By Sister Kathy Curtis
Zack and Chris own Steele Farm and Mill, a small sawmill and vegetable garden on Bee Fork in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. While sawmills have been in Zack’s family for generations, growing food to sell at the Floyd County Farmers’ Market is a fairly new enterprise for the couple.
Chris first heard about the farmers’ market from her daughter. “Kari said that some people were putting together a ‘friends’ group for the farmers’ market and she thought I might be interested.” It was at that meeting that Chris first thought about selling eggs.
Chris, who is from England, has always had a garden. “I have been gardening since I was big enough to hold a trowel,” she says. She raised chickens a couple times while raising her three children and one day her youngest suggested that she get some more. When he went off to college, Chris and Zack found themselves with an over abundance of chickens.
“That first year I just took the eggs. I would sell them all in a couple hours and then go home,” says Chris. One of her regular customers asked her if she would still sell them after the market closed in October and soon Chris found herself delivering eggs once a week to the local college.
When asked why she thought her eggs sold so well, she remarked that besides the fresher taste her eggs were actually cheaper than the grocery store. “I use feed that has no hormones or antibiotics in it. A couple of my customers buy them because of that. And some people just like brown eggs better than white.”
The winter before her second market season, Steeles started thinking about what else they could sell at the market. Items from the sawmill like firewood and garden stakes were a new
addition, as well as baked goods.
The State of Kentucky has a little-known process in place for small farmers to add value to their crops through micro-processing. Chris went through the process to become a certified home-based processor and was then able to sell zucchini and pumpkin breads and tomato basil sourdough bread. “You have to use something you grow as a main ingredient, so I grew tomatoes, basil, zucchini and pumpkins and made my breads. Everybody seems to like them,” Chris reports.
For Chris the Floyd County Farmers’ Market is more than an income generator. “It’s good to have that money coming in, especially when Zack’s job at the mines slow down. But there is more to it than that. It is social with the vendors and customers and all. And it is really neat to bake something that so many people absolutely love.”
Chris Steele believes in the Floyd County Farmers’ Market so much that she has accepted the leadership role for 2015. As Executive Committee chairperson she hopes to grow both the vendor and customer bases as well as bring in more community partners. “We have been chosen to participate in
Community Farm Alliance’s Farmers’ Market Support Program again this year. Our goal as a market is to become a legal entity and work toward getting a permanent structure for the market.”
Last year the new thing Chris tried was growing ground cherries and fava beans. This year she plans on growing the market. She knows that she can’t do it alone but she’s willing to tell her story. “Who knows? There might be someone out there that is so pleased with the market they might be willing to help.”
Breaking Beans: The Appalachian Food Story Project is an initiative of Community Farm Alliance to tell the story of how local food and farming in Eastern Kentucky can contribute to a bright future in the mountains. For more on the project and the Alliance, visit cfaky.org.