Just back from an excursion to our local farmers market – amazing that because of travel and what-have-you, this was my first visit to the market this summer. As ever, I had a wonderful time greeting and talking with friends, exchanging local news (when will they replace the bridge on Happy Hollow Road? hope it’s soon – the old bridge has now become part of our new bike trail, though, so that’s good), listening to live music (cello, mandolin, bass, guitar), and buying what always feels like one of everything, happily overwhelmed by the bounty on display.
This is my morning’s treasure – cucumbers, 5 pounds of Concord grapes, hopefully to become preserves, one giant Pineapple heirloom tomato, which I don’t grow, a pint of raw honey (I don’t have bees either, although I’d like to), three handmade goats-milk soaps, Greek yogurt from a small family dairy, and a bouquet of zinnias, snapdragons, and a flower the lady said was “zianthus” (I’m trying to identify them), made for me as I stood and watched. All this bounty and beauty, made by people I know and can talk to, for a total of $25. Talk about a bargain, in and for the local economy – this money goes right from my hands to theirs, and then right back into the terroir and terrain of this very particular place.
Walking home, my cloth bag sagging against my shoulder, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the reality that this type of community market should be available everywhere, but sadly is not. Big-box stores, center-less towns designed around cars rather than pedestrians, lack of local-food growers and networks, lack of consumer awareness, “food-desert” poverty – all these and more are to blame. But the voice in me still keeps saying, this could work everywhere. It does work everywhere, when people are given a chance to build it, when they can nurture it. It does.
Our market is about people, every bit as much as food and flowers and handcrafts and honey. I shared hugs and conversation with a dear friend, the very first person I’d ever met who lived “off the grid,” who gave me Klondike Cosmos seeds and perennial poppies that still bloom in my yard every year. As he gathered my Concord grapes into a bag, their elderly grower told me how to grow my own vine, from a start: where to make the cut from the mother stock, how to plant it, not to worry about starting it in water: “just put it in the ground and let Mother Nature do the work.” His wife helped me figure out how many pounds I’d need for a good batch of jam. A couple booths down was the Mennonite family-owned dairy whose yogurt – sampled at a co-op demonstration this spring – was so good I’ve been a convert ever since. And now they are making Greek yogurt, a staple of my new food approach, still in small-batch production. Of course I bought the biggest container they had. In their cooler were new varieties they are developing, not yet in mass production, because, the wife told me, they’re sorting out one last small aesthetic detail, about the way the fruit looks on top of the yogurt in the container. Healthy, tasty, but “still just a little too thick,” she said. So they are working on it until they get it right.
Perfectionism in food production, information straight from the makers and growers – how many things about our world would be different if everyone felt — and were — so accountable to their customers? How many giant corporations would be so finicky about not only the healthiness, cleanliness, and taste of their operation and their product — all of which are exemplary, with this family business — but the smallest detail of the way it looks? Including a detail that no one but them would ever notice?
The farmer’s market is a place to discover, and rediscover, the sort of expansive, Whitmanesque faith in people and their good spirits and good work that we need to keep the soul of this society alive. Because soul does live, and thrive, in the multiplicity and variety that nature brings, in the multitude of uniquenesses and gifts that every person and every patch of ground can put forth if given half a chance. It’s everybody’s work – necessary and difficult and joyful – to keep building that world where each person and each heirloom tomato plant and each herd of cattle and flock of chickens has the space and dignity to grow and thrive and bear the gifts that only it can bring.