Farmers Markets I Have Known
When I was in high school, in small-town Oklahoma, one of my friends told me something bizarre: Every Saturday, if you went to the motel parking lot around 7 or 8 in the morning, you could buy vegetables out of strangers’ pickup trucks. Apparently the corn was the sweetest anyone had ever tasted. The watermelon wasn’t bad, either. It was the first time I had ever heard of a farmers market.
Like most of my classmates, I had grown up with a scarcity of fruits and vegetables. Fresh produce was expensive, and often low quality. While we often ate apples, grapes, and bananas, otherwise “fruit” usually meant canned fruit cocktail. Vegetables were almost always frozen, canned, or fried.
I never made it to the farmers market in my hometown, but when my family moved to California a few years later, I became fascinated with the ready availability of fresh, delicious produce, often picked from trees in people’s own backyards. My parents’ friends had bowls overflowing with fresh fruit ostentatiously displayed on their counters. I aspired to that bounty someday, myself. Evidently my parents did, too, for they started going to the farmers market in their new town soon after the move. Every week they came home with enough fruit to fill a couple of bowls on their own counter. They also started buying this type of bread that we all loved and that could only be found at their market. Eventually they put in a standing order so that the baker would save them back a loaf every week. Now, 20 years later, they order three loaves a week to share with my siblings’ and my growing families. They go to their market so religiously that missing a week feels almost blasphemous.
When I went off to grad school in Indiana, people told me that the farmers market was not to be missed. I started going, but tentatively. I lived on my own and didn’t cook much since there was no one to enjoy the food with me. To my lonely eyes, the market seemed full of happy families, many of them parents or grandparents accompanied by young children. Watching them just reinforced my impression that the farmers market was the kind of thing a family did together. What was I doing there at all? Still, after abundant agonizing, every week I found that I couldn’t…