The weekend farmers’ market opened for the season yesterday in Lewiston, Maine, the small city where the Farmers’ Almanac is headquartered. It was a beautiful day for it, and nothing could have been more pleasant than spending a sunny Sunday afternoon talking with local farmers and artisans, and going home with a sack full of organic produce, farm fresh eggs, handmade goat milk soap, lovingly baked flavored pretzels and dog treats, and real maple syrup, tapped from local trees.
There was so much more there, too, that we didn’t take home: herb, vegetable and flower seedlings, grass fed Angus beef, Maine lobster and fish, pulled from the sea just the day before, socks knit from alpaca wool — the softest fiber imaginable — cookies, bread, cakes … The list goes on.
There was music, familiar faces, crafts for children, and animals you could touch and hold. As I walked past one booth, a farmer placed the tiniest baby angora bunny into my hands, and I held it close to my chest as others crowded around to stoke its impossibly sweet little nose. Another farmer had a pen holding two inquisitive little piglets, who patiently bore pats and cuddles from children and adults alike.
People bought things they needed – and, yes, probably more than a few things that they didn’t – much like any trip to the grocery store or shopping mall. Unlike a trip to the grocery story or shopping mall, though, the farmers’ market is about more than just consumption, or even meeting necessities.
Shopping this way is a great way to feel a sense of community. Buying directly from farmers and craftspeople not only keeps your money in your community, it also usually results in a higher quality product — locally-produced food is generally fresher, more flavorful and more nutritious than food shipped halfway across the county. It also provides the opportunity to look across the table at the person who grew your food, caught your fish, baked your bread, or knit your socks. Suddenly, you’re not just buying stuff, you’re buying the labor of someone you know personally, which imbues goods with a whole new level of value.
In Zen Buddhist circles, there is a meal chant that begins, “Innumerable labors brought us this food. We should know how it comes to us.” In other words, before eating, it’s a good idea to reflect on all of the hard work by others that enables us to survive. None of us is wholly independent. We rely on others for the most basic things we need to survive. Even if we grow much of our own food, and can make our own clothes, there’s only so much time in the day. As the old African proverb says, “Many hands make light work.” That’s the definition of community, and farmers’ markets are a living illustration of that principle.
If you don’t know where your local farmers’ market is, visit the Local Harvest website, and plug in your zip code. And don’t forget to share your memorable experiences at farmers’ markets below!