Sunday, October 08, 2006

Another fine fall weekend

On my way into town, I often drive on a back road that goes through a large dairy farm. There are signs--I'll confess they've long been favorites of mine, since how many people get to see these kinds of signs on their commute?--that say CATTLE XING 35 MPH. But until yesterday, I never actually saw any cattle crossing, just lots and lots of them in the pastures and pens on both sides of the road.

But yesterday as I was driving home from the farmer's market, I rounded a curve and was suddenly forced to brake for about 200 Holsteins. As I idled and watched, I began to sort out what was going on. The milk-heavy cows were being herded from a pasture to the milking barn by two men on ATVs, one with a bouncy cattle dog at his side. All three herders were really good at their jobs, expertly zipping around the edges of the herd and hurrying the cows that lagged.

One of the men pulled up at a gate and opened it. As he did so, we caught each other's eye, so I waved and smiled. He turned off his ATV to hear what I had to say, and instantly I felt bad; I had just meant to greet him, not to get in the way of his work. I hastily called out, "Just saying hi!"

"No English. Muy poquito," he yelled back.

I was caught off guard for a moment, not having noticed that the men were Mexican. Then I managed to shout "¡Hola!"

"¡Hola!" he yelled, smiling.

Real cowboys. Cool.

I had had a good morning at the market. Everyone snapped up my Sungold tomatoes, and one woman even called the night before to reserve some vegetables. I had to harvest more so the table wouldn't look bare! I continued my streak of selling all the sorrel I brought. It is my personal goal to convert every resident of the Oconee County area to sorrel-eating...and then, in the spring, to purple-sprouting-broccoli-eating.

In some ways, as I've been told to expect, this week was completely different than last. Where previously I had sold lots of preserves but no baked goods, this time I sold few preserves and almost all my baked goods. The flapjacks sold out and will, I suspect, become a regular offering. People also bought slices of muscadine-apple pie, which is impressive to me because I charge rather a lot more than some of the other pie-makers. (I make deeper, wider pies with more expensive ingredients. I figure I've gotta get paid.)

Pie-makers proliferated this time. My newest colleagues in the trade are the preteen daughters of a well-known local African-American artist. The two girls grow their own sweet potatoes and make them into pie. They sold out by 11 a.m.! They make good pie, but what really makes me love having them around is that their table is festooned with a gigantic banner that says YOUNG FEMALE FARMERS. I like that a lot.

I also met two longtime vendors who hadn't been around the previous few weeks. One man sells chemical-free greens and eggs and gave me a ton of useful advice and encouragement. (This winter I aim to take the Georgia Department of Agriculture's egg grading and candling class so I can sell eggs. He made it sound pretty easy.) Another is a really witty Asian guy who sells stunning cut flowers and naturally grown vegetables. His shiny stack of bitter melons (I wonder if he sold any?) made me nostalgic for St. Paul, where the market is full of Hmong vendors with exotic backyard-grown wares.

I'm really enjoying the farmer's market. I've noticed--and the woman who runs it corroborates this--a sense of "ownership" among the patrons. They all seem to feel that it's their own little market, and they're proud of it. They like to get to know the vendors and are not shy about asking for what they want.

I plan on making an order-form-type thingie so that people can order holiday pies and fruitcakes from me. Until Saturday, it hadn't occurred to me that anyone would want fruitcake; after all, it has such an evil reputation. But fruitcake is a strong Southern tradition all the same, so I may have been off the mark. At any rate, when I described the homemade brandy-soaked fruit bombs (sans weird gele├ęd stuff) that I call fruitcake, the market manager told me to put her down for two. Who knew?