Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Farmers' Market: Theory and Practice

It has taken awhile, but I think I have finally admitted something to myself that I've been trying to repress for several years now: I don't much enjoy shopping at the farmers' market.

In theory, I should. I'm a would-be locavore, into the homegrown, the homemade, the handcrafted. I want all of my food to come from within a five-mile radius of my house. I want to be friends with the grass-raised, free range cows that eventually will become the T-bones smoking on my grill.

And it's not that I don't like what I buy at the farmers' market. It's almost always very good, though every once in awhile you are reminded that a locally grown tomato can taste just as lousy as one shipped in from California. I love the way farmers' market stuff smells, I love how sometimes bits of dirt--local dirt! organic dirt!--are still stuck to the beets and the freshly dug new potatoes. The vegetables really do taste fresher and more flavorful than what I buy at the grocery store. The eggs have rich yellow yolks. You can just tell they came from happier chickens than the eggs you get at the Harris Teeter.

No, it's not what I buy at the farmers' market that's the problem. It's the actual experience of going to the farmers market and buying things that gets on my nerves.

Some of it may have to do with my city's particular farmers' market. For one thing, while it's great to see so many farmers making a living, everybody seems to be selling the same stuff. Right now the market is a big pile of tomatoes and peppers and summer squash, one table after another, table after table after table.

Now, if you're a competitive shopper, someone who loves to get a bargain, then there's plenty of fun to be had. But I'm one of those people who freezes up when there are too many choices. I make bad choices. I suffer from chronic buyer's remorse. So it would be better for me personally if there were one farmer selling tomatoes, and one selling peppers, and one selling organic honey, and so on and so on and so on. Instead, there are approximately a hundred farmers selling approximately the same goods, and they all vary their prices just enough to give me a stress headache.

Okay, now I'm going to be brutally honest: My fellow farmers' market shoppers bug me. You can get a picture of the crowd by walking around the parking lot and reading the bumperstickers--there are no McCain supporters; everybody's voting for Obama come November. You are urged to Eat Local, Co-Exist, Impeach Bush, and Kill Your Television.

I am not a Bush supporter, will be voting for Obama come fall, try to eat local and have a "Make Cornbread, Not War" bumpersticker on my minivan. Which is to say, I'm on the same page as most of these folks, but they still bug me. Maybe it's a kind of self-loathing, I don't know. Maybe because I still feel like my usual outsider self at the farmers' market even when surrounded by folks who think a lot like I do (except that pesky orthodox Christianity thing I've got going on), it's even more painful than being an outsider when I'm around people I clearly have nothing in common with.

Another strange thing about my city's farmers' market is that the shoppers are such a homogeneous crowd that it feels a little unreal (particularly since 98% of the shoppers are white, whereas the farmers' market is in the heart of a city that's pretty black and increasingly hispanic). It's too self-conscious, if you know what I mean. Everyone's a little too aware that we're having this experience of going to the farmer's market. It becomes a meta-experience. Since I'm painfully self-conscious anyway, one of the most uncomfortable experiences I can have is being self-conscious of how self-conscious everyone is.

So that's part of why I'm not crazy about the farmers' market. Add to that the fact that shy people who fumble with their wallets while other impatient customers pant behind them (the hot breath on their necks making the fumbling all the worse) and antisocial types who hyperventilate in crowds and have a hard time paying $3 a pound for tomatoes in August when Mr. Eddie next door is giving them away for free, probably should steer away from farmers' markets and other open air venues. Maybe they should plan on planting an even bigger garden next year and reduce their five-mile radius to a fifty-foot radius.

That's my plan anyway. I can grow vegetables more cheaply at home and miss the crowds entirely. Except, of course, I won't miss them at all.

1 comment:

Tracy said...

I don't have much experience in this department. I will tell you though, that if farmers markets happen on weekends and I have to take my kids, I'm out. That's not fun!

I think I'm inclined to agree with you though ~ I can grow my own tomatoes, capsicums and zucchinis. If that's the majority of what's there, then I'd rather stay home!