For nearly 35 years, the family table has had a reason to rejoice in Bloomington, Indiana. In 1975, when a group proposed to the city council a plan to organize a market to “connect backyard gardeners and small farmers with consumers” (Robinson, Hartenfeld), seeds were planted in the heart of the community that would allow for a weekly celebration of the famers’ sweat and labor, the precious nourishment from mother earth, as well as the joining of the pastoral and the ever growing college town. Experiencing the farmers’ market on a Saturday morning, one will find a world that extends Bloomington’s thriving gardening scene to local inhabitants and college students alike, creating a sense of community where trust is the foundation between the grower and consumer.
On Saturday, September 19, I became a first time visitor of the weekly community affair:
“Where is the ATM?”I keep asking, but no one seems to know the answer. Why should they know? The farmers have come in full force this sunny Saturday morning – pick-ups loaded down with piles of rough skinned potatoes, cartons of freckled apples, and bundles of bursting yellow sunflowers. It’s 10 o’clock and I already feel like I’ve missed the opening scene of Thorton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’ as I stroll into the middle of the marketplace, watching customers greet their neighbors, taking the time to stop and say their hellos before quickly darting off to snag the glossy, purple eggplants that have caught their attention. These people, I think, have found their place … rather, they have transcended the boundaries of time - the 21st century, materialistic lifestyle, and have been able to sink their teeth into the bucolic landscape that was once the epitome of a wholesome family lifestyle. Their concerns do not revolve around money, and surely not plastic credit cards. Their greatest anxiety is not my lack of an ATM, but of the tender give of a peach upon first touch, the vibrant shine of the heirloom tomatoes, or the sweet scent of an apple as it is held directly under their nose, trying to draw out the image of the countryside from which they were plucked. This, I realize, is the Midwest.
Eyeing a sign over a table crowded with red pails filled with green and cream colored winter squash, I read the words – “Heartland Family Farms”, the small inscription underneath, “no chemicals”. These last two words serve as a symbol of trust between the farmer and the customer. In a world that obsesses over disease, pesticides, and genetically modified crops, this sign, this note, this pail of squash, is a reassurance that here, the sun, rain, soil – the sweat, labor and gentle touch of the farmer’s hand, are the only things that envelop the produce filled tables. From the seed, to the ground, to the market, to your mouth, the last taste that lingers on your lips are traces of the Bloomington community – not the far off lands of Ecuador or Peru, not the underside of a price tag peeled off after a purchase at Kroger.
Pausing in front of a stand for Capriole, Inc., I become saturated in the flavors of the heartland, the essence of Bloomington. A generous sample of white, fluffy goat cheese embracing a wooden spoon slides into my mouth, causing me to stop all the thoughts that are running through my head. A taste so simple and savory, I quickly discover, cannot be found in an airtight plastic container. Who ever thought the love and care of a farmer could become a noticeable difference in the quality of fresh produce? Karen, the women dishing out samples of the delectable cheeses, touches my arm as I begin to leave, chiding me, “Sweetheart, you’re not done yet.” A smile crosses my face as she slips two more spoonfuls of cheese into my hand. Meanwhile, the man next to me experiences the same magnanimous gesture. Instantly, he buys the first two cheeses that he samples; yet Karen makes sure no hasty decision be made as she describes in detail the specific traits of each cheese – which one is best when served with braised beef, a slice of toasted French baguette, or a glass of chilled sauvignon blanc. Together, they are collaborators in some elaborate scheme as they envision the presentation of his findings at the family table that evening – a table that will soon be surrounded with the shrill sounds of a child’s laughter, the warm whisper of a mother’s loving advice, and the beaming smile of this proud father who has placed before his kin a piece of the community, a trusting relationship harvested within the Saturday morning farmers’ market at the Capriole, Inc. cheese stand. Karen sees no division between her customers and her family – she enriches the community as she places each sample of cheese into the hands of her neighbors, sharing with them the distinct pleasure and magic that a family run farm can create within the fruits of their labor. Karen, I learned, is not even one of the owners of the farm; she told me she simply desires to help her friends “feed the community,” a gesture that most certainly shows her joy of sharing this union with her community in her quest to have no one go on with their Saturday without the touch of such creamy goodness escaping their lips.
Today, I too have experienced the luscious treasures of the Saturday market; my unexpected desires have been fulfilled. My hands have now felt the tenderness of fall’s plump, ripe tomatoes, gripped the untamed green stalks of a boisterous bunch of carrots, and coddled the sweet, airy morsels from a bag of fresh kettle corn. But more so, my hands have felt the work of a proud, trusting community. Not only do locals pile their baskets with the region’s freshest and finest, they fill their minds and bodies with the richness and resources from their own community. When walking through the market entrance, worries are left outside next to the MARSH shopping carts and Kroger 10-for-10 specials. Once inside, swept into the pastoral, your cravings for quality are quickly nourished through the relationship of trust within the Bloomington community farmers’ market.
“The ATM,” I suddenly remembered, transported back into the world of credit cards and ominous grocery lines; yet come next Saturday, the importance of an ATM will fall behind me, for I will find myself on the other side of the equation, enjoying the produce of my neighbors and tasting the trust of my community.