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‘Farmer Bob’ Mishler Grows His Business in an Uncertain Climate

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Robert Mishler and his friend, Caroline Cullom, at the Legacy Farmers Market.

“This has been a brutal year for a farmer,” says Robert Mishler, known as “Farmer Bob” to many of his clients. The drought and excessively high temperatures have destroyed crops throughout the state, leaving farmers with nowhere near the harvests they've produced in the past. Some of the fruits and vegetables that do make it to market have been stunted, though no less flavorful. No one knows what Mother Nature is going to dish up from season to season. So, is it any wonder that Mishler has named his spread of land in Seguin Uncertain Farms? Mishler had to take up most of his summer plants in August. That was when he wanted to begin fall planting. Now, that is on hold until later this month as the heat and dry weather persist. Yet Farmer Bob has been at the Legacy, north of Loop 1604 at U.S. 281, every Sunday morning for the weekly farmers market there. He offers some fresh produce provided to him by other farmers he works with, all sold from his tricked-out truck that resembles an old-fashioned roadside fruit stand. He also sells his extensive series of canned goods, ranging from his extremely popular Candied Jalapeños to jellies and Peach Butter to Onion Garlic Glaze, which is perfect on sandwiches. These products are all sold under the McircleM label. (In the center of the logo is a picture of Mishler’s mom, Carol Mishler, who lives in Cibolo.) New this year are chutneys, which have proven popular alongside the more traditional mix of salsas, relishes and chowchows. “I want to start doing some mustards,” says Mishler, who has a generous supply of energy and creativity for coming up with new products. Mishler can also be found at the farmers market in Corpus Christi on the first Saturday of the month and Goliad on the second Saturday for their markets. The new market in Corpus was so welcomed by the locals that on the first Saturday they bought every last jar he had brought with him. Farming is not an easy business, and it’s more than a matter of growing good fruits and vegetables. You have to be a salesman to attract customers great and small. Mishler has joined forces with several other farmers to provide area restaurants with fine, locally grown products. “We’re probably 50 percent chef-driven,” he says, adding, “That doesn’t mean they purchase 50 percent of everything I grow.” But if a chef likes his product, he or she could buy most, if not all, of Mishler’s crop. This year, he sold 90 percent of his heirloom tomatoes, as well as other fresh produce, to the Westin La Cantera and its fine dining restaurant, Francesca’s at Sunset. The restaurant, in turn, mentions Uncertain Farms on the menu. This lets customers know the flavorful food on their plates is regionally produced and brought to the table with as small a carbon footprint as possible. The resort’s chefs, including Ernie Estrada at Francesca’s, also know they can go to Farmer Bob and ask him to grow something especially for them. The Westin also uses Mishler’s Candied Jalapeños in a cocktail made with sparkling wine that provides guests with a sweet-hot kick to match the effervescent nature of the wine. Robert Mishler moved to Seguin in 1989. After years of driving 18-wheelers, he bought his current farm in 1998. It’s a 17-acre spread with only five acres currently being farmed. Part of that property features a new greenhouse that uses its space economically by growing plants in tiers, starting with baskets hanging from the ceiling and cascading down to the floor. “We did real well with greens last winter,” he says, adding that he grew a lively mix of bok choy, mixed salad greens and arugula among others. Each row is a different variety of green, with names like tatsoi and red Russian, that people like in a loose leaf mix. The public doesn’t know what to do with every plant that Mishler has brought to market. Last fall, he had to get them used to bok choy, a type of Chinese cabbage. “They didn’t know what it was,” he says, adding that he only sold four or five plants the first weekend he offered them. “I can’t take that loss,” he says. So, his answer was to take the entire plant, roots and all. That way, if some didn’t sell, it could continue to grow. The plants grew, and so did many customers’ taste for the tender green. Bok choy is delicious steamed by itself or in stir-fries with other vegetables. (If you don't know what to do with something you see at a farmers market, just ask the vendor what to do with it. Chances are, the answer will be simple and designed to showcase the item's flavor at its freshest.) This fall, and water willing, Mishler will be trying his hand at hydroponics. “I’m looking to do Bibb and small head lettuces,” he says. In the meantime, he's gotten his land ready for planting, and the break in the heat that swept over the area this week has him raring to go. "I have held off planting as yet, but this cool down for the last few days has got me ready to plant," he says. "I have prepped some beds and have the seed on hand. I'm hoping for a good fall-winter harvest." For more on Uncertain Farms or McircleM products, click here. The Legacy Farmers Market is in the parking lot of the Legacy plaza at U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 from 10 to 3 p.m. Sundays.  
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