My history with farmers’ markets goes way back…all the way back to the beginning. When I was a year old, my mom started selling apples and vegetables and bread at the Corvallis Wednesday Farmers’ Market (the second longest running farmers’ market in the state I believe), so basically I grew up at and around the market. When I was little, my mom would pack half her van with toys to keep my brother and I occupied. I remember making myself wake up super early and crying/begging my mom (who was trying to sneak off without me) to let me come with her to the Albany Saturday Market. (There was a doughnut store around the corner from the market, and I’m pretty sure some of my enthusiasm for the market was doughnut-related.) During my days at the market, I would mostly play around the van and occasionally help out a little by stocking up bins of greens and baskets of garlic. I loved seeing regular customers every week and listening in on adult conversations on all kinds of subjects but mostly food and families.
One time when I was eleven, my mom needed to drive my brother to Eugene (about an hour away) on a Saturday, so instead of forfeiting a week at the farmers’ market, she went to the site early in the morning, set everything up, and then left me (somewhat supervised by the neighboring vendors) to run the booth by myself for the next several hours. I remember being nervous about my responsibilities but super proud when my mom came back to collect me and the goods. I managed to dole out her wares, collect the money, and give proper change without any major mishaps.
At seventeen, I got my first real summer job working for Denison Farms. I did some general farm laboring but I also staffed their farmers’ market booth twice a week. My experience kinda sorta working for my mom had prepared me well for the job, and I also got great instruction and constructive criticism from my supervisor Doug (who still works the Denison market booth in Corvallis). From seventeen through 23, I spent nearly every Saturday of the spring, summer, and fall (and occasional Saturdays during the winter) waking up super early, setting up the booth, stocking produce, chatting with customers, collecting money, giving change, and then tearing everything down and packing it away at the end of the day. Even after my official career as a farmers’ market vendor ended around the time Levi was born, I still subbed occasionally at the Gathering Together Farm booth, and nowadays, you’ll often find me helping out my mom at the Oven & Earth table.
At this point, some of my mom’s customers have known me for thirty years. They’ve watched me grow up and have kids of my own. Some of the customers I formed relationships with as a vegetable-savvy teenager still come by to chat with me, and I’ve seen other vendors’ and coworkers’ kids enter and then graduate from high school. Though the weeks and the seasons seemed to pass in a blur, when I stop to think about it, I have so many specific farmers’ market memories that hold fast to special times and special people.
The weird thing about my relationship to the local farmers’ market is that it has very little to do with being a customer myself. Sure I’ll buy a lemonade, a loaf of bread, or a couple bunches of spring carrots on occasion, but so few of my thousands of hours in that space have been spent shopping. Even now when I want to move through the crowds, I’ll cut out to the sidewalk and zoom past the booths that don’t interest me and the leisurely strollers that are window shopping until I can cut back in at my destination. Yellow watermelon and purple cauliflower don’t awe me anymore, and I’m definitely over Gathering Together Farm‘s famous potato doughnuts. I still love the farmers’ market, but I love it as an insider not as a consumer.
For the next few weeks, I’m going to be doing some photography and social media work for the Corvallis Saturday Farmers’ Market, and just like that, I’ve found another way to move behind the scenes in a productive way after being out of the loop for a while. This past Saturday, I had a really good time trying to see the market from unbiased customers’ eyes, and I felt like having a legit job made it a lot easier to get acquainted with some of the vendors I’d never talked to before.
I usually think of late spring markets as being somewhat sparse. In the nice weather, everyone wants to be gorging on tomatoes and melons, but instead there are only tomato plants and preserves made from last summer’s fruit. That said, the berries are starting to come in, and the flowers are gorgeous, so the displays are pretty bountiful. Here’s some of what I saw…