It should surprise few that farmers markets are on the rise in the South and across the country. According to the USDA between 2013 to 2014 Tennessee and four other Southern states grew to the point where there are now 725 unique markets being supported in those states. Locally grown is the going thing. It’s a happening that begins with connection.
Although most farmers markets aren’t as renown as Portobello Road in London, there is a vibrant growing scene that includes farmers, craftsmen, musicians and small tradesmen. Perhaps it’s a push-back from the prevalence of big-box stores; or a need to connect in a technologically isolating environment where the price of convenience is detachment. The medieval market days are being revisited in a present day setting.
On a typical day at a farmers market, I can buy beef, pork, fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, fresh-baked bread and even a hard-to-find, handmade gift for a relative. I may even bring along my knives for sharpening. Hey, I can literally buy a complete meal here. I can do all this and even listen to music provided by local musicians.
It is about local. It’s a locavore’s dream and it’s become an economic option for farmers and craftsmen who may not have the ability to support the high overhead of a storefront. It’s a win-win situation for those who want fresh and local and for those offering it.
It was Guy Clark who first wrote down what Southerners know instinctively: “There’s only two things that money can’t buy. That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.”
While you may not be able to buy true love at a farmers market, homegrown tomatoes are there for the taking.
Just like the many varieties of fruits and vegetables for sale, you’ll likely find a farmers market to suit your taste as well. There’s the farmer’s farmers market, there’s the newcomers to agriculture farmers market, there’s the foodie farmers market, the organic farmers market, and the urban farmers market. The roadside stand has come of age and into vogue.
Want to know who grew those peaches or tomatoes whose pleasing aroma hang in the air like a wonderful perfume long after you pass the source? Want to know who made that jam begging for a biscuit? Want to know who baked that bread? Want to know who raised that beef or pork or harvested that seafood?
Well, you’re looking at him or her on the other side of that table.
Go ahead, ask them about what they do. They’ll be glad to tell you, usually with pride and a big smile. I know, it may seem strange to approach someone you don’t know and ask a question, but a farmers market is the South in action. These folks are thrilled when you let them talk about their goods. Sure, they have stuff for sale, but both parties already know that. This is about connecting the people who produce with the people who consume.
Somewhere between the center and the outskirts of attention at the farmers market, you’ll hear music.
That’s right, music, in a public setting. It’s more than background noise, however.
Today, at the farmers market, I’m sitting in a chair in front of a microphone performing music with my wife. Not unlike the vendors who surround us, we’ve spent hours, months and years growing something for public consumption. We’ll be here for the better part of three hours, playing tunes original and covers and providing the occasional request.
The best times happen when a child, unfettered by self-awareness, starts dancing to the music and draws the smiles from parents and bystanders. Oftentimes, my wife offers a tambourine and invites the child to “join the band.” The next-to-the-best times occur when older and younger folks, alike, shackled by self-awareness, forget for a moment that someone is watching and start singing. When an encouraging comment is made and folding money and coins drop in the tip bucket by the sign that reads, “This is a Tips Only Job. Your Support of a Local Memphis Musicians is Appreciated.” The connection is complete.