The alarm goes off at 2am; four hours of sleep. Is it a short night or just a good nap? I generally need seven hours to function well. Like so many others, what I think I need and what I get are different things. I finish waking up as I get ready for the day. I’m not an up and out the door person, never have been; but these days it’s taking longer. I like to ease into the day, as it were. Coffee is an essential vitamin, especially on these mornings.
It’s Saturday, and I’ve been doing this for nearly 20 years. My daughter, Hannah, meets me at 3:15am and we begin the packing process. Fortunately, my market is only 32 miles away and when I get on the highway at 4:30am, traffic is seldom a problem. I usually pull into Old Town Alexandria (VA) by 5:15am. Parking is the reason I get there so early; everything I have in my twelve-foot enclosed trailer has to be carted onto the plaza, which includes pushing the load up a ramp at the stairs. This is where I get my weekly exercise.
Many of the vendors are already there, setting up. Joe and his crew travel from West Virginia and leave around 1am to get here. Kinley is coming from central PA, nearly 3 1/2hrs away. Others come out of the Northern Neck of VA; Calvin from WV as well. I’m blessed to be the closest farm to the market.
I began selling eggs at the market around 2001 or so. At that time, the configuration of vendors looked more like a flea market than a farmers market. Though there was a “7yr wait list” for new vendors, anyone selling farm produce was automatically accepted. And so the powers that be debated whether eggs were a farm product. Yes, it was just that bad.
I grew my business from there, arriving at a unique time in the history of this particular farmers market where I was not required to have a fully formed concept of what my business was, but could grow it as opportunity and experience allowed. From the beginning I learned to just be friendly. Say “Good Morning,” engage people in conversation, and have the opportunity to talk about my farm.
Along the way, I’ve had the opportunity to be helped by some really great people. It was Dave and Anne who introduced me to the market and helped get me in. Tony and Laurie took me under their wing, gave me guidance about marketing and helped when I started raising vegetables.
Within a few years, the basic outline of what I’ve come to be took shape, and in the process, both the farm and the farmer have been transformed. I do my best to remember names; I’ve seen customers marry, have children, move, move back, etc. I enjoy doing life with my customers. “Weep with those who weep; rejoice with those who rejoice.” I’m not only selling the best meats and eggs in town, I’m offering the opportunity for someone to get to know a farmer, and now, the farmer’s daughter who’s the new farmer.
Along the way, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some incredible people. Orla and Mette from Denmark. They’ve moved back now, but still take the time to drop by the market and visit when business brings them to town. Retired senators, university provosts, military officers, teachers, homeless people. Everyone is important because everyone is special.
By 7am, the first of my customers begin to arrive. Bill, Craig, Chris. By the time Hannah arrives around 8am (she stays back to do the morning farm chores), we’re seeing a nice flow of customers at the market. By 9am, it’s hard to move thru the market. We try to serve our customers as quickly as possible. Colby has been with us for a couple of months now. At 14, he already comes “pre-trained” by great parents. Colby’s been working during the summer ever since he could, and now he’s working with us. If you’ve met him, you know – he’s a great kid.
I have a number of customers who really want “farmer time.” I like to talk to people, and I’m happy to get to know folk. It can be a delicate balance when there are people waiting in line and I’m engaged with someone. It’s falls into the category of a “high-class problem.” I take the time I have with my customers seriously, not just from a business standpoint, but personal as well. One of these customers who liked that “farmer time” was just diagnosed with what amounts to a terminal condition. I’ll not see him at the market again. Over the years, I’ve consoled those who’ve lost loved ones and been consoled when my father passed and life took unexpected turns. A village is better than an outpost.
By noon, it’s time to break down. There are always a few late comers, which is fine. I’m here to serve people. By 1pm, everything is in the trailer, and I’m heading home. Regardless of the particular financials of the day, every Saturday is a good Saturday at the market. We’ll get home, unload and take a nap. There’s still the evening feeding to do, but there’s also a ball game on the tv at the local bar to look forward to. And the week ahead.