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Locally grown, ripe for the picking

Dave Macharola of Hollidaysburg selects fresh green beans from the produce offerings at Baronner’s Farm Market, Hollidaysburg.

“It’s the official sign of summer,” said Dave Macharola of Hollidaysburg as he selected fresh green beans from the produce offerings at Baronner’s Farm Market, Hollidaysburg. “When they open then I know it is summer — even if it is July.”

Amid a steady flow of customers to the open air stand, Macharola explains that he stops once or twice a week as he lives nearby. On this particular muggy day, the green beans, blackberries and peaches attracted him.

Long-time customer and Duncansville resident Shirley Hight visited the stand for blackberries.

“This is my second time for them,” she said. “They are so delicious. And, of course, I’ll get some corn.”

In its third generation, Baronner’s offers a variety of in-season produce, said Kelly Baronner, co-owner with her husband Bob.

In the 1970s as a teenager, Kelly Baronner hand-picked strawberries to earn back-to-school clothes money.

“I was a recession baby,” the retired nurse said with a smile. Her hair pulled back in a pony tail, wispy tendrils escape in the heat, humidity and hurry of waiting on customers. “I had two older brothers in college, so money was tight. If I wanted new clothes I had to work for them — it’s just the way it was.”

Several years ago, she retired from nursing to help her husband manage the farm. And, like the market — it’s customers are multi-generational.

“If you grew up in Hollidaysburg, then you grew up eating our sweet corn, Best Way pizza and Meadow’s Custard. We have customers that span the generations.”

The Baronners are usually in the field by 6:30 a.m. to hand pick the corn. Then, it is taken to the back of the stand where it is hydrocooled through a shower and ice bath.

“It’s hot in the field so we start early to try and beat the heat,” she said.

Once cooled, the corn is graded with the highest quality (complete ears with plumb kernels) being bagged and sold for eating fresh by customers. People interested in canning corn desire the “seconds,” she said.

The key to retaining that just-picked-freshness is to keep the corn cool until it’s eaten.

“After purchasing, you want to refrigerate it as soon as possible because it helps preserve the sweetness. You don’t want to keep it in your car where it can become over-heated and turn starchy and tough.”

When customers travel from a distance or are headed back to work, Baronner’s provides bags of ice to help chill the corn.

The produce stand’s hours depend on how long the day’s corn lasts. Once it sells out the stand closes.

“We tell people it’s best to call ahead to make sure we have corn,” Kelly Baronner said.

In addition to sweet corn, green beans and blackberries, on this particular day the stand had Chambersburg peaches.

Educating customers is important to Kelly Baronner so fruits and vegetables are labeled clearly as to their source. “Homegrown” is grown on site of Baronner’s Market; “local” means it is grown by other farms in Blair County and “PA grown” means it is grown within Pennsylvania like the peaches.

“We’ve been buying from the same grower for over 20 years,” Baronner said. Baronner’s also posts tips on ripeness — the peaches on this particular day, she said, would be best in a day or two and advised to keep them in a paper bag on the kitchen counter to maximize flavor.

“There are many labeling options farmers use to market their goods such as: homegrown, local-food, naturally grown, hormone free,” said Beth Futrick, who serves in a regional PA Agricultural Ombudsman Program. There are a few terms that are regulated like ‘organic’ or ‘certified naturally grown.’ Farmer/vendors should provide verification at the market if they are labeling their products as such. It takes a lot of energy, paperwork and money for a farmer to become certified organic. Their products are justifiably more expensive, so they need to show they did the work to grow food without chemicals.”

This is in contrast to labeling produce “homegrown” or “locally grown,” which isn’t regulated, Futrick said. “But this gives the farmer/vendor an opportunity to talk to their customers about who grew the food and how it was grown. Customers should ask too. If a customer wants to support a local farmer (from Blair or immediate surrounding counties) they should ask ‘did you grow this?’ “

Sweet corn, tomatoes and cantaloupe are most popular among customers at a road side produce stand operated by the Windy Hill Farmers Market of Belleview.

Renee Shuey of Madisonburg, Centre County, travels an hour each way to Garden Fresh Produce Market in Sinking Valley a couple times a summer for Roma tomatoes. It’s become a family tradition started when a friend introduced her to the farm about 20 years ago.

“I started making homemade spaghetti sauce using six bushels of their Roma tomatoes,” she said as she loaded peaches and cucumbers into her car. She stopped Aug. 7 to order the tomatoes and will pick them up about Aug. 24. Because it is an Amish farm, she has to physically drive to the market to place her order.

“After all these years, I’m afraid to try a different tomato from a different market. These produce a lot of sauce and my family loves it,” Shuey said. Such reliability in quality and taste, she said, is important. “After all this time, we’ve come to trust the owners and the way they grow their produce.”

Cashier Mary Peachey, sister of second-generation owner Jess Peachey, said the Roma tomatoes are slightly behind schedule. However, sweet corn, canning tomatoes and green beans are in good supply.

A new pop-up stand in front of the former Sears Auto Repair building features produce from Belleville. Miriam Wengerd of Belleview said her family decided to open the stand after her husband’s father received an overwhelming response at a stand in State College.

“We wanted to expand, but didn’t want to compete with a family member. A nephew found us this place,” Wengerd said, between ringing up customers. “And it’s working out.”

“Road-side” farmers should contact the municipality they plan to set up their stand,” Futrick said. “Some municipalities do require farmers to get a vending permit, so they should double-check.”

Mirror Staff Writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.

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