My parents drove up from LA a few weeks ago, and the first thing my mom said when she got here was “I want to go to the Alemany Farmers’ Market tomorrow.” I’d taken my mom once before, but she has a notoriously bad memory for names so I was shocked that she’d made such a direct and succinct request.
When we got there, my mom turned into another person. She’s usually a slow walker (thanks to years of arthritis) and somewhat reserved, but at the market, she became her younger self. She was the girl who walked around her neighborhood open-air market in Iloilo. She haggled with farmers, asked other patrons at which stall they’d bought their produce, and sampled pretty much everything. I joked that the farmers’ market is Disneyland for Asian ladies – it has produce and haggling and free samples. If you go often enough, you start chatting with the other regulars.
I think that what draws so many of us to these markets is also a sense of community. I volunteer at my neighborhood farmers’ market. It may be more upscale than the Alemany market, but it, too, offers people a chance to come together. In the same way that my mom went to her neighborhood market as a young woman to meet friends, catch up on gossip and see and be seen, my neighborhood market has quickly become the Sunday meeting place. It’s what the mall was to me when I was a teenager, but one in which expensive tomatoes and hummus are the only real temptations.
Most cultures still have their version of the outdoor market – towns in much of southern Europe, Latin America and Asia have regular markets. Yes, they have supermarkets as well, but nobody really wants to dawdle in a supermarket. But a farmers’ market? Well, I could spend a few hours there and not get bored. And, if you’re my mom, you’d probably think it’s even better than going to Disneyland.