This morning I strolled solo to my local farmers market downtown, which is the glorious wonder that pulls me out of bed early on Saturday. Actually, I did have some company this time – the Dracula soundtrack by Philip Glass. As I’m typing this, I’m noticing the irony of Halloween and this music choice, but I swear it must have been subconscious. I actually chose the soundtrack for the motivating dramatic string orchestra, which I thought would set the mood right while I rapidly sorted through delicious produce with the other hungry market goers. With prices around $0.50 per pound, you gotta be fast like a maniac violinist! Little did I know this trip to the farmers market would bring me much more than just a fridge full of goodies. But I’ll save that part for the end.
I will say, I’m generally one who avoids routine due to the lack of surprise it offers. However, when it comes to food shopping I always bust into what I like to call ninja-mode, where I browse the entire selection of goods before making a purchase. Yes, it takes time and patience, but it’s all in the name of my glorious sanity and financial future. I might be going off on a bit of a tangent here, but ninja-mode has been such a life saver. For example, finding a $6 flat of strawberries moments after buying an $8 certified organic one is not my idea of a good day and surely does not reflect the usage of epic ninja-mode. This happened to me once and it made the strawberries taste less awesome when I got them home. I also could have bought two-pounds of apples with that extra two bucks, darnit! Ironically though, in a scenario like the strawberry mishap, I learned some very valuable information. Those two flats of strawberries were both grown organically without pesticides, but only one paid to carry the certified seal. The only way to know something like this is to ask the grower. Often the high costs of being certified organic is a turn-off to farmers, even if they meet the certified organic standards. In fact, many certified foods come with a hefty price tag because of the certification costs, not because it costs more to grow organic. Of course, such isn’t the case for everything and I’m always down to buy certified when necessary, but it helps to inquire about farming practices instead of going by what’s printed on a box, or a big sign. Knowing more than what a label tells you is great power for your health and wallet my friend! And it will make you an awesome food-hunting ninja. With that said, comparison shopping goes beyond just prices, because quality is just as important. This is one of the most golden rules of ninja-mode. Well, that and skipping breakfast to fill up on the free samples while one gets their ninja on.
There are many wonderful farmers markets all over the bay area and world. But I’m going to share a little bit about my favorite one. Each week at the Vallejo Farmers Market you will find a variety of bountiful, fresh and insanely affordable produce. The venders are full of personality as well. You are guaranteed to run into the following characters every Saturday:
- The Bolani guy who I adore, and who always fills me up with samples. However, his prices are almost comparable to taking out a mortgage. But show him small bills and he’ll work with you every time.
- The sweet Thai woman who is so amused by my eagerness to learn about her produce, she nearly charges me half price. She also won’t let me pay for habanero peppers.
- The generous egg man with a sense of humor: “$5 flat of eggs, I sell to you for $4.99!” (he’s just kidding). His eggs are rich and full of flavor.
- The awesome fruit stands that mark everything down at noon. I admit, I troll around with my last few dollars until the clock strikes 12 and I then “fill-er-up!” It’s how I keep my sweet biceps in shape.
- And my very favorite, the raw honey and salami man, who undoubtedly has the most delicious honey on earth. He also has the greatest heart-warming stories about his silky chicken AND he shared his salami sandwich with me today. By the way, that’s a photo of a silky chicken above in case you’re wondering. So cute it hurts.
Every Saturday I lug home two to three large bags full of the freshest and most delicious foods from the bay, for about $20-$30 tops. If I went to Whole Foods (or as my friend Rita Lux likes to call it, “Whole Paycheck”) and bought an identical selection, it’d run me about $85 – and that’s including the discount for bringing my own burlap sacks. Plus, I love the farmers market, as it gives me the opportunity to meet the great people who are feeding me – literally. And I mustn’t miss out on all those adorable silky chicken stories!
