An improved produce growing season seems to have all types of people in the Lawrence area happy after two years of extreme drought.
Everyone from local produce growers and shoppers to school gardens to food banks have benefited from an increase in production of fruits and vegetables this year, which was helped along by increased rain and relatively cool summer weather.
Bob Lominska, who grows produce in North Lawrence and southern Jefferson County for the Rolling Prairie Farmers Alliance, said it's been a banner year for plants like cucumbers, green beans and tomatoes. While Lawrence still is a few inches below average in terms of precipitation, it has received significantly more rain than the past two years.
"If we could count on average, this would be paradise," Lominska said. "Sometimes rainfall happens 6 or 7 inches in one day, then we go six weeks without a drop. If it fell evenly, it would be wonderful." Since it doesn't, Lominska said he's been spending a pretty penny lately on water for irrigating his plants.
This year's late snowfall and cool spring prevented fruit from blooming too soon, providing a good supply of peaches and apples in the area, according to Terry Weber, owner of Lawrence's Backyard Produce. The cool weather is also the reason for local spinach this year being "the most amazing I've had in my life," he said.
Still, Weber doesn't put too much stock into the recent weather being a return to the norm. "It's been a weird year, but I've lived in Kansas all my life. I don't know that we've ever not had a weird year," he said.
The Growing Food, Growing Health school garden project at Lawrence's West Middle School and Sunset Hill and Hillcrest Elementary has had a successful 2013. This past Monday, for instance, students harvested 381 pounds of butternut squash.
"From what I hear from a lot of gardeners, this was a beautiful year," said Bill Wood, director for Douglas County Extension. "Some say we had a lot of weeds too, but at least we had produce with the weeds."
Wood said the bountiful season has even caused some farmers market vendors to lower their prices just to get rid of their excess supply. Lawrence food pantry Just Food recently began given away produce this summer after receiving a surplus of veggies from local farmers and gardeners.
With the influx of produce, The Merc Co-op in Lawrence has been able to incorporate more local fruits and vegetables into its kitchen menu as of late. Since June, the co-op has been getting double the amount of produce compared to 2012. Produce manager Linda Cowden said she expects that supply to continue to increase with the good growing conditions for farmers planting their fall crops.
And when there is more local produce available, the Merc's shoppers tend to buy more of it, which fits in well with the co-op's philosophy.
"I definitely believe there has been a shift toward buying locally," Cowden said. "People are making choices on their economic and environmental impact. Considering the difference in flavor and freshness, choosing local is the best way to go."