Sometimes she has to work on a Saturday morning, and then she asks her husband and son if they’d mind going for her.
“It’s important to shop locally,” she’ll say. “We want to support our local farmers.”
They nod seriously and look over her shoulder at the list (kale, she wants; rhubarb; new potatoes–fingerlings, too, if possible; onions, salad greens, carrots, tomatoes…). They look at each other as she writes earnestly, the man and his tall son. They roll their eyes.
She hands them the list, kisses them both, grabs her travel mug, and rushes off to the car, off to whatever Saturday event demands her presence, and they toast up some English muffins, spread them with jam, crunch them down, and then head to the Farmers’ Market.
It’s held at the fairgrounds; tables and tents stretch out for almost a quarter mile. In the big barns, vendors who need refrigeration set up their wares.
Here’s what happens when she goes: they head out onto the green, briskly passing the gleaming white trailer that sells coffee and doughnuts.
She laughs when she sees the line of people at the trailer.
“Yeah, RIGHT,” she’ll say. “THAT’S what we come to a farmers’ market for–doughnuts.” And she leads them into the thick of the vegetable stands.
She’ll have her list, but first, of course, she has to stop at each stand, look at their goods, check out their prices. She makes her way down one end and up the other, stopping to talk with women from her club, with neighbors, with people from work, with the vendors themselves; talking recipes, debating advantages of grilling over steaming, planning for what’s going to be ripe and on the stands next week. Only when the entire circuit is complete does she buy, getting potatoes at one stand, an eggplant at another, going all the way to the end to a guy selling from a wobbly card table whose blueberries looked just a little plumper than the rest.
They trail after her. Every once in a while, they catch a whiff of doughnuts crisping up merrily in a bath of boiling grease.
Table by tent, she picks her produce, hands the bags to them to carry, and they work their way back to the car.
“Want to go in the buildings?” they ask her.
They always ask.
“Nah,” she always says. “Nothing in there we need.”
She smiles as they drive home, thinking of the salads she can throw together. “Won’t those summer squash taste good right off the grill?” she asks.
“Oh, yeah,” they say. “Can’t wait.”
On the days she can’t go, the days they shop for her, they park the car and bound out, homing in on the doughnut trailer. The man gets a cup of hot tea; his son gets a hot chocolate; they each get three doughnuts in a paper lunch sack.
By the time they get to a nearby picnic table, the sacks are greasily translucent, and they pry the plastic tops off their drinks, releasing steam. They take the doughnuts out and stack them on the flattened sacks. They munch and sip as the crowd flows around them.
“Are those people from around here?” the son asks his father every time, meaning the people who run the doughnut trailer. And every time, the father answers, “Yes. Yes, they are.”
They raise their styrofoam cups to each other somberly. “It’s good,” they assure each other, “to shop local.”
Then they stop at the first big table they come to, one that has just about every kind of vegetable. The man hands the woman working the stand the list. She looks at it pityingly.
“His wife’s at work,” she whispers to her partner, and they pack up the freshest and best stuff for the poor woman who has to send these men to do her shopping.
The man writes a check, and they head toward the barns.
On the way, some of the vendors offer a taste, hoping to drum up business. One man extends perfect little grape tomatoes.
“Eat ’em like candy,” he says. “Sweet as sugar.”
The man takes one, but the son declines.
“Uh, no, thank you,” he says politely. “I’m more of a carnivore.”
In the shadowy barns, there are meat vendors behind huge old glass-fronted freezers and refrigerated cases. Sometimes the vendors bring portable cookers and sauté chunks of meat, spearing them on toothpicks—cubes of pork in a homemade barbecue sauce, also for sale at the booth; once, nibbles of ostrich meat. Marinated chicken, tender smoked turkey; sometimes, but rarely, little bites of beef.
They work their way through the dim interior, politely accepting samples. The guy who runs a dairy stand usually brings green cheese—moon cheese, he calls it, but today’s tech-savvy, highly educated children don’t get that—and sets out a plate of samples. They always take some. It’s gritty, a little salty, oddly pleasing. They linger at the fudge table, where they can choose from samples: peanut butter cup; salted penuche; rocky road; classic chocolate.
There are jewelry tables, there are tables with NASCAR paraphernalia; there are people selling lovely hand-knit and crocheted baby clothes. At the very end, by the double doors, there is a baked goods booth.
The young man gets a brownie, oozing gooey fudge frosting, as big as the paper dessert plate it comes on. His father gets a strawberry hand pie, crusted with sugar. The baker lady hands them each a half-inch stack of paper napkins; they eat the treats in the car, licking their fingers and wiping their hands and mouths happily.
Then, their duties done, they carry their produce home.
When she gets home from work, she inspects the carrots, the squash, the leafy greens, the sweet corn, the tiny new potatoes. Bunched together on the little kitchen table, they make a colorful array, worthy of a centerfold in Good Housekeeping.
“Oh, you did great,” she tells them warmly; they duck their heads modestly and allow as how they were happy to go to the market for her.
“It’s really kind of wonderful, isn’t it?” she muses. “We get all this, and we’re supporting local farmers.”
They bob their heads in enthusiastic agreement.
“You’re right,” they say. “You really are. It’s great to shop local.”