On Market Day, Everything Old is New Again

The way some people talk, you’d think farmers’ markets were a recent invention by eco-conscious millennials spurred to action by reading a book about the 100-mile diet.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

People have been hauling their goods to communal selling and trading places ever since humankind began the transition from hunting and foraging to sustain the clan, to poking seeds into the dirt to see what would come up.

For untold centuries, the market square has been one of the defining features of civilization on every continent, with the possible exception of Antarctica.

The very day after some long-forgotten Hamid spread his collection of fresh figs under a tree for his neighbours to admire, his friend Ali was there with a rack of lamb, or a skinful of goat’s milk to trade for them.

So it has been throughout the ages. Long before super stores, or even Superstores, those who tended herds, tilled the soil, or farmed the ocean depths, have laid out their wares at the appointed hour on the appointed day.

Once the countryside became networked with roads, enterprising producers started hawking their bounty from door to door, or set up kiosks at their own farm gates. Others invited townies to pick what they wanted straight from the fields, for a price.

Is it my imagination, or is the concept of farm-fresh undergoing a renaissance among generations of North Americans who were brought up to believe food was something that emerged from a freezer, or came already wrapped in Styrofoam and cling film?

In an era when bok choy from China is as readily available year-round as bananas from Ecuador, what’s behind the pull to the community market? Is it the foodies’ demand for fresher taste? An altruistic effort to preserve the environment while supporting the local economy?

Is it the influence of newcomers from lands where daily market-browsing is the norm? Is it a desire to know more about what we’re shoveling into our families’ mouths, and about those who produce or process it?

Does it matter if the answer is all of the above, none of the above, or some of the above? Community markets are just, plain swell.

Personally, I’m not that drawn to hand-carved wind chimes, crocheted hats, designer soap, or polished stones painted with happy faces.

And mouth-watering though they may be, I can usually resist other people’s pies and preserves in favour of making my own.

But I’m glad they’re there.

And I’m thrilled that whole families get up before dawn on market day just to bring me their freshest berries, rutabagas, pickling cukes and lacey dill.

Now, can you please hurry up with that next truckload of sweet corn?

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