Farmers' Markets from the Other Side of the Table

I’m a morning person by nature; I’m often the first one in the office pounding out more work in the first few hours than I do later in the day. So last summer, when I ventured to Virginia to work on a farm, my tendency to wake up early helped me face the weekly, pre-dawn job of preparing for our weekly trip to the farmers’ markets.

Here was the typical schedule: On Saturday mornings, we would rise at 3 a.m., pick vegetables wearing headlamps, and then spend hours carefully packing each truck. (We had to be especially gentle with tomatoes, packing their ponies only one-quarter full to prevent bruising.) By the way, the fruits and vegetables we delivered to market had to be perfect; for example, bug-bitten lettuce gets tossed on the ground between rows and eventually ends up as compost. (I still wrestle with the amount of waste that accumulates on a farm.) Once the trucks are loaded, we’d start out for market, often arguing about who had to drive and who could nap on the way home. Commutes for farmers can be long. In Virginia, farmers traveled from as far as New York state. And here in Boulder, farmers travel for hours from southern Colorado where, in my opinion, the best peaches in America are grown.

At the farmers’ market site, you have to set up your tent, unfold your tables, determine where to position each item to attract the most customers, make signs, stack recipes, fill baskets, and often, deal with unfavorable weather. During the peak season, at the larger markets, set-up alone can take two to three hours. Our farm visited three markets a week; and our only guarantee for staying in business was a productive showing at each.

At the end of the day, when the markets close, few farmers have an outlet for what hasn’t been sold, so most of the leftovers are donated to food banks. Then we begin our long journey back to the farm for a short rest before we start picking produce for Sunday’s markets.

My absolute favorite part of this routine was the sampling. Farmers love to introduce people to new vegetables; I introduced more people to chard in my season of farming than I can count (and still think it’s one of the best bangs for your food buck). There are a lot of foods worth trying, and just when you think you’ve tasted them all, you get one or 100 new varieties of each fruit and vegetable. The truth is that farmers love to see people enjoying their products, and each week, they look forward to spending time with others who share an appreciation for thoughtfully grown food.

I no longer work on a farm, but now when I walk through my local farmers’ market on a weekend morning and see colorful produce stacked high, I remember how much work it took to get it there. When I see local, organic tomatoes priced at $3.60 per pound, and an eight-ounce bag of arugula for $5, I know the price is fair. And when I see the face of a hard-working farmer, who has spent countless hours upfront to ensure the best possible experience for his customers, I am grateful for his commitment.


Alicia Jabbar is a self-described foodie, cook, and advocate for local and delicious foods. Alicia spent several years living in San Francisco, but last year spent seven months living and working on a farm on the East Coast. Now she's in Boulder, Colorado, where she is pursuing an opportunity to become an organic farmer. The single best aspect about food, she says, is the community it engages and the conversation it creates. We couldn't agree more. Her last post for Simple, Good and Tasty was Renegade Lunch Lady Ann Cooper Takes On Another School Lunch Makeover.