The egg lady cometh (video)


June 8, 2012 at 1:08 a.m.
Updated June 9, 2012 at 1:09 a.m.

Veronica Riehs tosses a handful of feed at her "chickie girls" at her home in Mission Valley. Riehs is concerned about the low demand for local produce at the farmers market.

Veronica Riehs tosses a handful of feed at her "chickie girls" at her home in Mission Valley. Riehs is concerned about the low demand for local produce at the farmers market.   Todd Krainin for The Victoria Advocate

Veronica Riehs smiled beneath her floppy straw hat as she stepped through her backyard, green Folger's container in hand.

As if on command, an excitable bunch of chickens scurried to meet her gateside, eager for the feed that coffee tub held.

It was obvious Riehs was the queen of their coop, but the Mission Valley native said the admiration went both ways.

"These are our pets," she said as she tossed out grain. "They're part of the family."

Riehs is among the Crossroads-area producers who pack up their inventory three times a week and brave South Texas sun during for Victoria County Farmers' Market. And part of that inventory includes eggs from her flock.

Caring for her "chickie girls," as she calls them, is an investment, Riehs said. It takes about six months for the animals to start producing eggs and, even then, not every chicken plays well with others.

"You have to be careful when you bring new ones in," she said, noting the term "pecking order" came because chickens often pick on one another.

Predators are another challenge, she said, explaining both bobcats and snakes seem to think the animals in her yard are fair game. The family started the year with 30 chickens, but numbers dwindled to 16 at one point.

Riehs has pictures of snakes killed on her property, and one in particular shows a snake whose greed got it in trouble.

The animal slithered through a hole in the coop and gobbled up a ceramic egg meant to show the hens where to lay their own. Its bulging belly meant the snake was too fat to exit.

"He was stuck," Riehs said.

Obstacles aside, the family now has 24 chickie girls, who lay about eight dozen eggs for her to sell each week.

Other foods, such as seasonal fruits and vegetables, plants and even jams and jellies, also join the market's mix.

DaCosta farmer Tony Koliba began selling his homegrown squash, cucumbers and other vegetables in mid-April and said he's made every sale since.

Business isn't booming, he said, but many people still want that local fare.

"If people weren't buying, I wouldn't be planting it," he said with a laugh.

Koliba said freshness was one benefit to buying local.

"We can pick it one day and sell it the next," he explained in between talking with customers. "The big places can't do that."

Cuero residents Nancy and Kenneth Hahn make it a point to visit the farmers market while in town for doctor appointments. It's a good chance to visit with the producers, they said, and get the fruits and vegetables they want.

"The quality of the food is just so much better than what you find in the store," said Nancy Hahn, who used to grow her own vegetables at home. "Sometimes the prices are a little higher than what you'd pay at the grocery, but we feel like it's worth it. It's better."

Bill Kirchoff and his grandson, Corey Goodale, manned a station just a few yards away, selling the tomatoes Kirchoff grew at his Nordheim home.

Although the duo has only made it to a handful of markets so far this year, they said sales are strong. On one recent Saturday, all 300 pounds of tomatoes sold out in about two hours, Goodale said.

Riehs, too, sells other things at market.

While she offers eggs just once a week, she sells various plants on other days.

It makes for a busy year-round schedule, she said, noting she begins with house plants and pots the perennials in the fall. During winter, it's time for things like peppers.

Next year's plants are already under way, she said, and there are still the chickens to worry about.

Still, she said, it's a labor of love.

"It's full-time work with part-time pay," she said. "But I wouldn't do it if I didn't love it."



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