Farm living is the life for the Stracks By Angie Howard
Some people are simply born with an intrinsic capacity to nurture. When you happen to have a family filled with these types of individuals, and you give them a keen aptitude for farming and settle the clan on 83 acres of lush land ripe for growing, good things are bound to result; just ask any member of Gary and Phyllis Strack's bunchâ€¦or perhaps more appropriately, ask any of the Strack Farm's faithful customers who frequent their booth at the Faulkner County Farmer's Market each year.
Within the first five minutes of visiting with Phyllis Strack, a few things are clearly evident: her love of family, community, and farming. The charming wife of Gary and mother of Joseph, 26; Matthew, 25; Kathleen, 24; and Mary Rose, 20, simply beams when discussion turns to her husband, children, and how this year marks their family's 21st season to represent their farm at the Faulkner County Farmer's Market.
Gary and Phyllis Strack have been farming in Faulkner County since 1981. Shortly thereafter, their children came along and quickly proved as efficient little farmers in their own right.
With a quick laugh and easy smile Phyllis recalls how she would motivate her four children to diligently complete their chores on their family farm. "If they worked hard, I would give each of them their very own pack of gum. Having a pack of gum all to yourself was a big deal when you are one of four children!"
Perhaps this reward system came from Phyllis's own family farm upbringing when her mother, Mary Pruss, would give Phyllis a dime for completing an honest day of hard work on their Marche farm in Pulaski County during the summer.
Gary's family also provided him with a background in farming. Gary's father, Lawrence Strack, was a long-time Faulkner County Farmer and became associated with the Faulkner County Farmer's Market about 7 or 8 years before Phyllis joined the group.
Phyllis credits her husband with perhaps the greatest advancement achieved on their farm, their irrigation system. About 5 or 6 years ago Gary converted their farm from a pump system which took a whole week to water their garden to a much more efficient irrigation system. The old method used hoses that required constant movement between ditches throughout the rows in their garden. The new irrigation system can water their entire 2-acre garden efficiently in just a single day. The water source is a pond located on their property and the system is operated by the simple flip of a switch. Along with irrigation, Gary takes care of managing the farm's pest control and disease prevention practices with expertise gleaned from courses taken on the subjects.
The Stracks sell a variety of produce at their Faulkner County Farmer's Market booth. Their two most popular items are tomatoes (specifically the "Park's Whopper" selection) and blackberries (the "Triple Crown" variety described as a very sweet, thorn-less blackberry). They also have squash, cucumbers, new potatoes, white and purple onions, cabbage, and peppers for sale. Generally, it is Phyllis and Mary Rose who you will see when visiting their booth and both are eager to answer any questions you may have about their produce.
Farmers being on-hand to answer customer's questions is only one advantage pointed out by Phyllis when asked what makes shopping for produce at the Farmer's Market better than purchasing produce at local supermarkets. Additionally, she highlights that the produce is much fresher than that on the store shelves, usually picked the day before it is sold; and that many times the produce sold at the Farmer's Market is cheaper than its counterpart at the grocery stores, with no sales tax being charged to customers of the Farmer's Market.
Explains Phyllis, "When you support local farmers, you are supporting your neighbors. You can go and visit their farm and see first-hand where it's coming from. You can ask questions, how it's grown, how to cook it, and what is sprayed on it. We have customers who actually come and visit our farm."
One change that the Stracks are excited about offering their blackberry patrons this year is that they will now be growing their blackberries organically (without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers). The Stracks have been preparing for this endeavor for quite a while, making sure the soil has been mulched with hay to make a rich bed for the blackberries and nullify the need for chemical fertilization.
The Faulkner County Farmer's Market is also on the precipice of several exciting changes, some to be realized as early as this year and other changes expected to occur during next year's market season.
Currently, Faulkner County's Farmer's Market hosts about 15-25 vendors. With proposed changes in rules that stipulate how close in proximity farms must be located to Faulkner County, more vendors may soon be permitted to participate in the Faulkner County Farmer's Market.
Perhaps the most exciting change on the horizon for the Market is relocation from the old Faulkner County Fairgrounds to the middle of Downtown Conway! Specifics regarding details of the relocation are still being arranged, but the likelihood of this change in venue is exciting to vendors, customers, and members of Conway's Downtown Partnership alike. Phyllis echoes the sentiment of many Faulkner County Farmer's Market vendors when commenting that moving to Downtown Conway would "provide a great deal more publicity and customers for the Market, as well as offer the opportunity to interact more with the community."
The Faulkner County Farmer's Market is slated to open on June 6th and remain open until at least September 1st. The location will be at the old Faulkner County Fairgrounds (YBMA Park) and will be open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 6:00 a.m. until noon.
Make it a point to visit Mary Rose and Phyllis at the Strack Family Farm booth, as well as the other vendors at the Faulkner County Farmer's Market this season. Guaranteed, you'll receive the freshest produce available grown by your very own neighbors who see farming as much more than a way to make a living. They see growing and offering their produce as a way to nurture members of their community. You may even be able to get a good recipe or two from the vendors for some of the fresh fruits and vegetables that you purchase!