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Local produce may become more multicultural

As Lincoln County’s Hispanic population grows, so does the demand for Latin American goods – including produce.
“Everything changes and it changes in agriculture,” said Kevin Starr, county extension director.
Starr spoke to a group of interested citizens, master gardeners and extension agents last Friday during an on-site demonstration. The focus was on popular Latin American produce including chiles, tomatillos and plum tomatoes.
With the county’s Hispanic population estimated at 6,000, Starr believes there is a market for the goods.
“There’s really no reason that we couldn’t grow more of these things,” he said.
Lincoln County’s Farmers Market, for example, should be the perfect site to sell produce favored by Hispanics.
“Latin America is famous for its open air markets,” said Starr.
There is currently one seller at the market devoted to Hispanic produce and his sales have yet to go through the roof.
“With a lot of people, they still may be concerned with the language barrier,” said Starr.
There is also a certain amount of skepticism from people who have never tried the food.
Judy Ballard, for example, was interested enough to come to the demonstration, but had never purchased any of the produce.
“I can’t buy them,” she said. “I don’t know what to do with them.”
During the demonstration she received a little advice from Nuria Chavez, a master gardener, who was born in Costa Rica.
Chavez moved to Lincoln County with her Mexican husband 10 years ago, and she’s seen many changes over the years.
When first settling down in her Lincoln County home, she couldn’t find Hispanic goods anywhere, not even tomatillos.
“Now you find them everywhere,” she said.
It took a lot of time to get to that point, however. Chavez remembers persistently asking supermarkets to stock the goods. She was eventually rewarded with a small box at her local grocery store full of her native favorites.
“Little by little, the box began to grow and then other supermarkets began to bring them,” she said.
Now, she’s happy to share the secrets of Costa Rican and Mexican cuisine with others.
Hot peppers, for example, have more than one purpose. Sure they can spice up a dish, but they can also keep you from falling asleep at the wheel – just take a nibble when you start to get tired.
“So you don’t take any drugs or anything to keep you awake,” said Chavez.
Participants in last Friday’s demonstration ate up these words of wisdom, but some people are still skeptical about Latin American produce taking on the mainstream.
David Ledford, who leases farmland, is one example. He doesn’t think most customers at the Farmer’s Market will buy unfamiliar things.
“Unless it’s been there a couple of years, and unless they’ve tried it, I think the demand is low,” he said.
That said, there is still a portion of interested consumers.
Van Davis attended the demonstration with his son, citing Lincoln County’s growing diversity as the reason.
Like Davis, Chavez also wants to sample all kinds of cuisine – from German to all-American.
“I like to taste food from anywhere in the world,” she said. “Why not? We are living in a world that is apparently shrinking.”
Her son seconds that opinion.
“I’ll eat anything,” said Jose Chavez.

Kevin Starr, county extension director, discussed a variety of Latin American vegetables now being grown in Lincoln County. Sarah Grano / LTN Photo

by Sarah Grano

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