Every once in a while we have people ask questions about what we do to prepare for market and usually we just give the short answer with the typical “Oh, we got up at 4:30 this morning, picked greens/herbs in the pitch dark with a head lamp, packed the car, got here about 7:00 am and started setting up.” In reality there is so much more that goes on before market and preparations start long before market day. Matter of fact it seems like it is a continuous task. There is a lot more work involved than what I realized prior to becoming a vendor. But if it was easy, everyone would do it. The following is the rest of the story, everything that happens prior to a farmers’ market Saturday.
We are starting with October because that is truly when planning for the next year begins. I always take time after the market ends to reflect on the season: what worked, what didn’t, what can we approve on, is there anything missing from the market that we should try next year, and so on. But I’ll admit, after the 20 weeks of hard work that is involved with the farmers’ market, I need a break. I generally take the holiday season off to spend time with family and catch up on things I put aside during market season. Although, it’s not unusual for me to develop a few new recipes or work on crafts during this time. There is just so much to be inspired by this time of year.
This is generally when I do most of my research and planning. I will read books on anything from gardening tips/techniques to making money of small scale farming. I probably spend hours (usually not all at one time) looking in the non-fiction section at the local library flipping through books until I find a handful that want to take to read.
Earlier this year, I actually had a true nerd moment when I was perusing the gardening section, and lost track of time. One of the girls asked if I needed help, in an attempt to speed things along, I told her what I was looking for. Apparently it wasn’t a popular topic because it took a while to find what I wanted and although I was about ready to give up she did end up finding something on the subject. By then I was the last one in the library and they were all waiting for me to check out so they could go home. I had no choice but to adjust my glasses and walk out the doors with my stack of books and head held high.
I also like to research different and new seed varieties. You’d be surprised just how many varieties there are of your favorite produce, especially tomatoes! Once I know what seeds and plants we are going to grow, the planning starts. Research shows some plants, like tomatoes and basil, benefit from being planted near each other while others, like tomatoes and corn, should not be planted close to each other. Once we have our rows planned out, we have to adjust the spacing based on how the plants grow and the supports they need.
This is when the real work starts! Now’s the time we have to start seeds, prepare & till the ground, get the plants in the ground, weed and water, put supports in, and finally get to the point where we can start harvesting for market. Once I know what’s growing I plan out my containers and how I want to set up the booth. Because our produce changes quite often I have a stock pile of different containers that I rotate around and am always keeping an eye out for more. I also try to go to different farmers’ market before our season starts or while on vacation in order to see how others present their produce.
Thursday and Friday before Market
Thursday and Friday is when we first start picking for the market. Thursday we pick tomatoes that are perfectly ripe. If its not quite ripe we leave for Friday unless its supposed to rain. It doesn’t take long to learn that rain and tomatoes don’t mix too well; yes, they need water to grow but it doesn’t take much to cause them to split. Friday we pick everything ready for market other than the greens and herbs. It doesn’t matter if its muddy and raining, or hot and humid, we are out there picking (almost always in long pants and long sleeves thanks to the bugs). I also have wash the containers and jars that are going to be used Saturday. Every once in a while this is also the only time I have to finish the crafts that you see at our booth. I wish I could say that getting to bed early is also something that gets done on Fridays but in reality I rarely get more than 5 hours of sleep before market.
I know we are not alone in the effort we put into our farmers’ market booth. Please support your local farmers and vendors. I realize I say it a lot but it’s becuase I know firsthand how much work is involved. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions or start up a conversation with the vendors. Even if you don’t buy anything, it at least helps pass the time and you might learn something new. The last thing we want to see is all of our hard work go to waste. If I think someone got something out of their visit, even if it is just knowledge, then I feel like we did our job.