by Alex Muto
Niagara County weather has been nothing if not extreme this year. Rapid changes include warm winter transforming to sudden cold in March and April, and the onset of one of the driest summers to date. However, Niagara County farmers have taken the area's less-than-predictable seasons and diligently attended to their crops, allowing many to prosper and others to survive a difficult season.
Though plenty of locals have been sweltering in the hot, dry summer, crops that depend on more sun and less rain have been thriving this season.
Tom Tower's Market, 759 Lockport Road, Youngstown, has had a particularly successful year with grapes, peaches and tomatoes. "For fruit and vegetable growers, (dry weather) is a mixed bag," says Tom Tower, owner and farmer of Tom Tower's Market. "However, (Tom Tower's Markets) does not have 2,000 acres of corn to worry about, but 30 acres of peaches and tomatoes. We are primarily peach and tomato growers. Because of the weather, sugar levels in these plants is a third higher than during a normal year. For us, it's better to not have too much downpour." Though Tower recognizes the yield of these fruit is lower, the quality is much higher due to the sugar levels. Visitors can purchase the particularly sweet, delicious fruit from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. every day until Thanksgiving.
Becken Farms of 2585 Upper Mountain Road has also succeeded this season despite the weather-based setbacks. Elaine Becken, co-owner of Becken Farms, reports that "we are doing fine and all of our fruits and grains are doing well." She explains that she and co-owner Ronald Becken have been focused on nurturing their crops. "The drought has not affected us," Becken explains. "We have been keeping up (with the fruit) and watering a lot." The farm, which sells apples and fall vegetables, is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Similarly, Sanger Farm Market of 852 Youngstown-Lockport Road, Youngstown, found that the quality of their fruit overshadows the lower quantity of their output this year. Although Sandra Tuck, daughter of Sanger Farms owner Glenn Sanger, observes that though the April freeze reduced the farm's apples, peaches, and cherries, "the quality (of the fruit) is good."
"We grow apples, peaches, and cherries, which blossomed early due to warm weather in March and then had a freeze-out in April. This caused a low yield."
However, the Sangers have found that the freeze ended up being a blessing in disguise. If there was more fruit during such a dry summer, it could not have been as high quality. "At any other time, such a lack of water would have caused our (fruit) to be smaller," she says, "but because there were so few (fruit), the drought did not affect the fruit's size or quality." The family also has plenty of fruit to make their famous baked goods and jams. "We have enough peach to make homemade pie, so we had a lot ripened over the weekend for pies and jams," Tuck explains. They sell their fruit and baked goods from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.
Peter Wagner, owner of Wagner's Farm & Market, 2762 Lockport Road, Wheatfield, also finds that on the bright side of this year's excessive heat, his fruit is especially sweet. Wagner says that, "since we mainly grow fruit, the frost affected us more than any other weather condition right now." On the farm, Wagner's grows apples, pears, prunes, and plums. "We just started picking prunes today (Monday, Aug. 13)," announces Wagner, "which are doing well, but there are fewer. There should be pears by the end of the week."
Other crops, such as sweet corn, are also at peak form. "The stuff we are picking is beautiful, it's some of the best corn we've ever had," explains Wagner. Also, "The apples are beautiful, nice and sweet because the heat and sun put sweetness into everything."
Wagner encourages visitors to come visit Wagner's Farm Market, a "full-service farm market" that offers their home-grown fruit as well as other fresh local peppers, cantaloupes, cucumbers, potatoes, and watermelons, and canned tomatoes, between 9 p.m. to 6 p.m. every day. They also operate a restaurant from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.
Lakeside Farm Market, 1630 Lake Road, Town of Porter, has also managed to produce many quality crops. David Tower, owner of Lakeside Farm Market, explains that he has been lucky that he grows his own fruit, because prices are rising due to lower yield and higher demand. "I am a fruit grower myself, so I don't have as much trouble. If I actually had to buy fruit rather than grow it myself, it would be hard making money buying peaches and apples at the prices they cost now." He still has grown plenty of peaches to sell, and is also offering lettuce, tomatoes, and onions from other local farms. Lakeside Farm Market is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
Peter Baker Farm, 2100 Youngstown-Lockport Road, Porter, had a lower yield this year, but worked hard to cultivate their crops. Jeff Baker, owner of Peter Baker Farms, says that overall, "we probably got 30 percent of the crop that we should have."
Recognizing the early influence of this April's frost, and the potential damage the local drought could cause, Baker and his employees ran irrigation pumps on apples. "We used 16,000 gallons of water per hour, another added cost we don't normally need," he says.
Although Baker says that "this water is nothing like having a nice rain," they have produced all of their typical crops, including apples, peaches, corn, soybeans, pumpkins, squash, peppers, and tomatoes. For hours, call the farm at 791-3440.
The farmers encourage locals to purchase crops seasonally from area farms.
"(I think that) people are beginning to remember what their grandparents have once known - that food will taste better from a local garden in season," Tom Tower says.
There is plenty to be found in the Niagara and Erie County regions, with farmers markets offering a variety of different foods. Niagara County has many wonderful crops during the season. Support the local farmers who have made the most of difficult weather this year and enjoy Niagara County's bounty.