By Sarah Kanabay | Photography by Elaine Papa
For the past two months I’ve woken up nearly every day thinking about rain.
Weather, and talking about it, is not something any native New Englander is a stranger to––but this is different. My Instagram feed has started to fill up with images of dust, and I’m keeping one eye on the sky these days. No rain means no food, no food means no customers, and no customers means that we’ll be left struggling to keep our fledgling farmers’ market together through another week of slow sales.
Farming is an exercise in hope. Participating in the process in any real way means being strong enough to have a vision that you’re going to pour all of your energy into, and flexible enough to know that no one part of it will probably look like, or proceed according to, the thing that you’re envisioning. Sometimes, for the better. Often, over the course of a season, for the worse.
As we crept closer to our proposed opening day for the new Tuesday Farmers Market in Greenfield, the relatively snowless winter, and my own accidentally shattered ankle, seemed to be tipping us into “worse” territory.
It’s easy to have an idea. (A student-led, affordable farmers’ market for small-scale, new farmers in downtown Greenfield! Community partners who purchase unsold goods at cost for use in their food justice programming! Real-world internship opportunities for students who want to run an in-town business!) It’s harder to stay open to the evolution of that idea in the face of unforeseen difficulty (broken bones, SNAP card processor delays, an uncertain agricultural season).
But that is what the work requires. You will lose sleep worrying that you won’t get the whole market SNAP-certified in time to open (you won’t); you will worry about disappointing people with what you’re able to offer (you will); and you’ll fear most of all that no one will show up (sometimes, they won’t). You will spend an entire bleak March, and then an unexpectedly snowy April, thinking these thoughts.
There have been a lot of articles written about the magic of local produce, and a lot of rhapsodic odes penned to the beauty of having a real connection to your food and its place of origin. I would argue that it’s the worry, the lost sleep, and the fixation on the Weather Channel that really begins to bring it home––the bleak late-winter fear that begins to give you some idea of how wildly variable, how cruelly fickle, it can all be, when it comes to the growing of food.
The farmers’ market is only the end of a longer sentence that starts with planning and soil elsewhere, but its creation and evolution is a chapter in the greater story that makes it possible at all. It’s one thing to blithely talk about shared agricultural fate at a planning meeting in February, surrounded by students and food producers and the certainty that your proposal is going to make this whole process better for everyone. It’s another thing to have to learn, through doing, that shared agricultural fate is more than just a well-turned phrase designed to sell heirloom tomatoes.
When it refuses to rain for weeks and weeks, it means having your students gently remind frustrated patrons that food is a by-product of weather. When a community partner is no longer able to purchase unsold produce, drastically cutting into guaranteed weekly sales for a vegetable vendor, it means coming to the table to try to find a different way forward. It means remembering that we are partners, and have a responsibility to those who have fewer areas in which to be flexible, in the face of failure––you can’t place a new radio ad that will end a drought, after all.
Which is why, on opening day and as the season progresses, you come to see and understand that the magic isn’t in the end of the sentence, really. It’s not hidden in the perfectly composed (though undeniably delicious) locally sourced salad. The real magic is in the messy middle. It’s in the students who are willing to show up early and stay late, to make it easier for farmers to bring products to market. It’s in the collaborative process of watching one set of ideas fail, and having willing hands and minds step in to work on a different way forward. It’s in continuing to say yes when you’re really tempted to say no, and saying that yes together. Yes to the struggle. Yes to remembering the work, the hope, and the willingness that had to happen to even land that tomato on your plate. Yes to being in this together, truly, one failure, and then one getting back up again, at a time.
The Greenfield Tuesday Farmers’ Market runs from 1:30 to 6:30pm, every Tuesday through the last week of October, on Sears Avenue in downtown Greenfield, right next to Green Fields Market.