My wind-stung hand is one among several poking around a green bin, straining with fretful plucks to grab translucent, ice-cold carrots for the week. In my left ear, a woman chatters, “everyone prefers his own color, his own shape”, her hands rifling through the selections. To my right a man replies, “some of the best ones are at the bottom of the barrel, so to speak. They’re not as dry as these ones on top.”
Though civil, I sense an uneasy competition forming around us. Each wants, no needs, his or her preferred root veggies. Our thin civility dangling by a thread.
Having gathered what I believe we need, I finally break loose from the huddle and learn that my wife’s endured something similar. She was waiting behind two folks in a line for the farmer’s coveted spinach. Please understand me: this stuff is tender yet crisp and slightly sweet; it’s hard not to munch it by the fistful. The first person in the spinach line effectively boxed out her competitors, tonging six large bags’ worth of the emerald leaflets. After a few moments, a guy behind the line leader stamps away, leaving a trail of disgust and defeat in his wake. My wife, determined to score a salad’s worth of spinach, ends up with precisely that.
Reconvening, we assess: we’ll have sufficient carrot for the week, yet we must supplement the spinach. “This always seems to stress me out”, my wife reflects. “Yeah, it’s probably good that he’s (referring to the skilled and in-demand farmer) only here for a little while longer” (his selling season is only half the year), I offer in validation.
Looking around, anxious competition envelops us. People just arriving at the market in their cars behave like lions stalking their parking space prey. Motorists from different prides ogle many of the same targets, ready to pounce and spar at a moment’s notice.
In the sun-dappled shade of the market’s pavilions I overhear two couples mutter about one couple’s kid’s schooling. “All we know is that she better get into the Spanish magnet. How else is she going to keep up in later grades?”
After one last round among the vendors, we decide to head home. I can’t help but think how tense the trip has been; my wife’s open-eyed expression suggests she feels similarly. Today, the communal market’s apparent abundance is a basic expression of scarcity: Who will get the last carrot? The last close parking space? The last spot in the Spanish magnet lottery?
Word that a wintry storm approaches has me thinking, maybe people are simply preparing for the coming storm. We can all picture it: worried stampedes bankrupting entire regions of milk, bread, and eggs. Evidently in the event of an emergency, it’s good to have French toast on hand.
I’m not sure if this tense feeling will soon pass or will endure, so I consider ways of improving our farmers’ market experience.
- We could treat the market as an amenity or simple pleasantry. This way, we wouldn’t mind if we didn’t score enough spinach, because the trip would be nothing more than an agreeable pastime.
- Or we could arrive at different times when there’s a lull in market demand. Farmers may have run out of broccoli by then, but at least I won’t find myself elbowing neighbors to snatch the last florets.
- Or maybe we could begin growing food ourselves, and then help to build a network of comrades who grow food, and then we could convene to share in the surplus of our bounties, and then, and then, and then again, I’m probably just dreaming.