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Farmers Markets On Bread And Butter

Here in Utah, we’re fortunate enough to live in an area rich in agriculture. One list puts a farmer’s market on the upside of 50 throughout the state, making fresh and local a possibility for many. Where I am locally, and especially during the summer months, you can buy any amount of local foodstuffs: produce, meat, eggs, cheese. It’s nearly an embarrassment of riches, really, and in the decade-plus of living here, I’ve built up a lovely community of local people who feed my family day in and day out, season to season. 

Every year, on a Saturday in May, our local market opens.  Every year, on a Saturday in May, I go and say hello to friends I’ve not seen all winter and start a process that is all at once as necessary as it is familiar. 

I grew up with a large garden. Every Saturday we were expected to go out and weed and water and when the time came, harvest. Peas were and are my favorite, snacking on them straight from the vine as I tended the other plants. They were always the easy excuse to an unwanted chore, the chore becoming more difficult as the season of peas drew to a close. Now, our garden is smaller, but we still have one. I find I’m not one to enjoy the heat and care of magically turning seed to food, but we do plant a little to enjoy throughout the summer months. However, local food is a passion of mine and to plug the hole left gaping from my lack of gardening skills, I turn to our market.

Since moving here, the market has been in three different locations. The first was my favorite, among the tall and deep trees in my favorite city park, shaded and cool on even the hottest of days. The temporary bridge location my least favorite but temporary and now, it’s new permanent home for the past few years growing on me. 

During the changes and transition, the people stayed the same. You noticed the regulars, the ones that started congregating right alongside of you as the opening bell rang. As the years ticked, favorite vendors emerged-- booths we’d stop in on each week. As my child doubled in size from three feet to six, it was always commented on and noted by these farmers who had a literal hand in helping foster that growth. After shopping for the week’s groceries, we’d double back for the desserts, lemonades, tamales. It was all part of our summer cycle of life; a weekly routine and tradition that marked a life. Marked our life.

When the pandemic hit, we lost so much of our normal. I feared for our little market at large and our family’s summer sustenance completely. I wondered if this was the year my freezer would stand bare and grocery shopping would reign. Amid those first few weeks of unknowns, I couldn’t see a way our summer staple would or could emerge. Our embarrassment of riches became a food oasis on the ripple of uncertainty. A couple of weeks before that Saturday in May when our routine kicks in, word came. 

Our market was approved to open with caveats and strategies in place. No longer could we pick and handle the produce or crisscross our way through the square, bumping up against old friends and strangers. Cash was the odd man out, in favor of digital payments, which, oddly, I’m hoping stay once normal days are here again. We now line up and are counted in, keeping numbers low. Masked and one way through the booths, I have to be a lot more intentional with my shopping. Prepared foods and music are out, but the one thing I’ve noticed this summer is that my community is still very much in. My favorite farmers are still there, selling the produce I’ve grown my family with for a little over a decade. Masked and one way doesn’t stop the smiles and catching up with one another or the sharing of recipes. It hasn’t stopped my car from being full to overflowing with berries and vegetables that will, in turn, fill my freezer and feed us during the dark days of winter.

I’ve been grateful for my Saturday errand all summer long because during a pandemic, it seems even more important, this community I have fostered. In the silent moments of weeding out what is important and what is not, I’ve highlighted how important this is to my life. It’s a brief weekly moment of normality, but it’s also my rhythmic meditation as I wash and process the bounty of fresh raspberries, peaches, corn and green beans. Or when I slice carrots and onions whether to be put away for snowier days or to go into my random Wednesday drop biscuit pot pie. For where I live, for what I have at my fingertips and what I hope to instill in my circle is the importance of these little things that bring us all together around food.