Like many other regular patrons, I have a love/hate relationship with farmers markets. The number of markets operating just in San Francisco has grown
from 3 in 1993 to more than 20 today. Nationwide the number has jumped from 1,755
in 1994, when the USDA began keeping track, to 8,144
in 2013. August 4th-10th is National Farmers Market Week.
As farmers markets have become more popular (love that), they have also become, frankly, less fun (hate that). When I do my twice weekly shopping, even as I revel in the bounty of a dozen kinds of organic pluots, and know that shopping at the farmers market is the right thing to do, there are those inevitable bad thoughts that creep into my brain.
In his new HBO special
, comedian Louis C.K. talks about the competition in his brain between good thoughts and bad thoughts, between thoughts that he knows are the right things to believe, and then the other bad, judgmental thoughts that go along with those good thoughts, that he doesn't really want to believe, but can't completely ignore either. He calls this dichotomy OF COURSE...BUT MAYBE.
An example - OF COURSE it is a tragedy when someone fighting for his country is wounded - OF COURSE it is. BUT MAYBE, muses Louis, if you pick up a gun and go to war, it isn't all that surprising that you might get shot?
Louis C.K is no stranger to controversy
, and some of his material is bound to make some folks mad. To my knowledge he has not tackled farmers markets, although he once compared
the new material he writes each time he creates a new show, to a farmer's annual crop. But if he were to riff on farmers markets, perhaps it would sound like this:
OF COURSE we want children to come to farmers markets and learn where their food comes from, to try new fruits and vegetables they may never have seen before, so that they will happily eat these healthy foods and not reject them. OF COURSE WE DO.
BUT MAYBE you parents could keep your frickin' kids under control and not let them run madly through the farmers market, shoving past other shoppers, shrieking "I want STRAWBERRIES!" 500 times while you blissfully peruse the organic arugula?
OF COURSE we want farmers market shoppers to be able to chat with the farmers so that they can learn about the produce being offered, and form a connection with the people who grow our food, as a way of strengthening the local food system. OF COURSE WE DO.
BUT MAYBE you could look around and notice that there are 15 of us lined up behind you waiting to pay for our baskets of Sun Gold tomatoes and Padron peppers, so we can move on to the foraged mushrooms stand? You're holding up the line, and by the way, the farmer would like to be able to serve all his customers, not just you. Ask about the provenance of his kohlrabi when he doesn't have a crowd waiting to pay.
OF COURSE it is good for people to buy as much of their produce as possible at the farmers market, to support local agriculture and obtain the taste and health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables that are as fresh as possible. OF COURSE IT IS.
BUT MAYBE that red wagon you brought for hauling your treasures home does not need to be parked in the narrow aisle in front of the rainbow chard, or left blocking the entrance or exit to the booth? Your need to drag home 100 pounds of summer veggies does not trump everyone else's need to be able to shop without tripping over your eco-friendly conveyance. Parents with enormous double strollers, I'm looking at you too.
OF COURSE one of the wonderful things about farmers markets is that so many of the booths offer free samples, so shoppers can taste the Dapple Dandy pluots or lemon cucumbers before buying them. It's great to be able to enjoy so many new flavors and expand our food knowledge with free tastings. OF COURSE IT IS.
BUT MAYBE we could all try to restrain our excitement at seeing the season's first peachcots long enough to remember to use the toothpicks offered with the samples, and not just dip a grubby hand right into the bowl? Isn't that the same hand you used to wipe your kid's nose?
OF COURSE eliminating the middleman means that shoppers can save a bundle buying their produce right from the farmer. Fruits and vegetables can be pretty pricey at the grocery store, so saving money on healthy food is a great reason to shop at the farmers market. OF COURSE IT IS.
BUT MAYBE shoppers should just enjoy the bargain prices and not try to haggle with the sellers to get the price down even lower, especially when buying organic? Look at what Whole Foods charges for that organic crap. Don't ask the lady to throw in a couple of Kosui Asian pears just because you are buying a pound of her Brown Turkey figs. Most farmers are barely getting by, you cheapskate.
OF COURSE we want a wide variety of food vendors at the farmers market; local honey, artisan breads, grass fed meat, and hand crafted tofu all enhance the farmers market shopping experience. It's great to be able to buy almost everything we need for the week direct from those who made the food. OF COURSE IT IS.
BUT MAYBE giant plastic bags of kettle corn shouldn't be part of the farmers market experience?
Dana Woldow has been a school food advocate since 2002 and shares what she has learned at PEACHSF.org. Follow her on Twitter @nestwife.