by Libby Collier
Miniature spoons and stained fingertips are my most vivid memories from my first farmer’s market experience, following my mother’s khaki-colored shorts through a farmer’s market in Lakewood, Washington. My siblings and I scanned every surface for free samples, and found plenty.
The market became part of our weekend routine. Sunny days meant the market tables would be partitioned by the aromas of tomatoes, caramels, and herbs. Other days featured the famous Pacific Northwest rain, marinating the market in a fresh green scent. Even now, the smell of warm peaches and rain-rinsed flowers still drift to the surface of my memory.
Throughout my life and the different places I’ve lived and traveled, I’ve found myself perusing avenues created by tents and tables, colored with crates of locally grown fruit and vegetables. While studying in New Zealand, though everything else was foreign to me, I was comforted by the familiarity of the weekly market and its ability to make me feel connected to my home in the US. Conversations overflowed each table, running into the next tent as I walked along rows of vendors selling handmade jams and jars of honey. Occasionally, I would stop noticing the Kiwi accent, and I would travel over 9,000 miles in an instant. The sounds and smells of the Wellington farmer’s market could transport me to the other side of the world: I was back in my college town market in Vermont, watching a group of bees hover over a maple cookie. I was navigating the Lakewood market with my family and friends back home.
But even as I spoke with farmers and vendors in New Zealand, the distance between my life there and my life in the US continued to shrink. I met neighbors that lived on my street and students who had already become friends with my American peers. In turn, my American friends in New Zealand had connections to relatives or classmates of mine from back home. I was able to effortlessly cultivate a network between international populations. The farmer’s market was a touchpoint that linked social constellations across the world.
As a recent college graduate, I’m becoming accustomed to my environment constantly changing. In May, I packed four years of college into a few dilapidated boxes and cumbersome three-dollar Tupperware containers. My empty room felt eerie, and the process of packing seemed like a metaphor for post-graduate life: disheveled and unstable. I left the comforts of Vermont and the reassuring faces of my friends and professors for New York City. I quickly felt the absence of a social network. Beyond the academics, schools provide a rich curriculum of relationships that’s lost when you leave.
After days of fleeting interactions in New York with individuals in my apartment building and coffee shops, I felt consoled by the sight of the Union Square Market. Four times a week, vendors from the city, as well as farmers from New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and other neighboring states, meet in this park in Manhattan.
Wandering the stands, I sampled Andrew’s Honey, made from the “rooftops, balconies, and community gardens of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.” Silver tops of glass jars reflected orange and red next to bunches of radiant tomatoes. The concrete hexagons of Union Square worked as a blank canvas, deepening the hues of purple kohlrabi, making radishes an alizarin crimson. Kids gathered under the Union Square Greenmarket tent, passing various root vegetables, listening to each of their distinctions. A wooden sign displaying “watercress, lettuce, potatoes, ramps” in bright yellows, greens, and blues mirrored the jovial welcome of the vendor.
I left the Union Square market feeling connected to a community, full of refreshing conversation and samples of coffee cake alike. For the first time since I’d moved, I felt reassured that between the tall, daunting buildings of New York City, there were networks and neighbors to be found at the market.