Monday, March 24, 2008

A Piece of Apple

The clock flashes 5:04. There is it again - the noise that awoke me. The window shakes, rain hammers against the window and wind sears the darkness. A selfish thrill surges through me. Today is the farmers' market! The half flat of organic strawberries that I bought on Wednesday are gone. Long gone. I've been hankering to hit the Saturday market ever since I bite into that last scarlet berry. Unfortunately, my husband is out of town which leaves me with two banshees spirited boys and a busy marketplace. This rain will hurt the farmers' business, I think guiltily, but it will keep the crowds away and allow me to manage both my dynamic duo and spring's load of fresh produce.

By eight o'clock, last night's rain storm is a distant memory though cottony clouds still speckle the sky. By ten o'clock, we've arrived to an overflowing parking lot. As we clamber out of the car, the bass of the folk band thrums through the vendors, produce and people - too many people. I assign each boy a canvas bag, more as a diversionary tactic though I could use some real help.

"Where is the honey lady," demands my three year old, swinging the green bag over his shoulder and scanning the umbrellas like a pro.

"She's here," confirms my oldest, shading his eyes. "I want a blue honey stick," he announces dragging his bag across the asphalt.

Our first stop, much to the boys' chagrin, is not the honey lady but Mike, the cheese guy. Nonplussed, my littlest samples the Veggie Jack while Mike and I make small talk. I buy a few ounces of Smoked Jack and Firehouse Cheddar. The elderly farmer who grows peas coast-side is also here but sadly offering only dried beans and Brussels sprouts this week. We get four pounds of cranberry and white beans for ten dollars. "Ten dollars," I gape but he assures me it is the right price and again apologizes for the lack of peas. "In a few weeks ma'am," he promises. I divvy the beans up amongst the boys' bags and my oldest, who could live on a diet of beans and ketchup, delivers a heartfelt thank you.

The big guy spots Auntie M arranging her navel oranges. He takes off with his younger brother behind him, canvas bags flapping at their sides. Of course, Auntie M welcomes them with a slice of her carefully stored Fuji apples. While I fill our produce bag with her apples and citrus, she doles out raisins and almonds. We thank her - or I thank her - the boys' mouths are too full to talk and move on.

Rodriguez Farms is here, I note, spotting their clean red tent with the farm name neatly printed across the awning. This is their first appearance at the weekly farmers' market which means strawberries are not only available but overflowing. I recognize my friend, Kristina, on a return trip for more strawberries. "We already ate two baskets," she confides "and we haven't even gotten to the car yet." She buys another three pack as her toddlers squirm in the shaded double stroller. While we talk, Mr. Rodriguez plies my boys with samples. By the time they've gone through four large berries, I start to feel guilty. These boys will eat every last berry if I don't intervene, I think, and wave good-bye to my friend. I ask for a half flat and, because I cannot manage the unwieldy half flat and the unwieldy boys, we return to the car to lighten our load.

I don't often buy baked goods at the farmers' market. Well, occasionally, I can't resist the fresh baked flan but, in general it's all about the produce. Today, though, a plate of cookie samples signals through the increasing crowd to my boys and they end up in front of it trying two of each variety. We settle on their favorite and I buy four. "Cookies are in season!" the oldest shouts, waving his gnawed treat in the air. He is quickly joined by my little guy. "Yeah, it's cookie season, it's cookie season." Their dance takes us past some beautiful looking tomatoes and heirloom tomato plants. I grab a couple of the tomatoes and adopt Big Rainbow, a handsome looking seedling that needs a home.

The green umbrella for Nunez Organic Farms is our next stop and the teen manning the stall waves some baby carrots at my boys, beckoning them to try her produce. They oblige, alternatively nibbling on the carrots and fighting over whether to get the golden Swiss Chard or the "rainbow" Swiss Chard. The latter carries the day as do a few artichokes and some carrots.

Rounding the corner, I see our source for pastured eggs - an unassuming blue ice chest tucked amongst buckets of flowers. Weighed down by the full bags billowing out from my shoulders, I deem it impossible to navigate the customers and flowers to get to the gloved farmer in the back of the stall. I send my five year old back to pay for the eggs. He comes back with two quarters which we decide he can hold on to for honey sticks.

We pass the nut farmer - a sweet, older man with a thick accent. The boys are delighted and wonder aloud whether M&Ms are in season. Neither the farmer nor I have a clue what they are talking about until they point out the chocolate candies on his hat. He laughs and offers them chocolate covered pistachios which my oldest pronounces better than M&Ms. We buy a bag of plain pistachios which the little guy snatches and stuffs into his bag.

