I don’t consider myself much of a keep-on-the-sunny-side-of-life person, but lately I have noticed an emerging trend that has me feeling more in touch with my inner Pollyanna. Living amongst the cornfields of Indiana, one encounters the local farmer’s market and occasional roadside stand. I have passed the same “Fresh Strawberries—two miles” sign for the past three years and still manage to buy the moldy ones from the grocery store. This summer, however, I am feeling a new sense of obligation and solidarity with the proprietors of the numerous stands that have cropped up seemingly on every street corner and highway intersection.
Though I am no economist, I assume that these folks are trying to supplement their incomes, and selling veggies by the roadside is a good way to do this. (For Jim and me, it is selling books on Amazon. Anyone interested in a gently used copy of Dave Barry Talks Back?)
Certainly I don’t wish economic ill-will on anyone but I have to say that I have immensely enjoyed this new phenomenon. In the past, I have had conflicting feelings with regard to Mom and Pop establishments. While I enjoy their quaint atmosphere and their aesthetic sensibility, the price tag for quaint and aesthetically pleasing has felt a bit steep. Being a tried and true capitalist at heart (at least on this side of the pearly gates), I have often let my wallet rather than my heart lead me directly to the chain grocery store that shall not be named but that starts with a “W” and ends in “Mart.” I have tried to soothe my conscience by taking the children on field trips to this amazing independently owned and operated toy store and Target though I am not sure how much they appreciate being brought to stores full of toys and other such goodies only to be told “Put that down! Don’t touch anything. No, you can’t have that. It’s too expensive!”
No such conflict exists, however, for the new improvised businesses. First of all, there isn’t as much overhead, so prices are increasingly more reasonable. Though I love a bargain, I find the human element is almost equally compelling. There is something very humanizing about buying your produce from the person who actually planted, grew and harvested it. I could swear the food tastes better because I have shaken the hand of the person who put it in the earth. It is so difficult to see the source of things in this country. Made in one place (more than likely not the United States), distributed in another, sold somewhere else. Buying something out of your neighbor’s trunk or stopping to buy food in the actual location in which it was grown gives one a sense of community that is priceless.
The best part is that it is completely organic (no pun intended). No government organization is spearheading the movement. No bureaucrat is overseeing its progress. It’s just Louise selling blueberries to Marge who has been selling her Mary Kay for years. The selection might not be as broad, but you gain something that isn’t for sale, a sense of community. Not the manufactured sense of community you can buy into when you move into some trendy suburb but community that bears a great resemblance to the produce for sale at “Gary’s Vegetable Stand.” It is by no means perfect but has a flavor of its own. There are a few bad apples in the bunch but the overall experience is worth the risk. I like my vegetables like I like my people—with a few imperfections showing so you know they are for real. Too often we buy some glossy imitation of a fruit (not to mention friend) only to discover it (or he or she) is rotten on the inside.
One of my favorite romantic comedies is French Kiss, starring an adorable pre-plastic surgery Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline. In one scene, Kline, whose family owns a vineyard in France (as all good romantic leads do), explains to Ryan how wine is affected by the flavors in the soil. You can literally taste the earth in the final product. I suppose that is true of our local produce as well as ourselves, unless you live like a potted plant. So this week, go out to “Gary’s Veggie Stand” and take a bite out of life. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.