Since 2008, I’ve worked at tons of farmers’ markets as a farmworker or helping out some of my friends. I enjoy waking up early, creating bold, visual displays of high quality local produce, grown with care and sustainability in mind, and interacting with people. For food growers, market days are a time to celebrate the harvest, bring food directly to consumers, deepen community relationships and, hopefully, return to the farm with a full cash box, an empty truck, bartered goods from fellow producers, and a brief reprieve before starting the harvest-market cycle again. I’ve observed the consumer-farmer relationship countless times and I thought I’d offer some tips - all rooted in common sense - into making the most out of your market excursion:
• Unfamiliar with an ingredient? Ask! Farmers and farmworkers are some of the best cooks whom I know. During peak season, they are the masters of cooking simple, clean (and not-so-healthful), and tasty food. Market days are the best days for seeking inspiration in the kitchen. And, if you are really nice, they may give you a taste test of that unfamiliar ingredient before you purchase it.
• Be patient. Respect the market start time. Farmers and their crews are creating a literal pop-up market stand. They’ve most likely been up since dawn, packing their vehicles, schlepping food and traveling some sort of distance, all with the goal of creating a bountiful stand for you. They’ve worked tirelessly all week. They need all the time they have to create their inviting displays. Another consideration: Farmers don’t get out much - most farmers look forward to going to market and interacting with civilians/non-farm folk. Patience and kindness go a long way!
• Arrive somewhat prepared. I strongly suggest bringing your own bags or baskets. Of course, life happens and you may happen upon a farmers’ market/stand or end up buying more items than the number of bags - or hands - that you have. And, most stands do provide some sort of bag for use. But, if you have bags or baskets, why not bring them?
• Small bills go a long way. Cash most likely remains king for many market vendors. If you have the time to break those larger bills, it's appreciated.
• Pro-tip: Separate items that need to be weighed versus those that are by the piece. This may fall in the category of “Advanced Market Shopping” but, If you do bring your own bags or the market booth has baskets for your items, separate items that are priced by weight from those that are priced by the bunch or unit. This makes the transaction experience as seamless and quick as possible.
• It's not the time to play Let’s Make A Deal. It's slightly infuriating when people start haggling…especially during market rushes or when the market is over and farmers are visibly packing up for the day. Would you go to a grocery store and bargain with the cashier or produce department manager? Probably not. Farmers set their prices to cover their costs of production...and barely that, including the rising costs of labor, infrastructure, fuel, land use, etc. And, if you want to know why something is the price that is listed, just ask! You’ll get a thorough answer, which, by the way, is unlikely to include the farmers wanting to get rich. And, bonus insider tip: the friendlier and more loyal of a customer you are, the more likely you are to get occasional, unspoken friend-of-the-farmer deals. Just please don’t be presumptuous.
• Mind your hygiene. Markets and farm stands are public spaces - please cover your mouth if you cough, sneeze away from the produce, and, if you’re really feeling rough, ask for assistance and market purveyors will help you. And, if you’ve acquired trash from other other vendors - napkins, plastic cups, etc. - please do not leave it behind on the display tables, especially near produce and other food items. Would you want to buy a head of lettuce sitting next to an old tissue?
• Please don’t overshare - especially medical stuff. Farmers’ markets and farm stands give consumers a unique and invaluable opportunity to directly connect with food growers. The informal, pastoral settings are often open invitations to build reciprocity and share aspects of your personal life. It’s a great feeling when customers feel such a closeness with their food producers. But, as much as farmers value your patronage, please do not divulge too much about your medical ailments. Example: During my first farmers’ market ever (!!), I was told by a bold individual that the farm’s organic produce was the thing responsible for treating her gout and she proceeded to show her slightly less inflamed foot to me. (She told me that my “kind face” was inviting...thank you??). Sure, this is an extreme scenario and, while I know this is not the majority of customers, just be mindful - farmers and their crews have a lot going on, mentally and physically, on market days, so please respect their time and the good ol' Golden Rule.
