Thursday, January 7, 2010

Farmer's Market

Sarah, ready for the veggie-loving masses

Every time I staff our stand at the farmer's market in Oxnard, I am struck by how completely different it is than any grocery store experience. There's a dj playing 90's jams, old men in cowboy hats smoking and exchanging news from where they lean against the palm trees lining the park across the sidewalk, the smell of tamales and churros mixing with their smoke, and women with strollers who linger after their purchase to chat with vendors they know by name, exchanging recipes, digging for just the right bunch of cilantro... It's hard to summarize why I love the market in a few lines, so I jotted down some notes while we worked.

Here's the sort of running journal:
One of my favorite things about the Oxnard Market is that the majority of our customers are Spanish-speakers. One older woman comes into our stall and starts speaking Spanish with me, then suddenly catches herself and peers at me, saying "Muestreme sus ojos," or "Show me your eyes." I lean over and she inspects them. "Oops," she says in English, "green." She thought I was Hispanic because of my dark hair, and refuses to switch back into Spanish because now she wants to practice English.

We're starting to recognize some regulars. The first regular who drops by is Teresa, known as "that hot evangelical lady" by my housemates. She's a pretty young woman with long hair flung back away from her eyes and always has on the same tight black pants that she wears for motorcycle-riding, her favorite hobby. Teresa has been known to pray in tongues in our market stall over people, sending them on their way with radiant faces. When she spies our newly harvested spinach, she exclaims, "Greens, thank you Jesus!" We talk about what she eats for breakfast and how she prepares it (kale, steamed), and she buys out most of our kale and an impressive 20 beets.

The spinach buying reminds me of Bill, and I look around for him. Bill's a big trucker, at least 6'5", with an insatiable craving for spinach. He's a walking advertisement for our farm. Every time he buys spinach from us, he stands in front of our table booming out praises and raving about the different dishes and delicacies he's prepared with it. I let him go on as long as he wants, since curious onlookers soon gather inside to check out the cause of his excitement.

a guy with long hair and a broad smile comes by. He introduces himself as Tom, and we soon discover that he loves our radishes and knows more about leeks than Sarah and I combined. We learn some new recipes. I say, "You must be some sort of cook, Tom!" He says, "Well, when I have access to cooking facilities, I like to." I find out that Tom is homeless, and only buys the vegetables from our stand that he can eat raw.

Three little kids pause outside of our stand with their mother. I lure them in with broccoli samples, thinking 'this will never work.' "Es muy dulce," I say. They don't need convincing. Five minutes later, I see the same kids, dragging their mom and grandmother in tow to buy broccoli! They are such cute little veggie lovers, I have them pose for the camera.

Around noon, I call Nashi because we have extra fennel. Nashi and his family are recent immigrants from Egypt who I met at the market a few months ago when they spotted our fennel, which they love to cook with in traditional dishes. A relationship was formed over food, as is often the case, and a visit to our farm soon followed. As we start cleaning up the stall around 1, Nashi and his wife rush over just in time to get their fennel.

As the market closes, I put some of our remaining veggies in a bag for our neighbor flower-seller, Ben. He sometimes gives us potted plants to beautify our house and lends us plastic bags when we run out. More veggies disappear from the already dwindling supply as I go out, encouraged by Sarah, to promote the informal trading culture that is the privilege of sellers. I first approach the mushroom seller's son, avoiding the father who, we have learned, considers a sloppy kiss on the cheek proper recompense for a bag full of greens. I do business with the son, informing him that we plan on making some enchiladas tonight that could only be made more delicious with his mushrooms. A few more stops on my way back, and we have peanut butter fudge, strawberries, avocados, a lemon, tangerines, and cucumbers. A successful day? Yes, I'd say so.

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