Saturday, March 19, 2016

Staying Power

In just two weeks, the Staunton Farmers’ Market opens for its 24th season.

And, in just two weeks, Good Lord willing, you will find us set up in spots 15 and 16 on the front row of said Farmers’ Market…

…for the 590th time.

Yes, you did read that right.

590 Saturday Markets…

That’s a lot of EARLY Saturday mornings. That’s a lot of produce. That’s a lot of planting, picking and packing. That’s…well, that’s just a lot…of…anything!

And, it’s a pretty impressive record for people who never had any inkling of becoming farmers or Farmers’ Market vendors…
1st time as a Market vendor

When the Boss headed out to that first Market day 19 years ago, we never considered that we would still be doing the Market all these years later. 

Actually, the future wasn’t even a consideration, we weren’t real sure we could do it at all.

In retrospect, we must have been desperate to even think about trying the Farmers’ Market. We had no experience and no real guidance. No business plan and certainly no products. Talk about going outside your comfort zone!

But, the Boss was successful that first week. He sold out. It didn’t matter that our total was just $66.50. We were psyched.

We took it one Market at a time and we’ve only missed one Saturday in all those years. We have changed, evolved and grown over the past 19 seasons. It wasn’t until recently that I got to thinking just how many Markets we have attended…and how many things have changed. The Market is a far different place than it was 19 years ago. There are far more vendors, lots of different products…new people every year. The downtown is different. The atmosphere is vibrant and eclectic. The clientele has changed. There are a lot more customers! Many new and different faces.

Just like the clientele and the downtown area have evolved over time, so have we. Our product line is far different than it was at the beginning, we’re a little (no, wait...a lot) older and I’d like to think...wiser. The daughters have grown and flown and are raising their own families. Many things have changed, but the Market remains a constant.

We’ve been at the Market through hell (when our eldest daughter was in ICU for weeks) and high water (the Wharf actually flooded one week) …and every sort of weather…rain, snow, wind…and even after the Derecho.
rainy market day

snowman built during market

There is a great sense of satisfaction in packing up after another successful day of sales.

generally there isn't much left...

Earlier this week, we were talking to a fella who wanted to know WHY we chose the farmers market. We gave each other a knowing look and said “Desperation!” It was scary to be faced with the question of how to make this little place into a home and find a way to provide for our needs. We drew on our skills and experience growing and making our own food. By becoming Market vendors, we were able to test the waters for our business ideas without a big initial investment and get immediate feedback from the customers. This has proved invaluable over the years in order to find our direction.

But the bigger question would be why did we STAY with the Farmers’ Market?  Over the years we have seen countless vendors start and quit…often in the same season. Was it tenacity? Stubbornness? Maybe it was still desperation…?

Market stand in mid-August

Honestly, I think we found ourselves in the Market. The work is pleasant. We enjoy the interaction with the customers.  Sales are good and the income is welcome. And, this life suits us even though it is backwards from the rest of the world.

On Thursday and Friday, we actually gear UP for the weekend as we spend at least a portion of both days picking and packing for Market sales. Saturday is our biggest, busiest day of the week. No sleeping in for Market vendors! Our day starts at 4:30am and does not end when the Market closes. There is still work to do at home.  The relative relaxation of a summer Sunday is always welcome. Most folks cannot comprehend the level of commitment it takes to lead this odd lifestyle nor comprehend the amount of faith it demands. But, it is definitely rewarding.
dark start on a fall morning

One of our daughters once complained that the Market had taken over our lives.

Let’s be perfectly honest here. She was right.

At the time I was baking bread as our main Market product. (produce was going to restaurants) About 100 loaves a week. In our little kitchen. We had huge sacks of flour stored in the office, our only trips to town were for supplies, there were bread bags and labels in the living room and on baking day loaves of bread, rolls or rising bread dough sat precariously on every single flat surface in half of the house and flour hung in the air. I won’t even begin to tell you about the dirty dishes…

However, it sold. (for the most part)

And, we kept the wolf from the door and food on the table. Our daughters learned important life skills and we made friends. Life became meaningful and productive. Sales increased exponentially over the years. We developed the skills and the products to ensure year-round sales.

While it was with a great sense of relief that I eventually hung up my potholders, each Market day brings positive input and gives us a sense of purpose. That is what kept us going…that feeling of success and the encouragement from our customers, who in time became our friends. Those influences helped us keep the faith when times were really tough. The positivity was much needed respite after slogging through the pits of despair.

The Market now defines us and we thrive in our little niche in the world of Agriculture.  We have learned a tremendous amount in the past 19 years. Farm products are sold year-round, not just during the Market season. Animal husbandry and marketing have become second nature and others often come to us for advice.

We owe a debt of gratitude to all those positive people…all those cheerful, loyal customers throughout the years. We couldn’t do any of this without them. And, we truly appreciate the vision of those who started the Market years ago. It’s given us the opportunity of a lifetime. 

I am truly looking forward to the beginning of another Market season and the challenges that it will bring. 

Will we make it to another 590 Saturday Markets? Another 19 seasons? I’d like to think so. 

But…we’ll just take it like we always have…one Market at a time.

Here’s to “staying power” …

                          See you at the Market!


  1. How beautifully written! I am surenthrough the years my Mom and I have purchased from you. Before she passed in 2010,she and I would make a monthly trip to the was our Mother daughter time (she from Richmond and me from Powhatan). We'd come up on Friday evening, spend the night, hit the market and head home. My F-150 always packed. The really cool part about all of this, for all our years making this monthly trip..I was taking time off from the farmers market I Worked every other weekend of the year. My husband and I own our own farm! I know your dedication and appreciate it. Maybe someday I will make that Friday trip up again to spend the night and come to the market on Saturday.

    Congratulations on 590! We're right there with you..we know your journey all too well.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Malinda!
      Isn't it a small world? I am always excited to meet other farmers' market vendors.
      What a cool tradition to have with your mom. I'm so sorry for your loss.
      We've always wanted to visit other Markets, but never figured how to be in two places at one time. ;)
      I'm pretty sure I follow your farm on Facebook. Breeze Hill? If so, you have some beautiful fiber!
      Thanks for the kind words. This is one heck of a ride. Hope y'all have an amazingly successful season!