If selling produce at a farmers market makes one a farmer, then today I officially become a farmer. Because today is opening day at my town’s market, and I will be there, with my new, white EZ Up, with my tables full with lettuce and D’Avignon radishes, and tucked under the tables and out of sight, my coolers, each of them filled with backup produce just waiting to take the stage.
My journey to a time when I would vend at a farmers market has been a long one. 19 years, in fact, if you start counting from the day I happened upon a farmers market in Boulder, Colorado. This happened back in 1993 when my wife and I were two weeks into an improvised, see-what-happens camping trip across the American West. As it was, everywhere we stopped it seemed that someone, as soon as they heard our story, was sure to say, “Go to Boulder. You’ve got to go to Boulder.”
So we went, down from the Rocky Mountains via Estes Park and turning up one Saturday morning on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall. We found shade, parked, watered our dog, started up the street, heard banjo music, followed the music, and so stumbled upon, five minutes after our arrival, the Boulder County Farmers Market.
Lordy. I had never been to a farmers market. I’m not sure I had ever thought about a farmers market. But this was the real deal—I knew that instantly. The crowd was huge, shoulder-to-shoulder, and we waded right in, inched along, looking, smelling, listening. There were heaps of fresh produce everywhere, mounds of salad mix and spinach. There were breads and cheeses and fruits and wines and meats and desserts and mushrooms and flowers. There were kids running with hula-hoops and kids splashing in the Boulder Creek. There were hippies and hipsters and professors, fancy rich people; there were mothers with strollers and lots and lots of families. And the actual farmers, of course. All types of farmers. And who was that over there on the stage, a man and women singing together like no other? Tim and Molly O’Brien, the posters said. Well…
That morning at the Boulder Farmers Market was epic for me. It happened at a time when I was reevaluating the benchmarks of my life, and in retrospect, I now understand the degree to which it instigated a new direction for me. For in a few years I would decide to leave the university and graduate school, in a few years more my wife and I would move to New Hampshire and buy land, and for the last ten I’ve been homesteading–building a house, a family, a community, a farm.
And all along I’ve wanted to join the ranks of the farmers like those I first saw in Boulder–to grow and market exceptional food; to know everything about the food I grow; to know everything about the land it grows on; to know something about the people who buy the food. It all made some vague sense then, it all makes absolute sense now. If it has taken me awhile getting here, well, that’s fine. Because as I learned in Boulder (we lived there for awhile), ends are okay, but it’s the journey that makes a life.