This Little Piggy Worked at Market

Sunday morning, early. The neighborhood is quiet enough that it seems only the birds and I are awake. I quickly munch on a piece of raisin toast, washed down with a few sips of coffee. I get dressed, stumble out of the house, still groggy, and walk two blocks to the Columbia Pike farmer's market.

I'm not rushing to be the first customer; instead, I'm on my way to work.

During the 2004 market season, I worked every Sunday at the market, alongside Mike Kennedy, who manages the stand for Twin Spring Fruit Farm, a 75-acre farm in Orrtanna, Pa.

It was my first spring in my new neighborhood and quickly I became a regular market-goer. I had noticed that Kennedy often worked alone, juggling duties between the register and restocking the stand, all the while jovially talking up his customers. I asked him if he needed help, and he readily accepted. For five months or so, we worked together running the stand, in all kinds of weather, from pouring rain and blistering heat to crisp autumnal breezes.

Together, we'd haul crates off the truck onto the tables, hang up signs, and quickly work against the clock in anticipation of the onslaught of customers. I'd pile plums and apricots into containers and weed out "seconds" from the crates while he set up the scales and had his last pre-market cigarette. Then the customers would arrive on the dot of ten o'clock, and the flurry of activity would not let up until it was time to go, at noon.

Forget all the books I had at home on seasonal produce. It was through my direct interaction and handling of the food that I witnessed the changing of seasons. In June, strawberries would arrive, followed shortly by cherries (both sweet and sour). Depending on the weather, raspberries would arrive, and then the first of the peaches, both yellow and white. They'd be joined by blueberries, apricots and the first of the plums, in shades of purples and yellows. By late summer, field tomatoes would arrive and, of course, you knew fall was around the corner when apples began to show up.

It was my very own fruit university. Mike and the fruit were my professors, the customers my fellow students. I got to know who would buy half bushels of peaches, customers who only bought "seconds" and those who waited eagerly for apples.

Yesterday, I got to relive my market experiences. Mike was shorthanded and asked if I could pitch in for a few hours. As we set up, I remembered how two years ago, I used to swoon over the colors and aromas that only could come from the heat of the sun, the quenching power of the rain. The peaches were a swirl of delicate pink and buttery yellow with a little garnet thrown in. The plums, with skin a blended shade of garnet and lilac that lipstick companies die for, practically glisten. My hands were covered in plum juice, from sorting out splitted fruit, but I didn't care. I was at market, and soon my neighbors would come to join me.

By Kim ODonnel |  July 10, 2006; 9:41 AM ET Farmers Markets
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Beautifully written! Takes me back to my childhood when I would pull a red wagon laden with the fruits of our labors in our garden and from our 20+ fruit trees for sale around the neighborhood. I'd spend an hour polishing plums to their highest sheen before I set out; the same with the tomatoes and bell peppers. I knew who would always buy apricots or peaches, who waited eagerly for the first pomegranates off our trees, and it was fun to strike deals with neighbors who had fruit we didn't (pecans and persimmons especially!)

Posted by: Bethesda (California no longer) | July 10, 2006 10:50 AM

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