News

Farm Report: Clear Creek Strawberry Fields Forever

Strawberry season in North Mississippi is short and sometimes hot, but oh so sweet. And this spring Clear Creek Produce set a new record for strawberries.

Matt Britt, the farmer who owns and operates Clear Creek, put 28,000 strawberry plants into the ground back in the fall. That’s almost double the 15,000 he and his crew raised last year. For all the extra work, Matt says, the increase in production has helped him grow his business, especially while wrestling with the rainy spring weather.

“They’ve helped keep our workers busy and given us more to sell while we’re waiting for the soil to dry to break ground for the summer crops,” he said

All those extra berries have required additional hands. The Clear Creek crew has grown from three last year to seven regular pickers and a few freelancers this spring. 

The extra production has also helped push the farm to sell more at farmers markets and find new markets for its produce. Local artist and farmer Carl Blackledge, who helps run Clear Creek’s sales every summer, estimates he’s already sold more than 5,000 pounds of strawberries at the Hernando Farmers Market. That’s 700 pounds a week! And that’s in addition to what they sell at their regular sites. 

Besides Chicory Market, you can find Clear Creek berries at the Oxford Community Market and the Midtown Farmers Market. You can find them in the cakes at Sugar Magnolia in New Albany. You can find them at Piggly Wiggly in Bruce and BTC Grocery in Water Valley.

Carl has also sent strawberries to New South Produce, a regional distribution network based out of Memphis. 

“There’s no telling where you can probably find our berries now!’ Matt said.

Matt predicts the berries to keep coming until the end of May. Beyond that, expect to find onions, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower starting in early June. And the rest of the summer and fall will bring the usual Clear Creek bounty of homegrown tomatoes of all stripes, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, green beans, okra, and watermelons. 

It’s easy to eat local this time of year, thanks to Clear Creek Produce!

Brand New: FLY BY JING

John here! Back in our rambling days in New York City, Kate and I lived around the corner from Vanessa’s Dumpling House in Chinatown. And I mean we LIVED on those dumplings, at least once, often twice a week. Fast, cheap, authentic, and delicious — they checked all the boxes.

Now, thanks to one of our favorite brands, Fly By Jing, we can all live on dumplings any night of the week. You may know Fly By Jing from their irresistible Sichuan Chili Crisp that we carry in the market. Their pork dumplings, just released to us this month, are the perfect vehicle for chili crisp or any of your favorite Asian sauces.

Available in three varieties — Pork, Shrimp & Mushroom; Pork, Shrimp & Scallop; and Pork Soup Dumplings — these plump morsels are bursting with flavor, like they just came off the dim sum cart. All you need is a pot of water and a steamer basket, and 10 minutes later you have perfect dumplings for 3-4 people! (And if you want to go vegetarian or gluten-free, try the seared Vegetable Potstickers from Feel Good Foods. Make sure to pair with Native Son Farms bok choy!)

Fly By Jing has a great story too. Founded by Sichuan native Jing Gao, the company seeks to promote and build on the bold flavors from her hometown of Chengdu. While working in Europe, she missed that food so much she quit her corporate day job and moved back home to open a restaurant. Her recipes became so wildly popular, she launched the Fly By Jing line of sauces, spices, and dumplings. You can read more about Jing in this Forbes profile.

There are a lot of things we don’t miss about our former city life, but we often long for those dumplings. Now we don’t have to. And neither do you!

Brand New: Spicewalla to the Rescue!

Does that new Indian cookbook you got for Christmas call for something called ajwain seed? Need a go-to rub for that Home Place Pastures pork shoulder? Spicewalla to the rescue!

Our chef friend Vishwesh Bhat at Snackbar nudged us toward Spicewalla last year, and we’re so glad he did. A world-class spice company based not too far away in Asheville, N.C., Spicewalla sources small-batch spices from quality suppliers and roasts them in its Asheville factory. All of their seasoning blends and single-origin spices were lovingly sourced and tested by owner and five-time James Beard-nominated chef Meherwan Irani. So you’re in good company.

For the grill, we love their Buxton Hall Rib Rub and Piri Piri. For tea time, their Golden Milk will keep you warm. And there’s fenugreek, Gochugaru chili flakes, and of course the ajwain powder to take your Asian culinary goals to the next level.

Spicewalla is a great accompaniment to our house selection of hand-packed spices and seasonings that we source fresh every week at Chicory Market!