We stop to purchase lettuce, asparagus and radishes from another organic farmer who hands the boys some snap peas. Next stop, the honey lady! While I select a large jar of honey, the boys divide the quarters and each select a fluorescent purple honey stick. Grape flavor? They wait until the nose-ringed vendor finishes with another customer and then give her their quarters. She laughingly thanks them and gives them a second stick for free - "to take home" she smiles.

Sticky-faced, we meander back to the car. I load the bags in the front and my oldest begs for one of Auntie M's apples. After buckling them in, I hand back two green and red swirled apples and turn on the ignition. As the market fades behind us, I ask the boys what their favorite treat was. Predictably, the littlest pronounces honey sticks the winner. The big guy stops munching and is silent for a moment. "Auntie M's crunchy apple." The sound of eating resumes and we head home.

So how was it managing a crowded market with two boisterous boys, a half flat of strawberries, and five bursting canvas bags? Piece of cake. Or more aptly, piece of apple, a handful of raisins and almonds, some snap peas, four or five strawberries, some baby carrots, cookie samples, a chunk of Veggie Jack, chocolate covered nuts and four honey sticks.


Shannon Hodgins said...

I am soooooooo jealous. We just had snow and the farmers market is a way, way off. I'll be glad to switch out of store bought and into farmers.

I find a wagon extremely helpful for our ventures. Ours can be so busy that I restrict the guys to the wagon until they are actively picking out something with me.

The floor of the wagon also works very well for larger fruits in the lush season.

arduous said...

GB, you write so beautifully ... have you thought at all about getting back into fiction writing? I'd love to read any short stories you wrote! :)

CindyW said...

Honey sticks are always incentives for my girls to visit farmer's market. Fortunately our honey lady is very close to the entrance of our farmer's market. My girls usually make a bee line to her.

We are beyond excited about the arrival of March strawberries. I can't believe our luck...

Kate said...

There's a farmer's market near us held in a park, so there are lots of families where one parent does the shopping while the other supervises kids on the play equipment. I think play equipment and generous stall holders should be compulsory parts of shopping!

But mostly with the 15 month old I get fruit and veg delivered. Because I have a standing order it works out cheaper than going to the market myself. I also don't have to make any decisions, I get a box to a certain value of whatever is in season.

Theresa said...

"Cookies are in season!" That is priceless!

Green Bean said...

Shannon: It will be so nice to get out of the store and into the fresh air. :) A wagon is a wonderful idea. I've resorted to why my friend calls a granny crate (foldable shopping cart) in big melon/squash season but a wagon is even better. It can also corral the kids!

Arduous: You are so kind! I'll trade you a CD for a story. ;-) It's been so many years since I've written fiction. Starting this blog has been a wonderful way to get my writing muscles back in order but I'd love to branch out once I have a bit more time (e.g., the kids are in school a bit more) and I've practiced writing a bit more. You really do get out of practice, don't you?

Cindy: Is there anything better than a big juicy strawberry? On the flip side, we really need more rain! March is usually our big rain month and I think we've only had one real storm.

Kate: Do you do a CSA or how do you arrange delivery? I'm looking into CSAs now that spring and summer are here and I'd otherwise be tempted to go to the farmers' market twice a week. PS: play structures too! that rocks!

Theresa: Can you tell we talk alot about what is and is not in season? ;-)

gregra&gar said...

You have captured the essence of eating local from the self sustaining health to the social bonding aspects quite invitingly. It makes one wonder how our parents or grandparents ever bought into white bread, margarine or any of the other preprocessed packages taken for food ever since.

kale for sale said...

I bought strawberries on Sunday from Rodriguez Farms and was also touched by the generosity of the huge berry tastes they offer. They are smart though as after one taste it would be impossible to not buy some. And I love how he picks out the best box for me, looking at each one with discretion then finally choosing one. It makes them taste even sweeter. I love your boys seasonal input.

Gift of Green said...

Another beautiful post! "A Piece of Apple or Ode to the Farmer's Market!" ;)

Beany said...

I am still patiently waiting for strawberries to show up here. And its been almost an entire year since I had asparagus...I suppose this is part of the fun when it comes to eating in season: the wait and anticipation.

Last year I went to the farmer's market every week no matter what the weather was like and I made sure every table got at least a bit of money from me. It was hell when there was freezing rain...but it made for more interesting conversations and freebies were handed out like candy to entice a very willing me. There is an possibility for me to work with a farmer this coming season and I can't wait! I'd love to get paid in fruits and veggies.


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