• Above all, be pleasant. You don't have to be perky but being kind and courteous goes a long way at farmers’ markets. Again, it’s a day to appreciate local food, the local economy, and our local communities. And, in a world that seems to be lacking in humility and civility, we could all use a little more kindness and optimism.
And, remember: Keep being an advocate for local, sustainable food and your local economies. In an era of uncertainty, your support goes a long way!
Cover/header photo: Bunches of basil, ready for market, June 2017 (A.Gross)
Have other tips for making it through a farmers’ market? Leave a comment below!
As they say, "Eat your veggies.” You’re welcome:
Recipe: Chocolate Beet Cupcakes
- 1 large or 2 medium cooked beets
- 1 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (I used coconut [carton, not in the can])
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 3/4 cup coconut sugar
- 1/4 cup melted unrefined coconut oil
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 generous cup of flour (I used a gluten-free all-purpose blend, but white or whole spelt, or unbleached regular wheat flour will work too)
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa or cacao powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- pinch salt
- 2 Tbls or more of water, beet cooking liquid (if you boil them), or extra unsweetened milk
- Before you do anything, cook your beets! Roast or boil - it’s up to you. The goal: fully cooked/fork tender.
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a cupcake pan with baking cups and set aside.
- Once your beets are cooked and still slightly warmed, puree beets in a blender or food processor. You can add a little water, beet cooking liquid, or unsweetened milk by the tablespoon to thin out the cooked beets. You want a puree, not a smoothie. Scoop out or pour a 1/2 cup of the pureed beets and set aside.
- Whisk together the non-dairy milk and vinegar in a measuring cup or bowl, and set aside for 5 minutes to curdle and make a sort of buttermilk.
- Add the coconut sugar, melted coconut oil, vanilla extract, and 1/2 cup beets and carefully whisk or beat until combined and foamy.
- In a bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt to remove any lumps.
- Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients. Beat (by hand or with a mixer)/combine until no lumps remain.
- Pour batter into lined cupcake pan, filling each a 3/4 of the way full. Bake 22 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.
- Once cooled, frost or eat as is!
Recipe: Dark Chocolate Sweet Potato Frosting
- 1 large sweet potato, roasted
- 8-10 oz. of dark chocolate (chips or chopped bar chocolate - the darker the better)
- a pinch of sea salt
- 1 Tbl vanilla extract
- Scoop out and slightly mash the roasted sweet potato from the skin and place in a small to medium sauce pan.
- Bring the sweet potato mash to a simmer (you can add a little bit of water or unsweetened non-dairy milk to thin out, but only 1-2 Tbls at most) and remove from heat.
- Add the dark chocolate, and stir until smooth. (If you want a super smooth texture, you can put the mixture in a food processor or use an immersion blender.)
- Let it cool, stirring occasionally, until the frosting is at room temperature and spread on your cupcakes/cake (or maybe transfer to a container and store in your refrigerator for up to a week and eat by the spoonful…)
Marina Sachs is, perhaps, the definition of dynamic…and wonderfully whacky. I first had the pleasure of meeting Marina when working on the Cheyenne River Reservation with Simply Smiles in 2015, as part of her Lakota Youth Speak project - a restorative justice and adolescent enrichment program - with friend and program co-creator Ellie Nan Storck. She is a MacGyver of creativity and creating, who harnesses her good nature, thoughtfulness, talent and sense of humor to bring joy and levity to kids on the Reservation and those around her in most every situation. I sure enjoy being around her! Check our her musings below - she’s a peach and a talented artist! (And, if you feel so inclined/moved by Marina, please check the Lakota Youth Speak Project and consider making a donation here.)
Meet The Maker
Name: Marina Sachs
Location: Cambridge, MA
Creative/crafty outlets: painting, drawing
Where to find you/your wares: www.softpushstudio.com; Instagram: @marina_sachs
When did you first realize that you like to create?
