Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thankful Thursday: The Farmers' Market

most vendors don't look like this guy
but, I do think I bought turnips from him once
The Farmers’ Market is such a big part of my life that it’s hard to believe it hasn’t always been that way. 

But, there was a time in my life when I never considered being a Farmers’ market vendor.  Honestly, I hadn’t even done much farmers market shopping. 

Okay, I’ll admit it, 20 years ago, my only "farmers’ market" experience consisted of buying turnips from the old guys who set up their pick-up trucks in the park across from the bank where I worked in the early eighties. That was an interesting experience, let me tell you.

Farmers’ Markets weren’t trendy…and we wouldn’t have noticed if they were.  I grew up in rural Virginia where nearly everyone had a garden and most everything was homegrown.  Did you read this?   On the off-chance you didn’t have something in your garden, it was a good bet that one of the neighbors or little old ladies at church would give you some from their gardens.

20 years ago, I was a stay-at-home mom, still living in rural VA, homeschooling our two daughters while the Boss commuted to his “real job”.  We had our own garden, freezing and canning for wintertime. We had a flock of chickens and I baked all our bread. We had a couple of goats and even tried our hand at home-grown hogs. (that one wasn’t a big success) I had no thoughts of doing anything differently.

 We enjoyed a sort of homesteader lifestyle on our six acres out in the county and the entire family took turns reading Countryside magazine.  Life was good.
a very foggy, very large cucumber harvest

Then, we were offered a chance to move...a chance to get a little further out in the country…a chance to help aging family and build a new life for our kids.  We jumped at it.

But…our move to the Valley turned out far different than we had imagined.  Read "the change in plans".  We didn’t know it, but all those things we had been reading about were about to become real necessities.  When we reached the hill, we started from scratch and we were faced with the overwhelming question…NOW WHAT?  

We had some interesting friends at the time.  Kinda edgy…alternative ag…farmers’ market vendors.  They suggested the local Farmers’ Market, which turned out to be the  Opportunity of a Lifetime.  It gave us some purpose and much needed income.  We also joined a vegetable growers’ co-op, selling to fancy restaurants, but the Market was so much more appealing. It offered a solution to so many things. We got instant feedback and interesting human interaction. The Boss had found the perfect outlet for his naturally gregarious nature.
our first market day

I see myself as naturally shy and introverted, the whole “selling at the Market” thing seemed more than a little overwhelming. So, I chose to be the stay-at-home partner, where I would bake until as the Boss said “the vegetables came in”.
first season

No one (not even the Boss, really) knows how my heart ached during those first five (ten…fifteen….yes, I do still struggle...) years.  I felt somehow responsible for the whole “change in plans” (although it couldn’t have been my fault), I worried that maybe I’d damaged my kids and thwarted any plans for the future. The worst part, there was nobody I could talk to about the situation.  Nobody would have understood...or believed it anyway. Nobody. (well, except the Boss…and he’d heard it all about 10 million times)

Baking for the Market offered a much-needed distraction.  Figuring out how to do commercial, production baking in a small home kitchen kept me from the depths of despair or the “slough of despond” because I was just so busy. While I really wouldn’t advise avoidance as a method of recovery, in this particular case it worked.  For someone who craves rhythm and routine, Market preparation was a perfect fit.  Each day of the week had a required activity on which the rest of the week depended.

just some of the bread baked in a week
up to 100 loaves
So, I baked.  …and I baked and I baked.  
The Boss sold. 

 The whole family farmed and worked in the garden having awesome learning experiences along the way.
taking care of broilers

walking a bottle calf
sisters planting

We made friends and felt comfortable in our new life and new community.

group shot - Staunton/Augusta Farmers' Market 2005

Life was good again.

we were proud of our little stand that first year
Sales increased dramatically from year to year. The customers loved our offerings.  I'm not guessing here,  they actually said so. 

in '99 we spread out across the sidewalk

Those folks who took the time to write me “fan” letters for the bread will never know just how their kind actions worked to begin the healing of my badly battered heart. (I still have those letters in the bottom of a drawer) The growers/producers, who opened their hearts and their homes to us, taught us a great deal about all sorts of things.  …and those customers some of whom have been there from day one continue to encourage us with the friendship and patronage.

Years passed, the pain faded…and today we are in a far different place. (we even quit baking)

Much of the difficult past is a dim and distant memory, we see ourselves as successful vendors and have the opportunity to encourage and inspire those who are just starting out. The entire operation has evolved a great deal over the years. Our product line is far different and you can read about some of the changes  HERE.   In many ways, we’re very different people than we were when we started our Farmers’ Market adventure all those years ago.

But, none of our success would have been possible if not for the opportunities and experiences offered me (us) by the Farmers’ Market. Those customers, fellow vendors and random strangers who make up the market experience, who granted us inspiration, bought our products and encouraged us when we needed it… they showed us the reality of human kindness and it really did make a tangible difference to all of us. 

One of our daughters once complained that the Market "took over our lives".  While this may be true, it also introduced us to new people and experiences, giving meaning and substance to our lives...and quite possibly saved mine.  We wouldn't be who we are today without our Market experiences.

Words fail to express just how much the Farmers' Market means to me.

...all I can do is say "THANK YOU!"

I have written extensively, perhaps excessively, about our local Farmers' Market.(and I've probably done some version of this story before)  I hope you'll use the search bar on the right and read more about our market experiences, maybe it will inspire you to start your own market adventure.   


  1. I just loved reading this Barbara. You should both be so proud of yourselves - and the same applies to your lovely daughters.

  2. I fear I am too old and decrepit to start any market adventures. Unless I set up a tent and sell acupuncture!

  3. I have had some odd experiences buying produce off a country road. Even bought cactuses from a man who was homeless. He was so worried they wouldnt be taken care of. Its what makes buying food and stuff directly fun, the interaction you just dont get at a store these days.