The Dumpster: Trending markets
Here in the heartland of agriculture we’ve cultured something that grows great on four acres of parking lot: the farmers market.
A farmers market isn’t much of a market and there aren’t any farmers. Mostly it’s rows of big white tents anchored with sandbags in case farm weather shows up. With tie-dyed scarves and homemade herbal ointments, most farmers markets look like the merch tables at a Phish concert.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The “farmers” are mostly handsome, fresh-looking kids in their twenties, wearing linen and expensive sunglasses. All have clean fingernails. None is wearing Key overalls. They’re bright and charming and I like them. I just don’t trust them.
I don’t trust them because they sell tomatoes in April. They sell corn-on-the-cob in May. They sell goat cheese even though nobody around here has encountered a goat outside of a petting zoo.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
In fact, I like these people better. The real farmers I know are too busy for a farmers market. They’re busy steering million-dollar combines that harvest a 45-foot swath of genetically perfect corn that’s delivered direct and fresh to an ethanol factory. They’re busy maintaining the machines that deliver a ton of hormonally enriched by-products from the other end of the ethanol plant, to feed a thousand chickens who would be blinded by the bright sun reflecting off the sweet white skin of a farmers market vendor.
On a real farm, you browse pigs. I prefer browsing farmers market small-batch cheeses, hand-crafted in a small town in Iowa, which is fairly near a farm. Each is lovingly hand-wrapped by a person who recently quit her executive vice president position at First Data.
I love avoiding the local wines. I love the smell of steaming funnel cakes, which look a lot like farm-fresh cow pies.
I love the street music. (Well, c’mon—it’s not farm music.) Banjos and accordions and straw hats and zydeco, perfect music if your farmers are from Louisiana. I’m a little less enthusiastic about the prodigious three-year-old drummer they trot out occasionally. He’s great for a three-year-old, not so interesting otherwise, beyond his being freakish. Not to mention his sad back-story: only somebody spiteful buys a three-year-old kid drums.
Customers are good about wearing their farmers market uniforms: huge hats and sunglasses and tank tops and baby carriages and PBA-free water bottles. Once my wife had to walk the six blocks back to our car because she forgot and wore her bra.
And dogs. Why is it charming to bring along your boxer to enjoy an hour on a hot summer sidewalk, drooling on the flip-flop feet of every sympathetic bystander?
I go from booth to booth, figuring one vendor must be a better farmer than the others, with fatter onions, greener kale, and a better drawl. I get stressed when I can’t tell any difference. I eventually go to whomever is closest and buy a pound of kale and radishes, promising myself I’ll eat healthy this week. When I get home I make room in the fridge by throwing away last week’s kale and radishes.
The one thing definitely local about our farmers market is that customers approach each booth politely, admiring the kiwi and leeks and whatever else doesn’t grow well in Nebraska, turning it over, asking a lot of questions (“What can you make with this?”), involving you in a long discussion about the organic, bio-ethnic, pro-biotic yogurt they prefer, while their kid wipes a booger on your lettuce. Then they set it all back down and move politely to the next booth without buying anything.
Now that’s Omaha-local. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Michael Campbell is a regular humor columnist for Food & Spirits Magazine, where his “Dumpster” essays close every issue. His first book, Are You Going To Eat That, is a collection of 60 essays released in 2009. His off-beat observations have appeared in Reader’s Digest, and he was recently named Humor Writer of The Month by the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Campbell is also a singer-songwriter known for purposeful melody and evocative storytelling in the likes of Marshall Crenshaw, Paul Simon and James Taylor. His newest album is due for release in fall 2014. michaelcampbellsongwriter.com His mom is still waiting for him to get a real job.
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