I grew up without a television, internet access, and a microwave. Around 2007, my parents got a television and wireless internet, but up until that point, there was no time or value placed on these things. I realize that this is a privilege; many parents cannot afford to make fresh food every day, and need to use a microwave to feed their families quick and easy meals. Other parents need their children to watch television so that they can be occupied while they make dinner, clean, or are working. I am very aware that living without these commodities was still a choice that my parents could make because they were in a position of privilege.
And yet, growing up without television or internet undoubtedly influenced the kind of thinker and maker I am today. My parents gave my sister and me art supplies, and the simple rule that boredom wasn’t an option, and playing outside always was. In our basement, we had chalk, paint, markers, paper, and recycled materials that my mama picked up from the supermarket (for a great styrofoam printing activity, click here). I was always allowed to use permanent markers, and was never scolded for getting paint on myself or making a mess as I created. I was never scolded for being a messy artist, and my parents gave me freedom to express myself in whatever medium was available. I am very grateful for their style, and something that has inspired me in the way I work with young artists.
To attempt to answer the question: I vividly remember creating a painted scene of a few trees in kindergarten on thick, pink paper, but I know that I was making art before that. I think I always loved to create, but the ways I have realized it have changed over the years. It wasn’t until high school, when I was attending an arts magnet high school in New Haven, CT, that I felt myself pulled towards performing and visual arts; drumming, mixed-media art, and theatre. My parents separated during my college years, and it was around this time that I realized I no longer just loved to create, I had to. I needed to sort out all of the shifting, clashing, dark parts in my head. My art became less inhibited, the impetus behind creating art had changed.
Who or what are some of your creative influences and/or where do you seek inspiration? And, has this changed over time?
I think that much of what I was exposed to as a child affected how I am as an artist and a creator today. There are some very specific, visual artists whose influence you can see in my art; the pen and ink-work of Quentin Blake, Alexander Calder’s circus drawings and sculptures, Jean Paul Basquiat’s journal entries, Beatrix Potter’s botanical paintings, to name a few.
About four years ago, I took issue with many of my creative influences, not because they aren’t talented or unique, but because my influences were mostly white males. How can I be an artist who fights for equity and access, how can I harness my privilege if all of my influences are white? I grappled with these questions, the most poignant being, “Who are my heros?” I think this is a really important question, because it demands a tracing of one’s history, a questioning of what one has learned, and more importantly, what they haven’t learned.
I’m always trying to figure out how to creatively show - and share - what I stand for.
Describe your process: Do you map things out? Just go for it? How do you get to the end product?
If I’m painting, it’s usually because I’ve got something stirring up my bones that I have to get out. I work on the floor. Barefoot. I spread out my materials, get a big glass of water, and throw on music. Delta blues, psych-rock, 90’s hip hop, ambient electronica... I move quickly, drawing first with sharpie, and then begin painting. I don’t like using pencil, I make more mistakes when I have an eraser.
If I’m designing a workshop, or working on a collaborative piece, then the first thing I do when I start is think about access. Who is represented in the collaboration? What voices aren’t being heard loud enough? If it’s a visual piece, is it accessible to everybody, affordable? Are the materials inexpensive, sustainable? What language is the project in? Whose histories are being told, or overlooked? Access is directly connected to diversity and equity; who has access to the project and who doesn’t? I’m much more thoughtful and planned when I’m working on a project. I constantly seek to collaborate with people whose viewpoints challenge, supplement, and intersect with my own. Access, tension, diversity, and equity are very important when we think about art, both local and global.
Talk more about your Tipi Talks/Lakota Youth Speak project, in terms of the role of creativity, identity and self-expression for Native youth. I saw, firsthand, how teenagers changed and opened up - namely, using art and creativity to harness their vulnerabilities, self-esteem, fears, and aspirations. It was and remains really incredible. How did this project evolve in terms of pre-trip planning to the Reservation and then actually living and working on the Reservation?
