It's a dark January morning. Grey clouds hang in the distance but, as I drive to the farmer's market, I only need to use the wipers a few times. I pull into the parking lot surprised I can park so close. Then I notice how small the smattering of market umbrellas is. Summer is gone and, with it, the crowds eager to sample it's riches of heirloom tomatoes, juicy strawberries, bright yellow corn and plump melons.
I don't mind. The market closed for two weeks over the holidays and I'm starving - not literally. After depleting our stock of onions, potatoes and fresh pumpkin puree and picking our garden clean, I gave in and bought some "local" and semi-local produce from Whole Foods. It just wasn't the same. The flavor and experience were bland.
I hop out of the car as a mom in a Prius pulls in next to me. She unloads her little boy, wiping his long hair out of his eyes, and then pulls out her canvas tote. It starts to drizzle but neither she nor I have an umbrella. We are undaunted and both walk toward the blue, white and red umbrellas and then part paths.
I spot Happy Boys Farm and stop to admire their organic salad lettuce. They still have Little Gems, I note, and hungrily pack my eco produce bag full. While there, I grab several handfuls of baby carrots - the real ones, not the machine-cut carrots stuffed into damp plastic bags and trucked to the big box stores. Even though my husband hates them, I also load up on a rainbow of beets: ruby red, albino white, golden orange and candy cane striped. The vendor (I don't think he works the farm) has a beard, tattoos and nose ring. He adds up my produce - weighing it and tallying the amount in his head as the scale sways in a sudden gust. I debate over the heirloom radishes but decide to hold out for watermelon ones another farmer carries. I hope she's here.
The storm moves closer and rain picks up, drumming against the umbrellas. I stop to admire some dried cranberry beans from a beach-side farm but decide I have enough. Ahhh, I spot mandarins. My littlest has been craving these so much that I don't even care they are not organic. The college kid manning the stall takes a ten second break from his cell phone call to assure me that his dad's farm doesn't use sprays. Okay, how many can I fit in my netted bag?
I round the corner and spot my favorite farmer. I never remember her name - something lyrical and Italian - but I know her well. She happily greets me and we chat about her oldest daughter home from college for Christmas. I buy more lettuce, purple potatoes and Yukon Golds, broccoli, watermelon radishes, and a handful of carrots in soft, autumn hues: gold, purple, yellow and orange. These make the best carrot sticks. She insists that I take some kohlrabi for free and stuffs it in my tote. Her farm is organic but a few months from certification. They practice sustainable farming techniques like cover crops and attracting beneficial insects and she brings unique old fashioned vegetables to the market. I tell her I'll see her next week and she gushes about how grateful she is that I came out in this weather. I mean to say "No! Thank YOU for growing this amazing produce, hauling it up here at 6am and then freezing your butt off for the next four hours in exchange for a few hundred dollars." Instead, I say "of course" and move on.
The wind starts to howl and lifts the market umbrellas off of their metal feet. Rain beats down but I don't want to leave without stopping at Lone Oak Ranch. Auntie M (that's what she calls herself on the labels of her homemade jam) is talking with another woman who grumbles that some of the oranges are wet. I could care less - it's called rain, lady! - and stuff my bag with organic blood oranges, Cara Cara's and more mandarins (how can I resist). I also buy some of Auntie M's pomegranate juice.
My canvas bags heavy with winter's sparse but delicate offerings, I trudge toward the car. I stop one last time to buy more broccoli for soup and cilantro from another organic farmer. He asks, somewhat forlornly, if that is all. There aren't many customers today and he's driven 60 or 70 miles in the rain to get here. I pick a few more carrots and decide, really, we can't eat any more than that, no matter how much I'd like to support him and every other farmer here.
The rain beats against my face as I cross the parking lot. I suck in the cold January air and thank my lucky stars that I have a year-round farmer's market. It makes the dark days of winter so much more palatable because once you eat local, you can never go back.