On Saturday morning, when I slip out of the house and head for the farmer’s market, the rest of the family is still asleep and the neighborhood is quiet, though on a summer morning, the sun has been up for awhile. I’m not the only one who gets up early. When I get to the market, the parking lot is full and the side street congested, but I’ve learned where to turn to avoid most of the traffic. I squeeze my car in between a minivan and a hybrid hatchback and make my way toward the door.
A small footbridge connects the parking lot to the main entrance of the market building. The creek below the bridge seems out of place, and I’m not sure where it comes from or where it runs from here. The footbridge is narrow; as I’m heading in, an older couple is coming out, heavy laden with a basket of summer produce and an armful of flowers. I turn sideways in the center of the bridge to let them pass. Often, there’s a toddler here with his parents, tossing leaves into the water below.
Inside, the market is full and noisy, packed with overflowing stalls of fruits and veggies, the aisles filled with shoppers like me who have ventured across the bridge. Most of us who frequent the market have driven in from other neighborhoods; most of us are privileged with time to shop and money to spend on food we could find cheaper elsewhere.
It’s a bridge to an abundant, delicious world, one that I wish was more readily available for all.
My first stop is always the lettuce farmer; his green leaf is the best I’ve ever tasted; it’s so fresh and crisp that sometimes we eat it plain, no salad toppings or dressing. I buy eggs, too, from a woman who checks for broken shells while her husband hands me my change. There’s kale if I’m lucky, and peaches, and a cantaloupe, which makes my basket too heavy but I can’t bear to pass it up. Then tomatoes, and there’s too many choices: big and plump and red? yellow? purple? grape or cherry? And finally milk from the dairy, if they have any low fat left, and if I can manage to carry one more thing.
I don’t know what it takes to be a farmer; my few attempts at backyard gardening were feeble at best. I do know what a good tomato tastes like, corn still on the cob picked fresh that morning. I know how to slice a melon, how to set some aside so we don’t eat it all in one sitting. I know how lucky I am to cross that bridge to the people who know how to coax food from the dirt.
In my mind, they are always there, the farmers, inside the market and across the bridge. In reality, I know, they must load up their trucks so early, rising even before the summer sun and bringing their carefully tended treasures to unload in their stall. I imagine them packing up again, going back to their farms and their gardens, after all the shoppers have drifted back to our cars. I set my bounty carefully in my backseat and head home to my kids, who are awake now and clamoring for pancakes, which we eat with berries from across the bridge.