I farm in a rural Pennsylvania township that is populated by less than six thousand people, 97.96% white. On Sundays I travel a little less than 90 minutes to Bethesda which hosts six times more residents who hail from all over the world.
Nothing is more fun than bringing along a young farmer who hasn’t ventured far from their rural roots except for maybe a trip to the shore for summer vacation. Being fortunate enough to have traveled and been exposed to multiple ethnicities, religions and orientations prior to my decision to settle down and farm, heading into the metropolitan markets wasn’t quite the shock for me it was for the ride-alongs. I can, however, honestly say that my marketing skills and knowledge of international politics have been stretched further than I could have ever imagined thanks to Central Farm Market customers.
I vividly recall a conversation a few years ago that lingered on for nearly an hour between two women, one from India, the other just returning from Qatar after living in Doha for a year. Their discussion was about a new crown prince. Feeling woefully ignorant, I listened as they discussed lineages, royal family quarrels, and geopolitics. The take-away became obvious as they both agreed the young ruler would ultimately cause problems in the world. At the time I thought to myself, “What do I care?”
How very wrong I was.
The divisive politics and outright aggression currently taking place in this country and throughout the world pains me as I encounter rural farmers who sneer at my choice to trek down into the city to sell to those people while they bemoan the price of commodities, wishing the government would help them out instead of helping those people.
The words, those people, linger in my mind and can’t be ignored. Those people are my customers, they’ve become my trusted friends, my beloved family. I see those people week after week, providing food for them without concerns as to what flavors will be added or for what feast it will be served.
If it is one thing The Constitution and farmers markets have in common, it’s we the people. Everyone eats. We may not all eat the same things, but when food is served, we all sit at the table.
Despite my homogeneous upbringing among Methodists in a small blue-collar town, when one of my Hindu customers grabbed my hand and leaned her head toward mine whispering a brief prayer into my ear before moving on it was one of the most moving moments in life I have ever experienced having come at the end of a most difficult day. Our customers heal us at times more than they will ever know.
And speaking of customers, the melting pot at the farmers market helps make adventurous farmers more successful since many other cultures have different definitions of culinary delicacies. When picking up my processed lambs at my USDA butcher shop last year a fellow customer howled in disgust at the neatly vacuum-sealed heads as I loaded them into coolers in the van. “That’s just gross!” he said followed by an extremely offensive comment about who was buying them. He thought he’d had the last word until the owner of the butcher shop informed him that my customers have called the shop, thanking him profusely for cutting and packaging products they have been unable to procure in the United States, but are staples in their culture abroad. The ultimate dig? I get paid for the parts the other farmers routinely throw out. After all, if a farmer can’t make a profit how can they keep farming?
Similarly, international customers’ requests have forced me into learning the Code of Federal Regulation for Animals and Animal Products which determines what parts of the animals farmers can legally sell for human consumption. Post-it tags adorn the pages for quick reference to diffuse arguments with USDA inspectors for unusual offal such as cow udder and caul fat.
Several years ago, a customer shared his borek with me, tearing the delightful savory pastry in half. I thought of him last week when I chose my breakfast from Yufka Bakery, a delicious triangle of flaky phyllo stuffed with spinach and feta. I thought about the Korean buns and rice bowl that had been my Sunday morning staple all last summer and fall and I am so thankful that those people are my people whom I have the fortunate experience to have in my life every week.
There are many ugly events and discourses taking place throughout the world, including here in the United States, but my faith in humanity is restored each week when I roll into Central Farm Markets. For four precious hours there are no those people (except for the rude customers who show up an hour early and demand to be served even though the vendors are barely set up). There is only us.