The sun is slowly rising and there is a crisp feel to a new day dawning. The birds are chirping and the wind rustles the leaves of the trees over a quiet parking lot. As we pull into the Old Cheney Road Farmer’s Market vending space, two and half hours before the market opens, there are only two stalls with their tents up. We find our spot and start to unload our coolers, tent, chalkboard, sign, baskets, and tables. Soon, there will be a bustle of activity as each farmer gently sets up their produce, pops up their tent, and organizes the vast amount of vegetables in an eye catching way.
Each week, dozens of farmer’s spend countless hours weeding, mulching, planting, and taking endless care of their fields. It takes a lot of behind the scenes work that can go unnoticed to the casual consumer. Lettuce is picked in the very early dawn hours, usually by headlamp, carefully sprayed with clean water, and then dunked into another tank to remove any remaning dirt (and the occasional pieces of grass) and then whirled around in an extra large salad spinner before it is carefully placed in a cooler. Radishes are picked and sprayed and oftentimes scrubbed a little to removed dirt and then artfully bunched. Kale is spritzed, sprayed, dunked, and spun. Tomatoes are sprayed and dried. Garlic scapes are delicately trimmed and bunched. The list goes on and on. Many a Saturday night, after picking our produce in the cool of the evening, we are in our driveway, dunking, spinning, and spraying until the wee hours of the morning. And somehow, we each manage to work forty or more hours a week at a day job.
More farmers (I should say friends really–we share a strong common bond) arrive and the parking lot starts to sound more like a bee hive buzzing along merrily. Many a hello and good morning are exchanged with a cup of coffee in one hand and head of lettuce in the other–and always a smile. So many questions are running through our heads. “Should we put the Kale over by the lettuce?” “Are the radishes in a good spot and easy to see?” “Run across the way to Quail Acres and ask Robert how he keeps his Swiss Chard looking so great all through market.” “Let’s put the scale over here. Wait, it’ll be easier to use over here.” A lot of our questions have to do with pricing; we want to sell our produce for what we believe it’s value is, but we also want to stay within a similar range as other farms.
The behind the scenes flurry is in full swing in the last half hour of set up. Farmers and producers are walking quickly back and forth as the early shoppers start to stroll through. It’s nerve-wracking as we hope we can get everything set up and looking great before the whistle blows. There’s always last minute changes in our booth as we rearrange our produce, change our signs and use the space to our best advantage. The anticipation and pride starts to set in as we see people admiring our carefully grown harvest. Nothing beats the feeling when the whistle blows and that first bunch of radishes is snatched up. The market really hits full swing as more and more people cross the bridge. We try to say hello to everyone who’s passing by and chat with our weekly customers and make new friends. Many a laugh is exchanged as we explain how we grow without any pesticides and unfortunately this week our Arugula is a little hole-y than we’d like, but it’ll still taste great.
I guess that’s why it stung a bit when I heard the lady stop in front of our tent and whisper to her husband, “I can get Kale at Super-Saver for 75 cents cheaper,” and walk off. It was an innocuous sentence, really, but it stung much more than I expected. I just looked at Jeremiah quizzically. “Did she really just say that?” Obviously, it’s still bothering me a bit today as I write this, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that she just didn’t know the difference between supermarket produce and farmer’s market produce. It made me sad. Yes, I realize I’m invested emotionally in my Kale, but there are strong reasons for that investment: It tastes better and is healthier. It’s chemical free. It was picked less than 12 hours ago. It’s from Lincoln. I GREW IT! But most of all, the reason that this entire market exists is because we believe in a healthier and local way of supplementing our diet.
I’ve only been exposed to this way of thinking for a few years now. It takes more effort to change your habits and do things a bit off the beaten path, it’s not easy, and people can look at you funny, but it’s worth it. Shopping is easier when you go to a large superstore and can get all the things you need (I feel that is a relative term) in one single location, but you are sacrificing a lot of things for that convenience. That’s why we encourage each and everyone to grow a small garden, in buckets, in pots, anything. Grow! Grow! Grow! See what it’s like to grow a plant from a seedling and how nature takes it’s course (and time) to produce sweet tasting tomatoes and luscious basil. Any and all ways we can encourage people to THINK about where their food comes from, how it’s produced, and who grows it. It can be an eye opening experience. By no means are we perfect, but we sure attempt to cook every night and if we are extra tired or rushed we eat from local establishments, because working 40 hours and running a half acre farm doesn’t leave very much time. But I do know I sure feel 25 times better when I eat fresh food than anything that is processed.
I related to that lady in a way, I know what it feels like to save extra cents on food, but if it was really about the 75 cents, I pitied that lady. If her budget was tight, I would have been more than happy to help her out with some Kale this week. But what do I know? I can’t change the world, but I can keep doing what I’m doing. And so, I got back to happily selling my green goodies. “Gorgeous heads of lettuce,” commented a passerby, and with a heartfelt “Thank You!” I replied, once again feeling good.
The hustle and bustle starts to die down around 2pm as the last Market customers walk by with their flowers, veggies, and yummy treats. It’s warmer now, the sun is full in the sky and the whistle blows. It always seems to take a third of the time to pack up as it does to get it all started and ready. We say “Goodbye, have a great week,” to our neighbors and I sit and wait for Jeremiah to bring the truck around. There is a reason I spend my off hours doing this. There’s something so natural, organic and real about growing vegetables and such a joy it brings people. It’s the look on their faces and the anticipation of a delicious meal. Maybe it’s that meal that makes me smile the most–family dinners were required growing up–and I’m ever thankful for that. It was a time to discuss our day, to goof around, to share with each other, and a time to make memories. That’s the kicker. The fact that our food helps families make memories and brings happiness. That’s why I do what I do…
The truck pulls up and I’mback up and at ’em. Waving to our farmer friends we head back to our home to unload again. It’s warm out, so maybe we’ll get in a quick nap after lunch before we head out in the cooler evening hours to tackle those pesky weeds and endless farm chores. And tomorrow, we’ll wake up and do it all again for the rest of the season. Each day a new adventure and we’ll sleep in November:)