Thursday, September 6, 2012

So, I Do a Little Writing...

I'm gonna share a little secret with you...

                 I have always....

                         ...always wanted to be a writer!

A "real" writer, not just someone who scribbles stuff from time to time.

Since those days as a little girl sitting at "Danny's" typewriter, banging away ("gently, Dolly, gently")...I can't tell you how I've wanted to write.

Something about those letters on the page...even when I didn't know they made words...and words made sentences...that expressed grand ideas and conveyed emotions, even the petty ones.  Words grant the power to convict and change, the ability to comfort and educate.  Words have an incredible power, and I wanted to tap into that. 

Over the years, I have written reams and reams... letters, papers, journals, just plain crap, bad poetry, sad stories, junk...well, you get the picture.  All in the hopes that someday, somewhere, someone would recognize that I truly have something meaningful to say and the ability to express myself in an interesting manner.

To that end, I recently entered a writing contest...a farmers' market writing contest ...and didn't even place.  They didn't even send a "thank you for your crappy submission" letter.  I cannot tell you how totally bummed I was.  It was the final straw in what had already been a stressful, frustrating day. I can't say that I felt any better after reading the winning submissions.  But, you know what?  It's okay.  It's really okay.

Because it made me realize something (after the Boss had to do some real mop-up work and give a VERY long pep talk) doesn't matter what "they" think.  Their opinion of my expression doesn't diminish from the passion and emotion that goes into our work and/or my writing.  It doesn't matter if someone doesn't pick ME this time.  I'll keep writing 'cause I have a lot to say...about the living and dying, the work and relaxation, the whole of farming. My words may have some influence somewhere, sometime in the future.  In the meantime, there is a whole bunch of farmwork to do that keeps me far, far from any keyboard.  And, that's okay, too! Because the farm is what I love and who I am...writing about it just allows me to share that with others.

Perhaps someday, someone, somewhere will appreciate the work we do on the farm and the words with which I describe it.  (oh, my!  I think I finally got my head around Dad Womack's infamous quote..."your time will come"! That in itself may have been an epiphany.)  

Until then, I'll keep posting here.  ...and I hope someone will keep reading.

Here's my entry in the contest in its entirety... (I jazzed it up with a few old pictures)  The point of the contest was to share how being part of a market has affected your life. 

How The Farmers’ Market Saved My Life

 “Y’all should think about doin’ the Farmers’ Market!” It was an offhand suggestion put forth by a friendly market vendor years ago that quite possibly saved my life.  While that may be a slight overstatement, being a Market vendor indeed defines my life today.

In late ’96, we took an enormous leap of faith in hopes of becoming a little more self-sufficient, debt-free, and aiding family in an existing farming operation in the Shenandoah Valley.  We sold our house and car along with many of our personal possessions and moved about a hundred miles from our longtime home. Just weeks after the move, the farming deal ended in a painful and irrevocable way.  To say we were devastated would have been an understatement.  Mere words fail to describe my personal anguish.

While we clung to one another and our two young daughters, we realized that there is great truth in “you can’t go home again”.  We found a new spot to call our own, but it meant starting over from scratch.  The property had perimeter fence and a septic system and NOTHING else!  It became obvious that we needed to figure out a profitable enterprise before we reached the end of our rapidly dwindling nestegg. 

Our newfound friends were participating in the local Farmers Market. The Staunton/Augusta Farmers’ Market was fairly new and looking for vendors. The nationwide boom in popularity of Farmers Market had not yet reached our part of the world, so this venture was somewhat of a gamble.  Long appreciative of good food, we had been baking, gardening and raising animals for some time prior to the move.  We were committed to natural and wholesome production. The fit seemed a good one.  We decided to give it a go.  What did we have to lose?

From the first Market, our offerings were well received.  My gregarious husband had found his niche.  The interaction with the customers comes naturally to him and he enjoys Market day immensely. He was thrilled to sell out that first day; despite the fact the total was a paltry $66.50. The positive feedback was a balm to my own hurting heart. That day gave us the courage and enthusiasm to continue, and to expand our horizons a little.  With each positive response, I found a deeper desire to provide the best possible to these folks who were unwittingly helping me through one of life’s harder times. Baking and growing for the Market provided a creative outlet that I never knew existed. The Market quickly became a family affair, providing unparalleled learning experiences for all of us.

