Dorri Partain

From sweet and tart to savory, visitors to the 3rd Annual Ground Cherry, Garlic and Good Times Festival on Saturday, September 16 will have a chance to taste and experience a variety of flavors through recipes and samples.

Ground cherries are one of the many crops grown at Precious Petals & Pepper Berries Urban Farm, which supplies local farmer’s markets and the Agape Grow Education Center with a vast array of fruits and vegetables grown organically within the city limits.

According to Christine Williams, assistant administrator for the center, the festival was an outgrowth of a two-year grant study with Sustainable Agriculture Resource Education (SARE) that began in 2021. The grant provided funding to grow and promote ground cherries at the farm, with the focus of sharing growing methods and recipes with the community.

While Williams has been growing ground cherries for 10 years, the fruit is usually only found at farmer’s markets and not well known even to those who may grow its cousin, the tomato. Both ground cherries and tomatoes are members of the nightshade plant family.

Like another member of the nightshade family, the tomatillo, ground cherries grow inside a papery husk. The tiny marble-sized fruit is ripe when the husk dries and the cherries turn yellow inside.

“It’s like a smoothie in your mouth,” explained Williams as she described the flavor of the ground cherry. “You’ll taste mango, banana, pineapple, and maybe depending on the ripeness, a bit of  tomato.”

For the event, she will be featuring ground cherries in various recipes: jam, salsa, a sauce for chicken, an ice cream topping, cake, and chocolate dipped ground cherries. Information about growing ground cherries will be provided along with recipes.

Ground cherries can be grown in containers but need plenty of room to spread as they grow low to the ground – hence the name. Williams has devised a hillside planting method that makes harvesting easier; once the cherries are ripe they will fall off the vine and roll to the bottom where they can be collected more easily.

“They’re easy to grow, but difficult to harvest,” Williams said. “I may try planting them in mounds next year to see if that helps with harvesting.”

Nutritionally, ground cherries are a good source of vitamins and considered a superfood. A 3.5 ounce serving has 53 calories and provides 11 mg of Vitamin C, 720 IU of Vitamin A, and 2.800 mg of Niacin (B3).

Other produce from the farm will be available for purchase, including tomatoes, peppers, hot peppers, eggplant, potatoes, bitter melon, green beans, tomatillos, beets, carrots, swiss chard, and horseradish. Tours of the farm, classrooms, commercial kitchen and indoor farmer’s market will be provided also.

Williams has invited additional vendors that will offer fresh and canned items, baked goods, and organic meats. Gateway Garlic Farms of St. Louis will be in attendance with over 100 different varieties of garlic products for eating and planting.

For this year’s event, Williams has lined up entertainment that includes a magician, a petting zoo featuring sheep, ducks and turkeys, and games and art activities for the kids to create a family friendly atmosphere that is also educational. Musical entertainers will take to the stage throughout the day featuring folk, country and gospel tunes.

The festival begins at 10 a.m. and runs until 5 p.m. The Agape Grow Education Center and Precious Petals & Pepper Berries Urban Farm are at 8319 Independence Avenue.

For more information call 816-230-0007 or visit them on Facebook.