I met Thomas last Sunday when he was munching on what resembled a bamboo stick. Tom Nichol, Belmont Farmers Market manager—always with a bright yellow shirt—introduced me.
I wanted to know what Thomas was eating.
Sugar cane. You chew it to get the sweetness out, and then spit out the rest.
Thomas brought me over to the Lemon Grass Farm stand, Tom leaving me to wander the market. Under their white tarp booth, I met Thomas’ wife, May. She and I spoke while Thomas handled the stand and the live band entertained the market shoppers.
Wearing her sunglasses and a sweet smile, May told me about their 20-acre Lemon Grass Farm in Fresno that first started off selling -- you guessed it -- lemon grass.
“Lemon grass you can cut and harvest whenever you want to, it doesn’t go to waste. Other stuff, you have to pick it right now, right then,” said May.
They’ve had the farm for eight years now, the two coming every Sunday morning bright and early at 6 a.m., or sometimes 5, to set up in Belmont; it takes them nearly three hours to drive here. On Saturday’s they are at another farmers market in Union City.
They dedicate about 10 acres of land specifically for farmers markets: having produce including eggplant, bok choy, hot chili peppers, yams, and their specialty coming up next season: seven varieties of cucumbers and ten varieties of tomatoes.
The couple tried selling lemon grass only wholesale for awhile. But three years ago, they decided to come back to farmers markets. “There’s no money in it,” said May.
Although they still sell wholesale, May prefers farmers markets. She gave me the example of a 40 pound box of lemon grass, selling for about $30, will cut $14 of share for the middleman.
She said they can’t compete with big farms because they have machines: they do everything by hand. May herself farms during the day and when her husband, also an educator, comes home at night he helps her with “the heavy stuff.”
Originally from Laos, May came here when she was in the fourth grade. She and Thomas have been married for 21 years now, but farming has always been a part of their lives. Thomas comes from a family farming background. The couple worked for his sister for awhile but quit to get their own land and start growing lemon grass. Some of May’s in-laws currently work occasionally at the farm too.
“They rather come to the farm and work for me than you know, stay home and get sick or something. Exercise is better for them. They rather do something that is worth while,” she said.
Not only do they grow an abundance of vegetables, they also have about 50 chickens, about 20 goats and some ducks.
May’s favorite part about being a farmer?
“At the farm I like just, seeing the stuff grow. It’s interesting, you know? You put the seeds in the ground, and in a couple of days it comes out already! It’s 'Wow!'”