Caption: Rosanna and younger sister stand at their market booth on one of the chilly early days.
The first of May opened the official Farmers Market season. Despite many requests, we don’t attend but one Farmers Market, and that is the Thursday evening one in downtown Garnett. We could attend the much larger markets that are held in the big cities on Saturdays, but we prefer to keep our Saturdays open as fix-it days around the farm. Although we don’t move a lot of product in Garnett, we attend the Garnett Farmers Market for two reasons. First, because we believe in supporting our local citizens and we want our neighbors to be able to put a face to our farm. We don’t want to be a farm that ships our entire product out of the county so that the locals have no clue what we raise. By selling our meat and dairy products at the local farmers market, we are able to educate our neighbors about our farm business. We also attend the market because we have to, since I am acting as the market manager
Our market starts the first Thursday in May. This is usually a good time as the spring greens are coming on strong by then. That is not the case this year! As I was putting up the posters about town, folks would comment, “Wow, the Farmers Market is starting this soon?” Because the spring has been so late in coming, I joked that I hoped we didn’t have snow on the first day of market. I shouldn’t have joked about it.The first day of market, it not only snowed, but a bitter north wind blew.
A Farmers Market is as much about people as it is about produce. In an upcoming column, I’ll talk about the produce. Today, I’ll talk about the people.
The Farmers Market is an interesting piece of the social fabric in our town. It is not quite a business, nor a necessity, as Garnett already has a large grocery store. Neither is it the same as other social events about town. While some shoppers rush up, grab their produce, and drive off; this action is not a normality. Most folks will casually stroll the line of vendors, alternating their attention between the produce and the people. it is hard to walk more than ten feet without striking up a conversation with someone. The picnic tables by the grilled foods are usually full of eaters who are savoring the atmosphere as much as the food. There is a nice mix of citizens who attend regularly. The mayor, city manager, and commissioners often drop by on their way home from work, while nearly all of the Who’s Who in Garnett line up for the high quality produce, baked goods, and meat. They line up right behind a busy mother who is holding food stamps. Our market accepts food stamps, and it hasn’t taken long for those receiving the food assistance to notice that you often get more groceries (and of a better quality) for your money at the market.
CAPTION:Grilled elk burgers are a highlight of the market as people bustle around on Thursdays.
When we first started this market in 2007, the mayor had just been in an accident that paralyzed him from the waist down. He was taking therapy out of state, so most of the townsfolk had not seen Mike since the accident. The Market’s debut evening was the day Mike returned from his out- of-state therapy. We were very surprised, but extremely excited and honored, when Mike.and his wife Helen showed up to support the Market on their first day back in town. To this day we still count Mike and Helen as some of our faithful “Market Regulars.”
There are a lot of weekly Market Regulars, and we have grown fond of all of them. One of the Regulars is possibly not noticed by most shoppers. Cecilia toddles up every market day just before the whistle blows, carrying her seat cushion. She positions herself at one of the market picnic tables, and there she stays for the next two and a half hours until we need to pack up. Occasionally, one of her grandchildren will come to the market with her, but she is usually by herself as her husband is not very mobile. While she is an able conversationalist Cecilia is also content to silently observe the bustle of market. The vendors know her habits by now and take good care of her. A young child is sent over to ask Cecilia what she wants this week. She will place her order, listing the substitute if they are sold out of her first choice, and send the money away with the child. Upon the return of her bag of purchases and change, she may send the youngster over to the food booth for a grilled elk burger or whatever is being served that evening. She always selects one or two of the grilled entrees, and will tell you what condiments to put on it. Cecilia is a Sioux Indian and enjoys sharing some of her heritage. She especially likes teaching young children some of the Sioux dances. One market day in the late fall, it rained the entire time the market was open. Cecilia still showed up and sat on the end of the picnic table that was under the tent. The farmers were having quite the time trying to keep their wares, and themselves, dry. Cecilia cheerfully assured us that it was not her that did a rain dance!
Martha is another one of the Regulars; She arrives fifteen to thirty minutes before the market starts so she can watch as we are setting up our booths and tents. Since she is several inches below five feet arriving early allows her to see all of the farmers’ wares without the crowd of other shoppers. She is the first one to know of the hottest produce item at market and starts the line at that farmer’s booth. If you are wondering whether the strawberries or the tomatoes will sell out faster, you’d better get in the line that Martha is in, because she has already strategized which booths to visit first. interestingly enough, for all the produce Martha buys; she does not have a young family. In fact, Martha lives in the senior apartments with a small kitchen. I suspect that her neighbors often get some of the treats from Martha’s kitchen.
We have been privileged to attend funerals on behalf of the Farmers Market. Richard was another market regular who would drive his electric scooter to the market every week. He had a gruff manner, but he genuinely enjoyed the market. We soon learned that his suggestions were usually good ones, so we liked him for his prickly sincerity. When he died, we wished to attend his funeral in recognition of our appreciation. At the risk of sounding morbid, I rather hope I shall have the opportunity to attend the funerals of other market attendees. It means that I have slowed down an essential activity (shopping for food) to take notice of my fellow man. It means that, by giving a second glance, a greeting and sincere conversation, I found my neighbor was a person like myself, with a life and a soul. And I found that I cared.