According to the USDA, the number of farmers’ markets in the United States has increased nearly 80 percent in the past decade, with roughly 3,100 in operation. Like many other Midwesterners, Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Julia King buys much of her warm-weather produce from local growers. But King thinks those farmers grow something else that might be just as important as food:
According to the USDA, the number of farmers’ markets in the United States has
increased nearly 80 percent in the past decade, with roughly 3,100 in operation. Like
many other Midwesterners, Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Julia King buys
much of her warm-weather produce from local growers. But King thinks those farmers
grow something else that might be just as important as food…
Not long ago, my ten-year-old daughter gathered her allowance, dropped her coins into a
see-through, polka-dot plastic purse and journeyed with me to our local farmers’ market.
Inside the old warehouse-turned-emporium, we strolled up and down the aisles. She
sniffed bars of soap and fragrant candles, poked bags of cheese bread and gazed at
almond croissants. But it was a large butternut squash that finally caught her eye.
She smiled and pointed at the unusual treasure. The farmer behind the counter called out
a price and I watched from a distance as she dug into her little plastic purse, pulling out a
quarter here, a dime there. As she calculated the numbers, her smile faded; she was fifty
cents shy of the total.
“Oh, you go ahead and take it anyway,” he told her. “It’s a little bit old, really.”
She paused, uncertain. I stepped into view and offered a dollar to the farmer, but he
stood his ground. He wanted to sell the squash to my daughter for the price she could
afford. He said it was a fair exchange. We thanked him repeatedly and my daughter took
the big pear-shaped vegetable in her arms like it was a baby doll.
It was not the first time one of the market’s farmers had put kindness before cash. Shop
there long enough and someone is bound to say, “Oh, take two, they’re small” or “This
one’s a little bruised; I’ll throw it in for free.”
These aren’t “blue light specials” or “supersaver sales;” they’re gifts from people who
never tire of the magic that springs from the earth. In a year of Saturdays, I’ve been
invited to marvel at the shape of a carrot, to behold the size of a potato, to delight in the
beauty of a snapdragon.
In a nation of box stores and billionaire wannabes, a nation where “excess” is master, the
men and women who labor in the soil offer a glimpse of something different. It’s a
commerce measured not only by what they gain, but also by what they give.
John Greenleaf Whittier put it best in his poem, “Song of Harvest”:
Give fools their gold, and knaves their power;
Let fortune’s bubbles rise and fall;
Who sows a field, or trains a flower,
Or plants a tree, is more than all.
HOST TAG: Julia King lives and writes in Goshen, Indiana. She comes to us by way of
the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.