Sometime later, a market committee member commented, “you should have MORE stuff!  Then you wouldn’t be sold out so soon!”   That was an epiphany for me.  More stuff, more sales, more dollars at the end of the day. It was possible that the Market could indeed support our little family. From that moment on, we have worked hard to “have more stuff”.  Every year we have added a little more but, we may never be able to grow enough!

Some of the folks we met the first year are still customers today.  We’ve watched children grow into adults, young adults become parents, and families expand. New arrivals to the area have turned into dear friends. It has been with sadness that we bid farewell to customers who moved on, both literally and euphemistically.  All these folks have become very special to us, and the Saturday morning Market camaraderie is something we would hate to miss.

The rhythm of the Market season provided a diversion from the distress that threatened to overwhelm me at times. Between preparing for the market, raising a young family, and building the farm from the ground up, time to lament over the past was short.  This forced us onward and upward. There was much to do and even more to learn. There have been moments of crisis and hardship, but all in all it has been a most rewarding adventure. Our daughter once complained that the Market had taken over our lives.  I corrected her by saying, “the Market IS our life.” I don’t think she understood just how much I needed the positive input or how much we, as a family, needed the income.

When we started as vendors, we sold baked goods and a few vegetables.  After ten years of baking up to 100 loaves of bread a week, I hung up my potholders and we turned our focus more toward vegetables. We grow asparagus to zucchini, more than 20 different vegetables, as well as some fruits. Eggs, chicken and lamb round out our line-up. Our little homestead may only be 12 acres, but most of those are used in production of Market goods.

Becoming a Market vendor has been a personal journey of faith and inspiration from day one.  Without the encouragement from those first customers in the early days, I don’t know if we would have had the fortitude to continue.  In turn, our customers have come to find they depend on our products.  So much so, that five years ago, we began a winter sales group of our own, supplying farm products to 40 or so customers all winter while the regular market is closed. This works well for all involved.  The customers have access to fresh vegetables, eggs, chicken and lamb, and we have some positive cashflow at a notoriously slow time of year.

Fifteen years bring many changes. Our young daughters are now married women.  My gregarious husband is the Market Manager. Our sales have grown substantially, and now we average over one thousand dollars a week during the season. I have overcome the painful past and eagerly welcome the opportunity to produce food for the Market customers who helped me to heal.  We have learned much about agriculture and many related subjects.  Our customers often come to us for information and direction. The Market is now a bustling, vibrant place full of good food, enthusiastic customers and live music. The eclectic mix of vendors and customers has eased that ache in my heart.

My rural roots run deep and personally there is nothing more rewarding than growing food, except perhaps growing food as a livelihood.

Old Walt Disney might have been right,

 "You may not realize it when it happens,
but a kick in the teeth may be the BEST thing in the world for you."
                                                                           ~ Walt Disney

Honestly, we are thankful for that “kick in the teeth” despite all the anguish and sleeplessness it caused.  The Market has granted me the opportunity to do make a living doing something at which I (we) excel and love doing, with my best friend, in a beautiful location, knowing that folks appreciate my every effort.  It did indeed make my (our) life.

              Thanks, Farmers’ Market!

I should add here---a BIG thanks to the Boss for the pep talk (the on-going pep talks)...
 ...and THANK YOU for reading!

Off to the barn to start another day...


  1. Hey, I get to be the first to comment! Let me say that I always enjoy your writing! I would have heartily joined in Tom's pep talk. Before I even got far into this post, upon learning that you'd always wanted to be a writer, it suddenly made total sense to me as to why you write so well and keep up this blog in spite of all your other responsibilities. I even had a momentary vision of you compiling all these posts into a book someday! I would read it :) Not many posts go by that don't make me laugh or cry. They move me and make me immensely grateful that you two are out there doing what you do. AND that you've passed what you do onto at least one of your children so that when you're ready to retire I can still buy my food from your family. One more thing...has it really been 5 years of the winter buying group?? Hard to believe it's been that long! May your day be blessed and you not float away with the rain.

  2. Thanks SO much for the kinds words, Kim.
    Amazingly, yes, this is year #5 of Winter Sales. I can't believe it, either. But, "then time flies when you're having fun"!Hoping to have lots of stuff again this year.
    We truly appreciate y'all and our other loyal customers...not just for your purchases (although that really helps) but for being our friends, too.