It was thirty-seven degrees Fahrenheit yesterday morning. Over the previous two days, we’d had seven inches of snow. The morning vacillated between mist and drizzle, interrupted by brief periods of actual rain. The only good thing you could say about the weather was that it was washing away the snow. It was a cold, wet, miserable day. The fourth day of May, and it was cold and wet and miserable, and the only sensible thing to do was stay in bed. Maybe read a grim Russian novel about peasants. Starving peasants.
But yesterday was also the opening day of this year’s downtown Farmer’s Market. And that meant Spring was officially here. And that made everything pretty much okay. Bugger Russian novels. I was going shopping.
I love the Farmer’s Market. Every Saturday morning from the first weekend in May to the last weekend in October, the city closes off a few streets and vendors set up booths and stalls from which they sell their goods and wares. These are small, local producers of victuals and crafts. They sell a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, of course, and all the expected pies and jams and pastries and herbs and breads and honeys. But there are also folks selling locally produced eggs, beef, poultry, lamb, rabbit, and goat. Hell, you can buy elk, ostrich, or buffalo, if that suits your tastes. There are folks selling locally made cheeses — cheddar, gouda, blue cheese. There are folks selling local wines (which can be an adventure) and usually somebody selling Templeton Rye — a marvelous locally distilled whiskey. There are skilled craftsmen selling ironmongery and hand-crafted furniture and all manner of jewelry. And there’s music, even in the rain. And puppetry sometimes. And of course you can buy food and drink to eat while you’re shopping — the usual burgers and barbecue, to be sure, but you can also pick up some regional delicacies made and sold by immigrants from Bosnia, Thailand, El Salvador, Morocco, Viet Nam, India.
I didn’t buy a lot. An asiago focaccia. Some asparagus. Some cherry and apple pastries. A half dozen pieces of frightfully expensive artisanal fudge.
This is not your momma’s fudge. This is a confection meticulously prepared by Master Fudgesmiths. This fudge is handmade by craftswomen following arcane fudge-making techniques that have been handed down from generation to generation of Flemish bekwaam handwerkswomen. Red velvet fudge, praline fudge, traditional old school chocolate-walnut fudge, raspberry fudge, peanut butter fudge, and a milk chocolate fudge with teensy Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups cleverly grafted into the mix.
Dude, we’re talking some seriously badass fudge.
But it’s not just the stuff you can buy that makes me love the market. It’s the gentle carnival atmosphere. Everybody is friendly, everybody is happy, everybody wants to be there and they all make an effort to get along. I know that sounds terribly sappy, but there it is. Even as cold and wet and miserable as it was yesterday morning, the people were having fun.
Happily, three of the downtown parking garages offer free parking on market day. On cold, wet, miserable days like yesterday, it’s possible to park inside, take the skywalk to an exit near the market, and remain dry and warm going to and from the market (and on those hot days in summer, you can use the skywalk to keep cool and in the shade).
Farmer’s markets are pretty common these days. Every city and most large towns have one. I’m sure this one isn’t radically different from a weekend farmer’s market near you. That’s part of what makes them so wonderful. Farmer’s markets benefit everybody — the farmers and the artisans who produce the goods, the consumers who buy and eat them, and the community itself. Everybody. Think about that for a moment. How many activities can you think of in which everybody benefits?
You should go to your local market next weekend. Seriously. Get up, go to the market, buy yourself some fresh vegetables, if you’re a carnivore you should buy some chemical-free chicken (yes, it’s a tad more expensive, but you’re getting better food with better flavor), buy yourself a treat of some sort, meet and mingle with a lot of strangers, pet a dog, be a part of your community. Then go home and take a nap. If you don’t wake up feeling refreshed and satisfied with life after that, then you probably belong in a coldwater garret somewhere, eating stale crusts of bread, and reading Russian novels.