What Working at the Farmers' Market Taught Me

If there is one thing that will never get old, it is the reaction I receive after telling people I sell pickles. As my freshman year came to an end, I knew I needed to find a summer job, and I only had two criteria: pays above minimum wage and won’t bore me to death. However, I did not expect such criteria to lead me to the best, and one of the most peculiar jobs I will ever have. I can also tell you that I certainly did not expect to willingly spend my summer Saturdays waking up at 6:30 in the morning to set up a tent at the farmers’ market and sell pickles, kraut, kimchi, and kombucha all day. 

Although working at the farmers’ market isn’t a job you hear people talk about every day, I learned the same skills one would learn in any other customer service, retail, or food industry job. I was taught the basics of food handling, working quickly without sacrificing cleanliness or organization, cashiering, and most prominently, customer service. However, working at the farmers’ market has provided me with so much more than any waitressing job or desk job could have.

I work in a community with like-minded individuals who understand the importance of fresh, local foods: small business owners who survive off of community, neighborly support, and real interpersonal relationships between the business owner and their customers. I immediately noticed the network between the vendors who set up stand at the market, as well as the relationships they had created with frequent customers. The interactions between seller and buyer weren’t corporate or scripted, but rather friendly, familiar, and genuine. The same goes for the relationships between vendors. Oftentimes other vendors come over to my stand to buy our products. We, as well as many of the other vendors, offer a 50% discount, or a trade, meaning I’ll give them whatever products they want in exchange for whatever products of theirs that I want, up to an equal price. It’s kind of medieval. I’ll give you my chicken for three loaves of bread. 

I also learned a lifestyle. There’s nothing fresher, cleaner, or more responsible than locally grown produce and meat. From farm to table, the stuff you find at a farmers’ market is infinitely better quality than anything you’ll find at a grocery store chain. With that said, it’s also nice to know where the food you’re eating comes from. I started paying closer attention to what I put in my body, focusing on the quality of ingredients that I used, as well as the product itself. Many of the vendors I’ve made friends with share similar ideas about food and introduced me to one of the most simple philosophies a person could have: If it comes from Earth, eat it. If it doesn’t, don’t. This simple approach has stuck with me through the years, offering holistic alterations to my health and wellbeing through consumption.

Although times are tough right now, supporting your local businesses is more important than ever. There are people in your neighborhood who have dedicated their lives to providing food and service primarily for your own community. They are kind, hard-working, and deserving of your support. If your farmers’ market has found a way to safely and responsibly stay open during this time of quarantine, I encourage you to shop for local meat and produce. While grocery stores are struggling to re-stock meat, your local butcher is struggling to sell enough of theirs. While you shop for heavily sorted and imported fruits and vegetables, your local produce farm offers some of the safest crops you could find right now, near-by and minimally touched. 

When I tell someone that I work at a farmers’ market, selling pickles and things, I’m usually met with a twinkle of amusement in their eye, a chuckle, and the question, “Why?” I could say it’s because I couldn’t find another job. I could say it’s because I like pickles, or kombucha, or fermentation. If I were to answer honestly, though: it’s the people. It’s my co-worker Brook, who teaches middle school during the week and who taught me how to pack the tightest pint of sauerkraut you’ll ever see. It’s Logan from Rooster Dirt Farms who awoken my deep love for mushrooms. It’s Crazy Farmer John, who buys a quart of half-sours every week in exchange for a carton of eggs. It’s Susan from Dancing Cow Farm, who saves me an egg sandwich to take home after the market, even if I forget to ask. Yeah. It’s definitely the people.