Memorial Day weekend marks the annual start of the farmer's market here in town, the West River Farmers Market. One of some 75 markets in Vermont, 'ours' has 50 vendors set up on an idyllic triangle of shaded grassy park along the banks of the West River. I pedaled up on my grocery bike Saturday morning to do a little shopping, take some pictures*, and schmooze. * Dumbass parlor trick: I'd left my camera in a custom setting meant for nighttime/indoors and took a lot of unsalvageably blue pictures before realizing my mistake. Some of them made for fine duotones (quadtones, actually), though. Plenty of pictures in color after the jump.
Organic herb plants from Itsy-Bitsy Farm.
I can't find any reliable documentation, but to the best of my knowledge, this market was started in 1993 with 12 vendors, most of them craftspeople. As the market has grown, the balance has shifted towards agriculture and food, thanks in large part to the resurgence in small-scale farming and the growing interest in locally grown and produced foods.
Bok choi from Guerrilla Grown; radishes from Deep Meadow Farm.
I've been a vendor at the market myself, in three separate ventures: first, selling bouquets of homegrown cutflowers, then peddling Vietnamese and Thai lunch specials with two friends, and last time around pushing my homemade preserves. Cutflowers were a bust in 1995; they'd do just fine now, I think. The Asian lunch specials were very popular through the summers of 1996 and 1997, but after the second year my senior partner (the one with Vietnamese blood) moved away. And I sold many $10 jars of jam in 2006 and 2007, but my 'real' job throttled up in 2007 and I no longer had the time or the financial need to do the market.
To tell you the truth, I was happy to be relieved of market duties. It's a commitment to give up every summer Saturday, to keep up production and maintain inventory, to get up early in the morning – often after staying up late the night before (see 'Keeping up Production'). I'm only a couple miles down the road from the market, but there are vendors that drive an hour or more, and bakers who are up in the middle of the night, and growers who are out harvesting at dawn, all to be on site, set up, and ready for the public at 9AM sharp.
I was very glad to be free of the public. Most of the patrons at the market are cheerful and polite and tuned in to the community spirit of the whole operation, and they recognize and respect the heart and soul that's poured into everything the vendors are peddling.
Bread from Earth Sky Time Farm; pickles and entertainment from the The Mad Pickler.
Guerrilla Grown Produce.
Lemonade from Pardonfield Farm; Doughnuts from Grandma Miller's.
Maple Syrup from Sugar Bob's Finest Kind.
Garlic from Mansfield Farm.
World-class cheeses from Woodcock Farm.
But I am a harsh critic of my fellow man ('people are idiots' is a common refrain), and given so much opportunity to stand back and observe (vending can provide plenty of downtime), I saw a lot of bad behavior that still resonates. Food vendors, if they have any marketing savvy at all, offer free samples of their goods to entice buyers. When I was selling jam, I started by putting out careful little rounds of toast spread with my latest creations, and it certainly helped introduce my product (and build a fan base, and most importantly: drive sales). It also made my stall bait for the 'vultures', the people who show up just for free food, the ones that hoover up whatever's laid out, often not even bothering to make eye contact because they have no intention whatsoever of buying. One of the cheese vendors once confessed that they were giving away $200 worth of cheese every weekend. I didn't ask how that figure stacked up against sales, but I'll bet it was a significant percentage, and I'm sure that most of the free cheese just went to stuff bellies whose faces had little concern for the nuances of fine cheese.
I finally changed my sampling approach after a particularly galling experience. A woman (a woman I recognized, a wealthy vacation-home owner) approached my table one sunny Saturday, and when she saw my platter full of artichoke-tapenade toasts, she gobbled two and then called out to her entourage: 'Ooh! Over here! (pointing) Artichoke dip!'. She turned back to me and said 'I love bringing my houseguests here on Saturdays! (stage-whispered, smiling) Then I don't have to feed them lunch!' So proud of herself, like I should applaud her ingenious distraction from actually providing hospitality to her guests...when all I really wanted to do was kick her in the shin. After that, I purchased a big box of little wooden sampling spoons and put out a sign that said 'Samples provided happily on request'. It definitely culled the moochers.
Then there were the Brazen Line-Cutters, and the Produce Molesters (the corn-husking variety of which prompted me to write this Public Service Announcement). And the Clueless Dog Owners: the ones who didn't (or pretended not to) notice while Bowser jumped up on strangers or lifted a leg on someone's display or nearly took off a child's hand while snapping at their doughnut or squatted to coil out a steaming poo. I was instrumental in getting dogs banned from the market; 95% of them were just fine, but as with so many things, the 5% ruined it for everyone else.
I used to think these people were willfully rude and badly behaved, but I've come to realize that they're simply oblivious – hermetically sealed in their own ego and focused only on what they want, when they want it. 'I-me-mine-ism' I call it, an entitlement encouraged and enabled by our 'customer-is-always-right' mentality. Sometimes people are just plain wrong, and they need to be called on it. I'm not above speaking out (to the horror and embarrassment of my husband, I'm sure), and neither should you be.
Ah, but it was a beautiful Saturday morning, and everyone was happy and kind. There were beautiful fresh vegetables and crisp almond croissants and giggling children and chatty neighbors, and the smell of grilled meat filled the air!
Grilled beef and shrimp, and spicy peanut noodles, from The Pantry.
Tomato starts and expert croissants from Pardonfield Farm.
I resisted the croissants, the deliciousness of which I am well acquainted with, and instead purchased a small rosemary plant to pot for the garden. I'd run out of cooking grade maple syrup (the approximate color and viscosity of used motor oil, but with a flavor unmatched in other syrup grades), so I bought a quart from Sugar Bob. Always on the prowl for good cheese, I collected half a pound of Magic Mountain tomme from Woodcock Farm (an American Cheese Society award winner!), and then sported for some semi-boneless quail to grill for dinner (recipe follows). Most of the produce available comprised greens of some sort and young root vegetables (radishes, mostly, and some baby beets). I have a lot of homegrown spinanch to use up, so I passed on buying vegetables. In a few weeks, Old Athens Farm will have hoop-house grown heirloom tomatoes, and you can be sure I'll be plunking down $8/lb. to end the winter-long drought.
Grilled Marinated 5-Spice Quail
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice cooking wine (mirin)
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons 5-spice powder
4 semi-boneless quail
About 4 hours before dinner:
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the oil, mirin, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic. Toss the quail in this marinade, turning to coat evenly. Refrigerate until dinnertime.
About an hour before dinner:
Remove the quail from the refrigerator. Drain off the marinade and squeegee off the excess from the quail using your hands. Toss the quail with the salt and 5-spice powder, working with your hands to coat evenly.
Just before dinner:
Get a good hot fire going on your grill. Thread the quail onto skewers so they'll lay flat on the grill.
Starting with the breast side down, grill the quail for about 4 minutes per side. Serve with a big salad.
I made a salad of baby spinach from the garden, tossed right in the bowl with a drizzle each of lemon-infused olive oil, roasted walnut oil, balsamic and sherry vinegars, with a generous pinch of kosher salt and several grinds of black pepper. After piling the dressed spinach on the plates, I crumbled on some feta cheese, then scattered on a few golden raisins and toasted pine nuts.