Reflections on the pre-Market

May 22, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Brad Moldofsky

My co-volunteer on the Morton Grove Farmers’ Market committee wrote a personal essay about our pre-opening Mother’s Day Market. I don’t think I could have better summed up the spirit of why we put our time and energy towards helping our community buy and eat local. The following was written by Mary Longe.

It wasn’t cold; it wasn’t sunny; there weren’t fruits and vegetables. But it was the Mother’s Day preview of the upcoming Morton Grove Farmers’ Market and the elements of summer were falling into place. People were out in Midwest high fashion. A pleasant mix of Ugs and shorts, flip flops and ski parkas: the hopes and reality of May in Morton Grove, IL.

For me, desperation for the market set in on Thursday, when I’d parsed out the last of the honey I’d bought last fall from the beekeeper from downstate.  Greek yogurt and walnuts are truly foods of the gods when combined with his seasonal honeys.

Seeing the vendors and community organizations from last year felt like seeing old friends. And seeing the new farms and sellers created a whole new market. I left with tomato, basil and rosemary plants in anticipation of fresh, home grown bruschetta in 63 growing days. I’ll pick up the mozzarella from the Cheese People and bread from the bakery when the tomatoes mature.

As I visited the stalls and hung out at the Welcome Booth, the words of three separate conversations help me convey what the market means for me beyond restocking my honey stores and preparing for meals in a couple months.

First was a chat with a young mom who told me her Mother’s Day tomorrow would be spent at a friend’s farm outside Racine, WI. She and her friends celebrate a twenty-first century version of Beltane – the ancient ritual of the druids to welcome the new growth of spring. “It’s about honoring the earth—about the beauty of nature,” she told me. “And, the market is part of that, too. That’s why it’s important to me.”

A table alongside the Welcome tent held the supplies for face painters and a Henna artist.  A hugely talented artist named Asma, whose age is no indication of her stunning artistry, created designs on hand after hand. She told me she was named artist of the month at her middle school. (Seriously, have her Henna a Wind-Wish wheel for something small, or a full back-of-hand design to experience the fragrance of the Henna herbs and her artistry.)  At the other end of the table a little younger child sat painting a design with face paints on his own leg.

“My name’s Mary, what’s yours?” I asked him.

He kept his focus on the fire-engine red creature emerging from his paint brush. “Ethan,” he admitted.

“So, Ethan, you about… seventeen?”

He finally looked at me, incredulously, but straight eye-to-eye. (It always works.) “Nine. I’m nine.” He said as seriously as my statement to him.

“Not nineteen, then? Are you sure? And then he smiled a huge smile with big shining brown eyes. He recognized my teasing.

“What do you do with your summers, Ethan?”

“I go to a bunch of camps.”

“What kind of camps? Do you learn how to fix air conditioners?” He looked directly at me again.

“No, I go to nature camps.”

“How come nature camp, Ethan?”

“I love nature. I love the animals and I love the trees and plants and Earth. I like all the activities with the other kids there. I like it here.”

And, there it was. Ethan, the nine-year-old, gesturing at the Farmers’ Market, told me with conviction, he connected the market to nature.

Later, I took the opportunity to shop the stalls and talked to the farmer from whom I bought the tomato plants. “My family and I do nine markets a week,” he told me. “I take a couple; my wife and older son each take a couple too. Then we take Sunday off.”

“When do you have time to farm?” I asked.

“We have 27 acres. Three grow the produce we bring here. The others have hay and pasture for the cattle. We all work hard and we get the work done.”

“So, do you take Sunday off to rest after all that or for religious reasons?”

“Well except for picking a few zucchini and cucumbers when they insist on being picked, which we don’t clean ‘til Monday, we figure God had a good reason for setting aside a day to rest each week. We gather with other people on Sunday. We gather our family and make time to enjoy each other on Sunday. Imagine,” he said wistfully, “if everyone with all their busy lives did that. Imagine how we’d be less frantic and have better relationships. The world would be a better place; people would be happier.” He went on to tell me how he went to school and worked in the Chicago, then decided to go back to the country where he could see storms roll in and smell fresh air.

I was struck by the idea that this man loves his job and the life it provides his family. He takes a day from the fields or the other markets every week to spend a different kind of time with his family and his community. His day of rest allows him to come back to our market renewed. His love of the land and his self awareness of what it means to him and his family affected me.

And so a summer full of markets begins. Listening to the mom, the nine-year-old and the farmer, I got a better understanding of what brings me back, too. A common thread with nature, relationships to people and the food wove through each conversation. Now, I realize that’s what brings me back, too. That’s why I volunteer—for the regular reminder that our food comes from the hard work of people who live just down the interstate, for the people of all ages whom I’ve met and who share an interest in nature, and for the food I take home. The Morton Grove Farmers Market will be open again June 4th. I’m optimistic it will be warm and sunny and truly summer. See you there!