I love farmer’s markets. That is, I love being a customer at farmer’s markets. Last week I had the chance to visit one in Minocqua and was more than happy to fork over the dough to purchase a week’s worth of healthy goodies.
But I remember the summer I was a merchant at one of these events and since that time I have the utmost respect, and profound admiration, for the people who come and sell their home grown products at these affairs. From firsthand experience, I know how much hard work this is.
One summer between college semesters, I got a job in a U-pick strawberry patch. My boss Harold, was a nice guy, but kind of dippy and was always coming up with goofy schemes on how to improve profits or move product. One day he decided we should sell some of the strawberries at a farmer’s market even though we had a steady stream of U-pickers. I thought it was a dumb idea until he told me I could have half the profits, which changed my way of thinking.
My attitude was, “how hard can it be?” A little white tent, a couple of chairs, the product and a cash box were as far as I thought. But I came to find out that being in the farmer’s market business goes a lot deeper than that.
Take for instance the fact that your product has to be very fresh. Since the market we were attending was on a Saturday morning, that meant I had to spend Friday night picking strawberries-not a fun prospect for a fun-loving college coed.
However, I did learn many new skills during this time, which were not then, and I doubt have ever been, taught in any institute of higher learning. In fact, to this day, I consider myself the Dean of picking strawberries by flashlight.
That’s what Harold thought we had to do to obtain the height of freshness for our product. Then, after falling asleep with the scent of strawberries swirling around my head, I was up way before dawn to pack up the berries and head to the market.
We found the white tent, including its poles, stuffed in a withered bag gathering dust in a corner of the barn. Then we located some chairs; found a couple of large heavy tables; the cash box and decided we were good to go.
Our first catastrophe was when one of the tables flopped over in the truck and smashed about a third of the produce. I mean, we were literally trailing strawberry juice as we parked in our spot. While I frantically tried to save what I could, Harold tackled getting the canopy up, but once he pulled it out of the bag I knew we were in even more trouble.
The entire top was riddled with ragged holes, some even trailing fluttering long ribbons, due to the numerous rodents who had chewed through this fabric over the years. Then Harold discovered one of the leg poles was missing which explained why it was stuffed in a corner of the barn in the first place.
Once he got the thing set up, I started laughing uncontrollably because a hole-ridden, three legged canopy doesn’t give off a very professional appearance. Nonetheless we set up our tables, set out the strawberries and waited for the customers.
Let me say right here, farmer’s market visitors ask lots of questions, many of which totally flummoxed me. I mean, one lady even asked if the holes in our canopy were used to “vent” the strawberries. Even Harold didn’t know how to answer that one.
But, I am proud to report, we did sell all our produce and I made a good chunk of change. However, that has never become a motivation for me to ever pursue this line of work, which explains why I have such an admiration for people who come to farmer’s markets, so people like me can purchase fresh vegetables, fruits, baked goods and other products.
In fact, last Friday I was perfectly happy to do just that as I walked up the long aisle of white canopied tents, checking out all the beautiful goodies on display. I couldn’t help myself when I saw some fresh strawberries for sale and bought a box.
As I pulled one out to eat I asked the seller when they were picked and she assured me they weren’t even a day old. I’m proud to say I did refrain from asking one stupid question but I’m still wondering if they were harvested by flashlight.
Chicken Strawberry Salad
1 Tbs. sugar
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1 Tbs. water
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups torn romaine lettuce
4 cups arugula
2 cups quartered strawberries
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
12 ozs. skinless, boneless cooked chicken breast,
2 tbs. unsalted cashews, halved
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
Combine first 5 ingredients in a small bowl. Gradually drizzle in oil, stirring constantly with a whisk.
Then combine romaine and next 4 ingredients (through chicken) in a bowl; toss gently. Place about 2 cups chicken mixture on each of 4 plates. Top each serving with 1 1/2 teaspoons cashews and 2 tablespoons cheese. Drizzle about 4 teaspoons dressing over each serving.