Eat Local All Year: 12 months with Native Son Farm

In North Mississippi, we’re fortunate to enjoy local produce 12 months out of the year, which makes it easier to take care of ourselves and eat well doing it. Right now, in the depths of winter, you can find farm-fresh spinach, collards, sweet potatoes, kale, lettuces, carrots, turnips, radishes, and mushrooms — all at the market!

This doesn’t happen by magic. The rainy North Mississippi climate can make life difficult for farmers. But hard-working, year-round operations like Native Son Farm in Tupelo and Rose Creek Farms in Selmer, Tenn., are proving that with the right infrastructure, the Mid-South can be a bread basket for all of us who live here. And they’re pointing the way to making agriculture more sustainable on a national and global scale.

We sat down with Will Reed of Native Son to discuss the promises and challenges of growing local produce year round. See the interview below. 

 

Twelve years ago, Will and Amanda Reed started Native Son Farm in Tupelo with a garden plot and a Rototiller. In that time, their farm has grown to 20 acres and 15 staff members in the high season. A series of hoop houses allows them to extend their tomato production in the summer and keep growing greens in the middle of winter. Their year-round farm stand, offers their produce along with cheese, meat, eggs, and other goods from other local food makers. This year, Native Son is expanding its production to CBD products grown and made on site. And they just broke ground on a kitchen for short-order and prepared foods designed to use more produce that would otherwise go to waste.

Chicory: What work is involved in increasing your production, especially in the winter months?

Will Reed: It can be kind of challenging to keep up a high level of production 12 months out of year without burning out. There is something to the seasonality of work because it can be intense throughout parts of the year. There are also logistical challenges to get it out of fields and get it clean. And more significant labor in the winter months because typically the fields are extremely muddy.

Another thing that plays into it is the day length. Getting produce to grow in winter doesn’t have as much to do with when it’s cold; it’s just the days are so short. We try to time some things like spinach or lettuce where they reach close to maturity, and then they can kind of hang out with the rest of the weather. If it’s hot and sunny that stuff is going to bolt prematurely. So getting the timing right is tricky.

 

Chicory: What has Native Son done to adapt to the local climate?

Will: We have a tough climate for a lot of the stuff we’re raising. If you think about where a lot of produce is grown, it’s in irrigated deserts. Being able to control water makes a lot of things easier and more consistent. We’ve been seeing about 80 inches of rainfall a year, and we’ve gone to great lengths to adapt to the changing climate. Part of that is putting up high tunnels that let us create kind of an irrigated desert condition. Part is building up soil quality to make it where crops don’t drown.

That, coupled with the desire to be able to pay people year round, has led us to push our season extension capabilities here at Native Son. There are some things that are pretty reliable for us to grow throughout the winter months — spinach, kale, collards, Brussels sprouts, arugula, some lettuces. And then we couple that with things that will store well. And that’s mostly root crops, carrots, beets, turnips, hard radishes, sweet potatoes.

I think it is possible to have a decent amount of diversity throughout year, but some of it comes down to like okay so last winter we had snowstorm that had 10-14 days and that crushes a lot of stuff. If we get a ton of rain and cold, it’ll rot a lot of stuff in field. Or a big swing — we just had 80 to 20 degrees in less than a week and that can be hard on some items.

 

Chicory: And to make it even trickier, you’re a Certified Naturally Grown farm using organic practices.

Will: We’ve always done all organic farming practices. That can add some challenges, the fact that we’re organic so not using the fungicides that may help some stuff hold up more in the rain. We’re a first generation farm here. I came from a very privileged background and had help getting bank loans and getting rolling, but we started with zero infrastructure and the majority of the land we’re on is really marginal for vegetable farming. It’s more like the land that was in proximity and that was affordable was really in the floodplain, it doesn’t have development potential. A lot of the soil we’re on is what we refer to colloquially as gumbo. Farmers say it sticks to you in the winter, and it sticks with you in the summer. Getting stuff in the winter out of the gumbo, we’ve had many boots and shoes eat by the farm out there.

 

Chicory: What’s next for Native Son?

We’re building out a kitchen and looking to have a full-time kitchen staff and try to work on the value-added side of a lot of these local foods. Having kitchen is going to allow us to take the stuff that we don’t sell in 3 days and turn it into something good.

When I’m thinking about a word that we want to define this year, it’s making more smiles. Creating more community and space for humans to smile up here at the farmstand. We just finished putting up a playground up here and have plowed up a quarter acre for pick-your-own flowers and herbs. I’m hoping to see a good place for people to come and enjoy and pick up produce to cook but also have a hangout, have a cup of coffee, maybe pick flowers for their dinner table.