two farmers markets in Beaver County. Growing food for others is not an easy job, but it was one that I loved. Farmers markets are not only valuable sources of fresh, locally raised produce, but they also are a primary source of income for many amazing and dedicated families.

Most vegetable gardeners already know that there is something romantic about growing food. I love being a part of everything that goes into producing something as simple as a carrot; scouring seed catalogs for the best variety, nurturing the soil, nestling each tiny seed into its home, weeding, watering, hauling wheelbarrows of mulch and pulling the root from the soil with my own hands.

Now, imagine the sense of accomplishment you might feel looking over a market table filled with your beautiful carrots — and then people pay you for them! Customers take them home and cook them. They put them onto a plate and present it to their family, and they feel good about it. Who can say that about a whittled-down “baby carrot” pulled from a plastic bag?

One of the best things about shopping at a local farmers market is the opportunity to discover more about where your food comes from — and about the person who grew it. Small farmers aren't just interested in cultivating crops; they're also interested in cultivating relationships. Not only do they love to share what they grew, but also their story. Ask them why they farm, how they farm and what they love (and hate) about it. Opening this door can make you a better gardener and a better person. Get to know your local farmers — they have more to offer than just their carrots.

I know that you probably garden for one of the more personal reasons I mentioned at the start of this article. But you've got an important role to play. Gardeners are the ones who really value small farmers. We understand how much work and energy goes into growing that table full of produce. We understand how critical it is that small growers keep growing. We appreciate a fresh vegetable that came to our table via a smiling face rather than a refrigerated truck.

Trust me: The families who sell at farmers markets need all the help they can get. They grow plants because they love it, just like you do.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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