I will always have a special affinity for farmers markets. The summer after graduating from UVa was the summer that I started shopping weekly at the Cville farmers markets, befriending the farmers (especially the one and only George Cason, who founded the market back in the ’70s after running for city council solely on a “this town needs a good farmers market” platform) and learning to eat seasonally. That market gave me a sense of place in my time of transition from living in a utopian college bubble to integrating into the town surrounding that university. Aside from staples like flour, sugar and salt, I bought virtually all of my food from the market that summer, and I got to feel virtuous about where my money was going, and by the fact that I was eating only the freshest and best Virginia Grown produce.
Michael Pollan calls farmers market “the new public square,” which is a pretty hefty designation. I think that’s more apt in a small city like Charlottesville, but a little harder to see in a big metropolis like New York, where there are so many options (even just farmers markets) that the effect is a bit diluted. I stopped by my neighborhood market first thing last Saturday morning to drop off my food scraps and buy some Bartlett pears for a pear tart I was making later on in the weekend (yes, pears are in season and they are amazing right now), but I find that, while always friendly and polite, my interactions there feel more transactional than at other markets I’ve frequented.
Besides that little neighborhood market, which sets up shop every Wednesday and Saturday, there’s also a D’Agostino just two blocks away from my apartment, and I ended up making not one but two trips there as well on Saturday. It’s a fine place that pretty much always gets the job done for me, but of course the goal at a store like that is to get in and out as quickly as possible. This time around — the first trip, anyway — I happened to go as they were receiving their weekly shipment so something like three eighteen-wheelers were camped outside, unloading a dizzying array of products. Anecdotally at least, it seemed like there were more folks on the clock than usual, as everywhere I turned there were employees unpacking boxes and restocking shelves. The store felt a little chaotic, but I had hands down the friendliest encounters I’ve ever had in a grocery store. Two different employees actually went out to the trucks to look for a specific product I was searching for that wasn’t yet restocked. One returned triumphantly with the exact size and type of Greek yogurt I wanted, and I thanked him and told him it was going to good use — for a healthy cake made from citrus, olive oil, and the just-found yogurt — and we joked that I would have to bring him a slice to try. I was so grateful for everyone going out of their way to get me what I needed that I told the cashier to please thank all of her co-workers again for their help.
I guess what I’m trying to get around to say is that, while I still wholeheartedly support local farmers and their direct market ventures, one venue isn’t necessarily better than another. There’s simply something special about the fact that wherever there’s food, there’s an opportunity for creating a microcosm of community. Now I’m looking forward to more similar encounters with my neighborhood grocers.
As for that cake, it turned out pretty well if I do say so myself. And speaking of community, it was enjoyed by some wonderful friends who came out to help me celebrate a recent birthday (the big 3-0, yikes).
Cake was followed by a supremely fun night of piano bar sing-a-longs, karaoke-ing, and dancing. Hooray for celebrations!