I have always believed that young people are capable of harnessing art to transform the lives of those around them; Lakota Youth Speak is another iteration of my commitment to this belief. In 2015, my close friend and project co-designer, Ellie Nan Storck and I received a Davis Project for Peace grant for Lakota Youth Speak. It is a youth-driven restorative justice project that collaborates with young folks on the Reservation to create adolescent enrichment and community programs. The planning process that led up to funding lasted around 7 months; we had to prove that the project was holistic, sustainable, and that the community was interested in it. Crudely put: Ellie and I had to prove that we weren’t just two white folks going into a vulnerable community to start a project that we would then forget about the next year. We corresponded with dozens of organizations, the Davis foundation, Honor the Treaties, and a number of tribal nations across the U.S to coordinate this project, and finally connected with Simply Smiles in La Plant.
The first year of Lakota Youth Speak was challenging because Ellie and I had to build trust with the young folks before we could begin to collaborate. After a month of knocking on doors repeatedly, and eventually realizing that 10am meetings aren’t a good time for teenagers to meet, we started to make some headway in terms of trust, respect, and creative programs. We got involved with Lakota mental health professionals, introducing them in safe, low-stakes settings for both adolescent and community workshops. Meeting twice per week, we worked to plan a community meal that had hands-on art stations, two awesome Lakota professionals who spoke about their work, and live music. That year we really focused on space; forging common space for teens to feel comfortable, safe, and cool, visiting sacred space (we took trips to the Badlands and Black Hills), and making space for every person who wanted to be involved in the program.
This summer, we’re working to simplify Lakota Youth Speak, and collaborate with more Lakota makers and creators.
I believe that it’s really important for the young folks we work with to have artists, professionals, and all around bad-ass adults who are similar to them. I’m white, I didn’t grow up in La Plant, or on a Reservation: I can be a facilitator, and an ally. I can support the beautiful young people I work with as they push up against the systemic challenges that abound for indigenous folks in the U.S., but I don’t think that I’m fit to be the best role model for them.
Heroes, role models; they’re people who a young person can identify with, aspire to become. If a child don’t see someone who looks like her, talks like her, acts like her in a position of power, in a heroic role, then she becomes instilled with the idea that people like her don’t become role models.
Whatʼs one of your favorite projects - past, present, or a project in the works?
My most recent project re:love is a self-published magazine that features work from 30 artists, many of whom had never shared their work publicly. Spanning 6 months, I facilitated the project from inception to distribution, and worked with artists in-person and virtually. Each contribution was submitted in response to being asked to think critically about identity. re:love derives its form from each contributor’s original work; this zine is about approaching each other’s differences with curiosity and love.
(I’m also working on a book for my favorite tattoo shop, which I’m really excited about!!! I’ll let you know when it’s coming out.)
Whatʼs the best piece of advice/quote that youʼve received about creating? Or, conversely, what would you recommend to other artists?
Try to be in conversation with people who are going to challenge the way that you think. While it’s been important to surround myself with people who support me, it’s been just as important to engage with people who challenge me. People who look at my art and say, “I don’t get it,” or “Is that even art?” It’s easy to become emboldened by supportive communities, both in-person and online. We often forget that tension and challenges are fertile ground for innovation and self-expression.
Bonus: If you could be any plant (existing or made up), what would you be and why?
A sweet potato (Oven-roasted at 425 for 45 minutes with some olive oil and sea salt)
Have an idea for Speak With Your Craft? Know some interesting makers, crafters, cooks, bakers, food growers, woodworkers, herbalists, photographers, writers, actors, musicians, painters, fiber artists, and creative forces in your life? I have friends lined up in the near future, but I'm open to suggestions! Leave a comment or contact me! Remember, makers or creators need not fit into a neat box to be featured. So, here’s to more creating, crafting, listening, learning, and collaborating!