By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Her love of fall decorating and a large pumpkin garden prompted Terri Emmerich to sell the overflowing abundance from a pile next to her farm’s light pole. A coffee can was nailed to the pole for buyers to leave their payment.
Nineteen years later, Emmerich Produce sells a wide variety of products at farmers markets throughout the year.
After building a home near Avon in 1993, Terri’s husband, Jerry, tilled a small garden. “I knew I could grow more so we added another area.”
It wasn’t long before the gardens were expanded again. Terri quit her job to garden full time, realizing that she could make a little money that way and not have the children in day care. Jerry works in construction, and they did not have family close by.
“Now gardening has become a habit,” Terri said. “Whenever I think of cutting back, I end up expanding.”
She was approached to join the St. Joseph Farmers Market for its first year, in 2000. This year her products were sold at farmers markets in Sartell, Avon, Cold Spring, Sauk Rapids and St. Joseph. The midweek market in Cold Spring was dropped, however, because five markets became just too much.
Terri employs helpers, most of whom are friends of her kids. Her grown daughters still help as they can, with Alana in college and Erin living out of state. Her son, Kyle, is the market manager for the St. Joseph Farmers Market.
“I really enjoy the marketing aspect of participating in farmers markets,” said Terri. “People are becoming more aware of the need for healthy food.”
In order to have more products for St. Joseph’s winter market, she started growing popcorn and more root crops, and making jams and jellies.
She also diversified into herb gardening and now offers a number of herbal tea varieties. Terri’s SpecialTeas is a division of Emmerich Produce.
Jerry found a small storage building for sale to be an herb house. “It took most of a weekend to get it situated just right in the garden by the trees,” said Terri.
The herb house is a humidity-controlled area with herb-filled glass jars lining shelves. Herbs that are still in the drying stage hang from the ceiling.
“We have an assembly line at the dining room with the herbs,” she said. “Our goal is to quickly get the herbs out of the house and into the herb house.”
“Herbs grown locally are infinitely fresher than what is found in most stores, if they have been stored properly,” said Terri. “Herbs are so inexpensive in stores because they are grown in Third World countries and shipped on slow boats, stored in warehouses and often fumigated before being sold.”
“We only process the herbs from dried whole to crushed, two large jars at a time, to retain their freshness,” Terri said.
“The harvest is worth all the hard work to get there — starting with a teeny tiny seed in March,” she said. “I just love the end result.”
While not certified organic, the Emmerichs have used organic methods since 1993. They do weeding by hand, and pick potato bugs by hand — the old-fashioned way as much as possible.
Chickens have the run of the farm, except for the fenced-in gardens. Terri claims to have the happiest hens in Stearns County. Then, there’s the chicken who was raised by a turkey and now talks and acts like a turkey.
Colorful cut flowers such as zinnias, gladioli and sunflowers are also offered at market.
Jerry is the behind-the-scenes guy — plowing, tilling, cultivating, building and fixing. This year he built a high tunnel, a plastic-covered greenhouse made of hoops, with adjustable sides to allow for air flow. That meant a longer growing season for crops and protection for the plants during adverse weather. Drip irrigation is set up in the high tunnel and the gardens.
“We grew mostly tomatoes and red peppers in the tunnel, with some cucumbers, leeks and five varieties of basil and some specialty peppers,” Terri said.
More and more vendors at farmers markets are getting smart phones so they can process credit cards. “It makes it easier,” said Terri.
For more information call (320) 845-7353.