- Lucie and I woke up early on Saturday morning – market day. Jean-Yves handed me the keys to his van full of farm-fresh goods to sell and we were off. The market is in the town of Belley, about a 15 minute drive from Belmont. We set up two tables side by side, pieced the glass cheese case together, prominently displayed the Belmont farm sign, and arranged our products.
Organic goat cheese (frais, demi-sec, sec) – 1.30 euro
Organic, farm fresh eggs (one half dozen) – 1.50 euro
Organic, farm pressed apple juice (one liter) – 2 euros
Organic, homemade “Belmonthe” beer (.75 liters) – 3 euros
- Lucie left our table a couple of times to run a quick errand and inevitably business seemed to pick up when I was alone at the stand. I could understand enough French to know what the client was requesting. “Bonjour! Deux jus de pomme et duex fromage sec.” Translation: “Good morning! Two apples juices and two aged cheeses.” Oui. I would wrap the cheese in paper and try to tune out the customers calculating their orders out loud, “Deux plus duex est quatre et…” so I could do the math in English in my head. A good exchange would end with a pleasant, “Bon Weekend!” and the happy customer walking away with exactly what they had asked for. There were a couple of times when people would approach the table and ask a question, or their voice would raise towards the end, so I would assume it was a question. I will never be sure. I would do my best to understand, then smile and say, “Je parle un petite peu Francais.” Which is almost a lie because I speak less than “a little bit” of French. Sometimes this would spark curiosity and they would continue speaking to me in French, assuming that I spoke enough to explain a short version of my life story, which is not at all the case. Sometimes they would ask, “English?” then switch to English and ask their question again – it often turned out that the customer was asking about Jean-Yves. “Where is he? How is he doing?” And sometimes the question would be altogether dropped and they would just point to whatever it was they wanted to buy. No one ever walked away, I am proud to report, and almost everyone was kind. By the time the market was coming to a close, around 1pm, Lucie and I had sold most of everything. I pulled the van around; we folded up the tables, took down the big umbrella and packed everything up. We headed back to the farm with hot pizzas from the stand a few stalls away, bellies full of fresh cherries from the stall across the street, a lot less cheese and more cash in the little tin cash box.
- A couple of weeks ago, after my Saint Girons Saturday market experience, I started writing an entry and never finished it. I was overwhelmed with posting all of my previous entries that had backlogged while on Rose and John’s farm with very limited, solar-powered internet access. The Saint Girons market is worth mentioning because it was an entirely different experience from the Belley market. In Belley, Lucie and I had a very low-key morning, with an easy stand to set up, not many items for sale, and just the two of us working. In Saint Girons, Rose’s produce stand took almost two hours to set-up and another two to pack up, the selection was huge, and there were more than seven of us working at any given time. The market itself was immense compared to the Belley market, with stall after stall of cheeses, olives, produce, bread, art, and the organic selection was vast. It was a younger social scene – live music, beers outside at the café, drum circles and barefoot dancing. At least a quarter of the clientele seemed to have dreadlocks or a joint in their hand. The Belley market was tame in comparison, the clientele were mostly age 50 and over, and only our stand was organic.
- Here’s what I started writing about the Saint Girons market:
- I spent the evening before the St. Girons Saturday Market preparing the vegetables for sale. This entailed removing the plastic wrapping from the organic cucumbers and the wilted, brown outer leaves from the iceberg lettuce that Rose purchased in Perpignan, then rinsing them in the stream for a final burst of cool before returning them to their box in the back of the van. To say that the big, blue van was full of produce is an understatement. It was packed with produce; so much so, that I don’t think there was a single inch of room to spare. The boxes were all pieces in an edible three-dimensional puzzle that only Rose could fit together just right. The van isn’t always so packed, but we’re in the thick of “the hungry gap,” so Rose buys more wholesale produce this time of year.
I would consider 4:30am the middle of the night, yet on Saturday morning it was my time to rise and shine. Market day. I had slept for less than five hours the night before. The weather had been rainy on Friday and I was cold and muddy. I had been looking forward to the market all week, but after waking up in the pitch dark, putting on my damp jeans and covering my greasy hair with a wool hat, I wanted to get back under the covers and sleep until noon…or at least until sunrise.
- So yup, it’s fair to say that I found the Belley market and our little Belmont farm stand a refreshingly enjoyable place to work, but I would shop at the Saint Girons market every Saturday if I could. It felt alive – a bountiful celebration of good food, music and life. I hope farmer’s markets in the United States will become social meeting spots for neighbors and friends. It is a step in the right direction when we find ourselves face to face with the people who pick our produce and make our cheese and bake our bread. Food becomes more than just something we consume. It has a history. And the person working at the market stand has usually played a role in that history and will willingly divulge all the details (unless that person is, like me, a stranger in a foreign land and unable to speak to the inquisitive shopper in their native tongue).
- The shopper can learn:
– Where the product was grown/made/raised – hopefully not too far from where it is sold.
– Who grew/made/raised it – maybe the very person behind the stand.
– When it was picked/made/slaughtered – hopefully very recently, unless the shopper is purchasing cheese.
– How it was treated – hopefully kindly and organically.
- One thing I’ve learned in my life on the farms is that SO much labor and love goes into the food we eat. I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that farmers are quiet, unsung heroes. They enable the rest of us to eat and live! Sante to farmers and farmer’s markets! May they survive and thrive.