Farmers’ Markets are a great place to go to find local produce and crafts, but more than that, they are a great place to go to build friendships and community.
I should know.
I spent my teen years going to the Halifax Brewery Market every Saturday with my Dad who sold bread there.
(My intent was to write about the virtues of homemade bread for the next several posts, but as any writer knows, sometimes words and ideas take on a life of their own, and take us places we did not intend… so I am writing about my experience at the Market selling bread. Besides, there are plenty other blogs out there that do a great job of extolling the humble loaf!)
Where was I?
O yes, in my teen years, I regularly got up at 4 a.m. (or was it earlier?), tiptoed through the house, put on my coat, and shivered in the cold on the drive to the bakery.
Once we packed the van full of racks of fresh bread, we would make coffee, have a brief breakfast of biscuits or seconds of dinner rolls or doughnuts, pack our lunch, and go.
In the pre-dawn light we would set off, sleepy, smelling the hundreds of loaves, and anticipating a good day. We would see the twinkle of the stars fade as the glow on the horizon swelled.
On arrival in the city 90 minutes away, Dad expertly manoeuvred the van to the best un-loading dock. We would check over our tables and make sure everything was in good order, and then start to unload. Dad brought in the racks on his dolly cart, and I unloaded the bread onto the table, in rows according to type, making sure everything looked attractive and sell-able. We would have quite a table full, and we became quite good at organizing product consistently each week, so customers could go straight to their favourites.
Here’s a listing of many of the breads we sold (I probably am forgetting some):
- Sourdough White
- Regular White
- Whole Wheat
- Country Loaf (whole wheat and bran)
- Pilgrim (whole wheat, cornmeal, rye)
- Brown Bread (oatmeal, molasses)
- Dark Rye
- Orange-Raisin Twist
- Cinnamon Bread
- Christmas Stollen
Other products included tea biscuits, dark fruitcake for Christmas, hot cross buns for Easter, almond squares, cookies, and…
phew! that’s a lot of bread!
Funny how I can even smell that place as I sit here writing about it… a mingling of scents- smoky sausage, deep-fried eggrolls, candle wax, customers’ dogs, coffee… what rich memories.
As I said, Farmers’ Markets are a great place to build community. Week after week we saw several hundred people walk by our table, and we would recognize the “regulars” in short time. We would also notice when a regular did not show. We got to witness a myriad of personalities and spending habits (anyone studying psychology should really spend a bunch of time at a market and observe), and I think we can even say we became friends of sorts.
But more than the customers, we got to know other vendors. Like John who sold carts and read the newspaper, or Willem who sold cheese and came with several children in tow, or Ted who sold apples and other produce. We would swap stories of sales made and lost, of the occasional theft of cash, of human nature and of the weather.
I really understood how important a market is for a community, even then.
The Market has had a profound impact on my life.
I learned how to talk to tricky customers, I learned how to count back change, I learned to be alert and attentive.
And not only did I get to see a great diversity of people, and get to know so many of them (at least on a surface level), I also spent hours of time with my Dad.
No wonder I am still drawn to Farmers’ Markets.
… and good bread.