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Posted: Friday, May 3, 2013 2:45 pm

With a freshly minted nursery license (as of last year, that is) bear guide Heather Hayes and friends Judy Aho and Nancy Williams-Fransen are bringing diverse new products to the Grand Rapids Farmers’ Market.

This trio won’t be neglecting tomatoes, pumpkins and squash. They are growing 5 acres of produce just outside Floodwood, as well as in their home gardens, and expect a bounty of fresh local veggies at the market. But they are also adding new products to draw customers in, who they hope in turn will enjoy the old standards too.

To begin, these gals will be selling perennial fruit plants not seen at the Market for years, if ever. Thorn-less blackberries are sure to be popular, and the three grape varieties may get some locals thinking about a new source of healthy fruit to grow at home.

‘Elvira’ is a great grape cultivar for our area,” says Hayes, “as it combines good cold tolerance with a sweet-tart flavor and no seeds.”

For the lovers of juice and jelly, the best choice would be ‘Fredonia’, a Concord-type that does well in our climate. And ‘Catawba’ is a versatile grape used extensively on the East Coast for both jams, jellies and wine.

Locals might be more familiar with chokecherry and highbush blueberries – they will be for sale too.

And old-timers will see an heirloom melon plant that will likely be a surprising new find for younger gardeners and local food lovers. The vine peach, also known as a chito melon or mango melon, will be offered by this team of Floodwood mothers, farmers and outdoorswomen.

Grown traditionally for preserves, pies and pickles, these 1 foot-tall plants can grow vines as long as 10 feet, and the peach-sized melons are prized for winter preserves. In fact, trying to track down this plant based on the description of an 85-year-old grandmother had proved an elusive task – until now! How interesting it will be to observe the growth in sales and growth of the plants this year.

The three are preparing hanging baskets with dwarf tomato, cucumber and pea plants for patio gardeners as well.

Most interesting of all these new offerings may be the creative jams and preserves Heather, Judy and Nancy will be offering this year. You could almost hear the loud scratch of a record needle as Heather began to explain her ‘Carrot Cake’ jam.

That’s right – carrot cake!

“I knew we had to differentiate ourselves from the crowd,” Heather explained. “Everyone has strawberry jam and grape jelly. So I started to think of different combinations, and began to look at some more creative recipes. It just happened that my carrots that were still in the ground were starting to go soft, so I added some raisins, some pineapple... well, people will just have to taste it for themselves!”

Other flavors include green tomato-orange-ginger, “like a marmalade,” says Hayes, blueberry-lime-basil and peach-raspberry-rosemary. They plan to sample the different flavors throughout the year to give customers a chance to try the different flavor combinations.

Those jams and preserves will be delicious on the different breads the three ladies produce too. On opening day, Heather was selling lots of pumpkin, banana and blueberry breads. “And Nancy’s beer bread, which she calls ‘bang-up bread’, has been super popular,” said Heather as she tended her market stall.

“This is a much better day than opening day last year in Duluth,” Heather reported. The trio sell at the Duluth Farmers’ Market as well. “Even with the cold and the wind, there were a lot of people.”

“And the customers have been really nice... some of them came up to me and said, ‘You’re new, aren’t you?’ and ‘Welcome to the Farmers’ Market.’ The vendors were all really sweet too.”

Well why wouldn’t we be sweet? Not only is the Grand Rapids Farmers’ Market is thrilled to have these three new gals growing produce and plants, baking up goodies, and cooking down jams and jellies, we’re excited to have new members out there on opening day, in the cold and wind with a smile on their face, loving what they do.

Come meet our newest members this Wednesday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Grand Rapids Farmers Market, across from the Mall and the Old Central School on 4th street in downtown Grand Rapids. They’ll be waiting for you!

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