Monday, October 3, 2011

The Community of the Farmers' Market

I've written before about how the farmers' market becomes a community. The foundation of a community is, of course, its people. I return to the market week after week, see the same people, have conversations, make friends. Advice on what to make for dinner, or shared excitement at a personal achievement — these are stories shared and connections made that build this community.

Vera and I have been friends since the early days of the market. She and I have a shared interest in the arts. She always asks after my current projects. She herself is a writer and crafter; in addition to unusual vegetables, she farms, spins, and dyes her own woolen yarn, and knits one-of-a-kind fashions. She has a hand in the creative process from sheep to skirt.

She has been one of my main go-to resources for food and cooking ideas, and has encouraged me to be a little more experimental in my cooking. It's because of her that I first tried cooking with lavender... and then proceeded to spend that entire summer putting lavender in everything. Lavender scones, lavender lemonade, lime-lavender granitas, lavender cinnamon rolls (a failed experiment due to a bad dough recipe), and even honey-lavender ice cream (which was amazing).

I'm still getting the hang of flavoring with herbs, but if I have questions about her lavender, sage, or fennel, I know I'll get good advice from her.

Susie always greets me with a smile and cheerfully offers free samples of every kind. Her company, Phoenix Bean, is responsible for some pretty amazing tofu products. She is also a great resource for recipe ideas, which then allow me to further experiment; I got the idea for the tofu noodle salad from the recipe cards available at her booth, but I've been able to spin endless variations on that basic theme.

Susie maintains this amazing, delicate balance of keeping her busy booth running smoothly, while happily chatting with any customer who will pause a moment to do so. She loves people, and is very welcoming and interested in your stories. In fact, she was so excited to hear about this blog, she gave us that week's tofu for free.

This is Lindsey, who is very chill and laid back, and knows her vegetables like the back of her hand. An off-hand remark about my tomato plants not producing well this year led to an enlightening discussion on how weather affects tomatoes. Which then led to a conversation about summer foods and how we both love Caprese salad, which was why I needed her tomatoes in the first place. She runs Grassroots Farm in Wisconsin.

Really — ask her anything about her vegetables, she knows the answer.

And no discussion of community is complete without Brady. He is, in essence, the social hub of the farmers' market. Did you know about the new vendor selling amazing flavored syrups this year? Brady knows. Need a contact for an interview? Brady can hook you up. Need dinner ideas? Brady can casually come up with flavor combinations that I never would have dreamed of — I think he was the first one to turn me on to chocolate basil ice cream.

Brady's wares are another delicious Food in my Food "cheat." All-natural, locally-sourced baked goods keep me well-fed at breakfast when I've run out of time to bake my own. I look forward to Thursday morning breakfast entirely because I've got some BTrue muffins or coffee cake waiting for me.

Long before Brady was the BTrue Baker, he was my hairdresser, which was how we met. And when I became sick, and no longer had hair to dress, he referred me to Look Good Feel Better, a program he happened to volunteer for. By now we have known each other for so long, through myriad life changes for both of us, that he certainly qualifies as one of my oldest friends.

Small communities are important. Particularly in an urban environment, it's so easy to become so lost in the sheer numbers of people that you become isolated. How many of you know the names of your next-door neighbors? People need connection with other people; it's food for the soul as much as Food in my Food is food for the body... and soul. Communities are where we make them; our friends, the farmers' market, even taking time to remember and indulge in the joys of cooking and eating a meal with someone else. Personal connection is vital to well-being; it's our responsibility to ourselves to seek out and create these communities.

Who are your communities?