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Sharing vegetables, fruits and a few apple stories

Ottos manage St. Joseph’s Farmer’s Market  Bill and Luanne Otto tried to grow organic apples on their farm, called Windmill Orchard, near Albany.  They really tried. “It was one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever done,” Bill says, looking over his  80 apple trees.  “I tried for 10 years, but the bugs got the best of me, so I started spraying.”  So the apples aren’t organic, but they are varied and tasty.  Luanne adds, “Our focus is good, clean food.  It’s not poisoned.” They take care to rake up every leaf in the fall to make sure no infection carries over to the next year. Bugs are the bane of apple farmers.  Bill points out a fungus called scab, eating away  what should have been a perfectly delicious Harald Red, a little black speck called sooty blotch, a little dimple where a maggot fly chose to nest, a tiny brown trail showing where a worm has crawled through an apple’s tender flesh. Little demons called coddling moth and apple maggot are responsible for some of this damage. But the Ottos eliminate these damaged fruits, so only the best apples wind up on their stall at the St. Joseph Farmers Market.  They bear names like Cortland, Northwest Greening, Connell Red, and they join bedding plants and Luanne’s homemade jams and jellies on the stall. They also sell whatever vegetables and fruits they decide to plant each year, which might include tomatillos, squash, pumpkins, cabbages, plums, pears, tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, spinach, gooseberries, melons, Nanking cherries, currants, raspberries, sweet potatoes, peppers, asparagus, grapes, and a variety of herbs. The Ottos moved to Windmill Orchard in 1977.  Bill retired from his position as a science teacher in Albany High in 1999, and thought that raising apples would be a nice little hobby and provide some extra income. “In 1980 I planted 120 trees, and in the spring of 1983, they all died, except for maybe 10.”  The farm takes its name from the 1937-model windmill that Bill moved in from Rice to pump water from the new 100-foot deep well he drilled.  It fills a tank which can gravity feed water anywhere in the garden.  “We learn as we go, and I took some classes, Bill says of his learning curve. “The Department of Agriculture has a whole booklet on what to do and not to do. “We’re pretty well tied down all summer. I’m thinking of cutting back some.  I haven’t been fishing enough.”  The work is not done when summer ends. “By the time we get this all put to bed, we have to start planning for next year’s planting. We plant the seeds in the house, get them growing, and move them to the greenhouse.” Bill and Luanne manage the St. Joseph Farmers Market, held annually from Mother’s Day weekend to mid or late October. The market was once held in the parking lot of the Delwin Ballroom.  Its present location, off the Lake Wobegon Trail and across from Ascension Lutheran Church, is more convenient and accessible. As managers, the Ottos have to solve issues of parking, power and location to the 28 stalls, which sell everything from organic meats to green cleaning products, scented oils to artisan bakery products, organic tomatoes to fresh cut flowers. There are no crafts and no dogs.  It runs every Friday from 3-6:30 p.m., unless rain compels it to close early. With today’s emphasis on organic foods and eating locally, products such as pork and lamb raised without antibiotics or hormones are especially well suited to the market, whose products are all grown in a 30-mile radius. One vendor sells her special homemade caramel corn, another specializes in dried herbal tea and spices. Soft folk and rock music wafts over the crowd, provided by a variety of local musical groups. During Dairy Month, the Dairy Princess offers root beer floats.  A Harvest Festival in September features a chef. Most of the shoppers are return customers. Old friends meet and greet as they wander the stalls. Bill’s former students call out, “Hi, Bill!” Then as custom takes over, they switch to “Mr. Otto.”  A sign depicting a little truck carrying produce from farm to table carries out the theme, “Keep the Distance Short.” Jeff Skalicky, whose group Jeff and Friends sometimes entertains at the market and who has his own stall selling organic tomatoes, says, “I just get a blast from the market.  I was in this one since its inception.  In the last couple of years, the community got involved, and look at it!  They actually use it as an example for other markets to follow.  I think it’s a wonderful thing.”

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