While shopping around today and feasting my eyes on all the beautiful produce, the cool bay mist continued to pour in, competing with the sun as noon approached. I was inspired to grab some sweet potatoes and garlic to make a nice warm soup later on. I also splurged on a tiny sweet potato pie from Michelle’s Golden Brown Breads in Modesto – just in case I couldn’t wait for the soup. That surprised me because “splurged” and “couldn’t wait” are rarely in my vocabulary of life. Perhaps this Dracula soundtrack was influencing more than my creative thirst for good music and a good time? The mist and eerie music combined was really starting to have an effect on me. I was feeling a bit sporadic and mysterious…and I kept looking over my shoulder a few times. Was Dracula at the farmers market as well, shopping for blood oranges in ninja-mode just like me? But wait, I thought blood oranges weren’t in season here until November. Spooky.
Suddenly I felt a breeze push up from behind me as I walked through the middle of the street. And then, a firm tap on my shoulder! I whirled around, holding onto my red hat to keep it from falling off. Dracula? Nope. It was a young woman, standing alone with her eyes wide and clear. Her second-ago fearless energy had quickly simmered down to somewhat of a hopeful confusion. “Rosemary?!” she said. “I’m sorry, I’m not. My name’s Ivy…” I smiled back. She stared boldly into my eyes as if I had said nothing to her. “Rosemary, I swear it’s you.” Her eyes shifted away from mine and she gazed off into a place somewhere between where she and I stood. After a moment’s pause, she gathered her thoughts. “I’m sorry. You look just like this girl Rosemary from high school. See…I was mean to her and I just wanted to tell her that I’m sorry.” My heart sank when hearing this, but something inside me kicked in and I immediately wanted to cheer up her up. “Well you can tell her you’re sorry vicariously through me!” I quickly said back. In the middle of my sentence, the young woman threw her arms open and embraced me, as if she already knew what I was going to say. She literally sank into my body like a long lost friend. The tiny drops of mist floating on the fibers of her jacket rubbed off onto my cheek, mimicking the feeling of having just cried. I actually did feel like crying. It was a warm hug and oddly familiar for her being someone I did not know at all. As she let me go, she stepped back and looked at me with the greatest sense of relief I’ve ever seen on a quiet face. “Thank you,” she said. I reached out and grabbed her hand, “You’re welcome.” We did not say goodbye and without another second passing, we exchanged smiles and walked away in opposite directions.
I came across some fuyu persimmons and gala apples just a few steps ahead and began sorting through them. The unique encounter with that young woman was circling in my mind and tugging at my heart like salt-water taffy on a pull. Who was she? What did she do to Rosemary and was I meant to be mistaken for her? Then it hit me. None of these details mattered because I had just given that young woman the chance to forgive herself. I did this unconsciously, as I was without any other intentions aside from cheering her up. Even without knowing anything about her, or Rosemary, or any details as to why she was seeking forgiveness, I was still able to offer her something to fill the emotional gap. It only took a small moment of my time to give a stranger something that could possibly last a lifetime.
Upon realizing this, I looked down at my hand and noticed I picked two of the tiniest persimmons out of the bunch. They were nowhere near each other in the pile, but they seemed to belong together. I don’t mean to get all mushy and spiritual, but sometimes things just feel right, like they belong. Ok I’m lying, I do mean to get all mushy and spiritual because those are some of my favorite parts about life! You know, when things feel so strong, it may often lead you to a much bigger feeling, perhaps even a decipherable one that brings great knowledge later on. As simple as these two tiny persimmons in my palm were, in that moment they became a huge inspiration: we may all grow alone as individuals, but we still grow together as people, where even the smallest gesture of kindness has a chance to leave an everlasting impression. This is not the first time I’ve had this feeling and when it comes around I know it’s rare and special. I didn’t get the chance to ever ask the young women what her name was, but that’s okay, as I still feel we were friends in that short minute of interaction. I have to say, this was by far the most inspiring trip to the farmers market yet.