As the season draws slowly to a close, you may consider this my thank-you note, or perhaps my sappy sappy love-letter, to my farmers’ market.
Last year, Roxborough had no farmers’ market. There used to be an Amish farm stand that would set up in a parking lot near the Post Office once a week, dispensing some fresh produce, along with pies and jams and other tasty Amish treats. But last summer came and went with nery a sign of them. They had, it turns out, committed some sort of bureaucratic infraction — setting up in the wrong place, or selling without a permit, or something like that — for which the City chased them off.
But the powers that be in our neighborhood fought hard during the off-season. And come summer of 2011, the Roxborough Farmers’ Market landed in Gorgas Park.
Calling it a farmers’ market, it seems to me, constitutes a little bit of optimism. Farmers’ markets, in my mind at least, have a cluster of stands, set up to sell produce, along with dairy, eggs, meat, baked goods, and sometimes arts and crafts. My vision of a farmers’ market looks something like the one in Bloomington, Indiana, which I recognize is a particularly muscular example of the genre, but which I know, too, is not unique.
Our farmers’ market is, in fact, just the one stand, under an awning, that sells fruits and vegetables and a little bit of honey on the side.
But please don’t consider this a complaint. That one stand is run by the mighty McCanns Farm, whose products are diverse, and beautiful, and more than plentiful enough to fill the market needs of Roxborough shoppers like me.
I don’t want to brag (okay, maybe I do), but I was one of the very first customers to come out and support them. They were set up tentatively on a concrete patch in the park, because initially, they were barred from the better spots on the grass. They were selling English peas, cucumbers, and other early-season vegetables at the time. And I am given to understand that those early days were a kind of experiment — a test of Roxborough to see if they could sustain the business necessary to make selling up here worth their time. And I am given to understand that we nearly failed.
But then the local reporters came out to take their pictures and write up their human interest stories. And then the people followed.
Today, as things are beginning to wind down, the McCanns do a brisk business. I have gone over there at two o’clock to find the geriatric crowd, tottering around the tables, searching for the perfect pear or the crispest pepper. At three and four, I have found the young-and-hip crowd — men in blazers and hipster glasses, fit women with babies — eying the mix’n’match, pint-for-a-dollar hot pepper bar with thoughtful consideration. And later on, I have encountered the after-work crowd, eager to get their produce, eager to get home, happy that there is anything there for them at all.
They do potatoes and corn, onions and squash, and the best peaches, strawberries, and sour cherries that I have encountered since I moved here.
As a regular, as somebody who knows their wares and their system, I am greeted these days by the ladies who run the stand, and then pretty much ignored. They leave me to go about my business, picking out my fruits and vegetables, keeping a running tally of what I owe them in my head. I think they appreciate that I am low maintenance when they are busy. And I know they trust me to pay them what I owe.
There are all sorts of politically charged reasons to go out and support your local farmers’ market — the environmental advantages of local and organic (or transitional, or IPM) produce, the economic advantages of keeping your dollars in your community, etc. But the best reasons, it seems to me, are personal. I appreciate the good that my farmers’ market does, but I go out there and buy because it is good produce, sold by good people, who care about what they do, and who care that I am happy with what they sell.
I look forward, every week, to seeing the farmers who put food on my table. And as I said at the beginning of this post, before the season is over, before they pack up for the winter, I wanted to stop for a moment and tell them thank you.