By Annie Young
I’m standing on the other side of the table. It is my only Saturday off work since March and I find myself at another farmers market. Instead of being behind the table selling our greens, I’m chatting and buying from vendors. From both sides, I can see the importance of knowing your farmer or producer. When buying directly from the producer, you can certify the integrity of the product and learn how it is produced. But being behind the table, I also recognize the importance of knowing our customers.
I wake up before the sun on Saturdays. My Farmer is already at the farm, having woken and headed out an hour earlier. A quick wash and I throw a hat on my head. I lift my sleeping daughter out of bed and tuck a warm blanket around her. Trudging across the field to the market truck, I am laden with her snuggly, slumbering body, a bag full of toys, snacks, clothes, wipes and training potty. I feel like a packhorse. Heck, I am a packhorse prepared to greet what the day may bring us at market.
My daughter wakes as I tuck her into her car seat in our large box truck. “Not pretend, Mama, not pretend,” she insists. She loves going to market and wants to make sure we are really going, not just making believe as we sometimes do. I assure her we are heading to market now. My Farmer hands me strong, hot coffee in a semi-clean mug and off we go.
Central Markets are hopping and lively with dedicated customers and a team of managers that bust themselves promoting the markets. The vendors have a camaraderie and team spirit that I have not often felt at markets I have worked over the years. We have attended over 15 different markets in the past 15 years. Central Markets are by far the busiest and best managed markets we have joined. The customers come and shop every week season in and season out. The markets go year round and the customers’ loyalty does not change with the weather.
We know our customers, their families, their lives because we see them every week. Some show up early, eager to get their greens and get on with their busy day. We know that others will run in as we are packing up the tents and tables, begging for some arugula even though we have sold out hours ago. The customers know that we don’t use any pesticides or chemical fertilizers. We grow everything using the organic standards even though we are not certified. They know we are committed to being stewards of the earth as well as growing quality produce. This knowledge of each other strengthens our relationship and trust.
Market day had a downpour of rain that lasted almost the entire time. A stream of water rushed under our tables where our little girl happily splashed in the puddles. “Our Regulars,” as we call them, came in their raincoats, umbrellas and rain boots. They plodded along undeterred, ready for their weekly greens. Many made the comment that as long as we were coming, they were coming. I replied that as long as they were coming, we were coming too.
We are involved in each other’s lives. Our customers charted my progress when I was pregnant and showed up each week with a bigger belly. Now I return with our little girl in tow and they exclaim how they can’t believe how she
One woman comes each week. We notice her hat or scarf on her head. She appears to be losing weight. She is vocal about how she is fighting cancer and how our greens are her key to equilibrium during her treatments. Her optimism is contagious and inspiring. We cheer her on and over stuff her bag of greens.
Two men show up together every week. Their smiles are warm and cheerful. Occasionally one comes alone while the other travels for work. He frets about what to buy because his partner cooks and he doesn’t. We offer recipes, sympathy, and tips for eating the greens. We greet his partner gustily when he returns from his stressful job of training military in Egypt.
Our customers made my Farmer’s creative venture into a valuable living that our family depends upon. From the other side of the table we receive, what my Farmer calls, our second pay check. Compliments, encouragement, high praise—all feed us in a way that wholesale never would. We nourish each other.