fresh vegetables

It Could Only Be Fresher If You Picked It Yourself

We grow veggies, lots and lots of fresh veggies. Our family sells at eight farmers markets every week, plus direct from our home farm stand and to local grocery stores. Our selling season starts in early spring with flowers, transitions into fresh produce in the summer months and finishes right before Thanksgiving with the last of the fall harvest. We grow a wide variety of produce, including zucchini, pickles, beets, onions, kale, tomatoes, jalapenos, squash and pumpkins.

Questions about what we grow and how we grow it have always been part of our conversations at the markets. But lately, we’re getting one question more than others: “Is this organic?” When the answer is no, unfortunately most people don’t stick around long enough to understand why. It’s frustrating. When they do ask more questions it’s usually on one topic – chemicals, or the idea of using anything not natural.
Let’s break it down and I’ll share what I do use. Chemicals fall into two main buckets – pesticides, which include herbicides (to kill weeds) and insecticides (to kill bugs), and fertilizers that help the plants grow. I hardly use any of either.
For weeds, old-fashioned human labor does the job. We cultivate (think of a garden hoe, but larger) to get the majority of the weeds, and hand-weeding takes care of the rest. For bugs, I’d rather not use any pesticides if I don’t have to, and most times I don’t. I walk the fields every morning, usually about 5:15 a.m., to see what’s ready to be picked, what’s a few days away and if there’s anything going on that needs my attention. I catch things early. Like if I see white moths on the cabbage. A lifetime of experience tells me I have to get in there and get after them quickly because if I don’t, the moths lay eggs, eggs turn into worms and the worms poop. And no one wants to eat that, including me.
To kill the moths, I use Bt, short for Bacillus thuringiensis, directly on the plants. Bt is a naturally occurring bacterium that causes the pests to die after they ingest it. It’s an allowable pesticide for organic farms. It’s also the bacterium that is inserted directly into some varieties of field corn seed to prevent rootworms from damaging that crop.
There’s also limited amounts of fertilizer used. I test the soil to see what nutrients it needs. Rotating the crops (changing what is grown every year) and planting crowder peas that are not picked but instead are tilled back into the soil adds nitrogen that other crops have taken from the soil. I supplement with a small amount of the “bag” kind of fertilizer – the same that you’d get at the garden store – only when needed.
It’s this attention to detail that allows me to say unequivocally, the produce we grow and sell is not only safe, it’s delicious, nutritious and you’re missing out if you pass it over simply because it doesn’t have a certain label.
Find us at a local market or visit us at the home farm, you’ll be supporting another local Illinois farm family.

Ruth Zeldenrust

About Ruth

Located in Chicago Heights, Ruth Zeldenrust and her family can be found throughout the summer and fall at farmers markets in the Chicagoland area. As the third-generation farmer on the home farm, she does things much the same as her dad and grandfather did. Her garden is what you would call “supersized:” She farms just over 30 acres of vegetables along with greenhouse-grown flowers and nursery stock. The farm’s remaining 50 acres are corn and soybeans.

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