Four years ago, Jake and I drove up to Brattleboro VT for a long weekend. We poked around Brattleboro's independent bookstores, drank lots of coffee and stumbled upon a farmers market.
The farmers market changed my life.
The market was just off the main road out of town, past strip malls and chain drug stores. The location was anything but charming. But once we pulled off the main drag into the market's gravel parking lot, everything was shady and green, tie-dyed and festive. Elderly musicians played fiddle and banjo; children filled buckets with sand in a sandbox; and everywhere, everywhere stood white EZ-up tents filled with flowers, raspberries, pottery, basil, maple syrup, bok choi, homemade soda, foccaccia...
And soap. The soapmaker was a dark-haired woman in her mid or late twenties who, like me, came from an art school background. She had fifteen, maybe eighteen varieties of soap, big slabs displayed in wooden crates, unwrapped, so you could see their colors. Handwritten signs said: Japanese Yuzu, Mocha Truffle, Lemon Poppy.
The soaps were the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I'm talking heart-stopping, stomach- crashing-through-floorboards beauty. I'd leave the soap booth for a few minutes to buy ginger beer or watch the musicians, but I kept coming back. And I knew, by the end of the day, that I would be a soapmaker, too, and that I would sell my soaps at farmers markets like this one.
I began making soap that next winter,and I've never looked back. But sometimes I wonder if it was the soap I fell in love with--or the soap display in the context of a great market. Maybe the same soaps would have left me cold if I'd seen them on a supermarket shelf.
This year I'm vending at three different farmers markets: Lyme Market at Ashlawn Farm, the Chester Sunday Market, and the New London Farmers Market in the parking lot of Fiddleheads Natural Foods Co-op.
I'm crazy about all of them--I'm crazy about farmers markets in general, the way I'm crazy about small town parades, giant puppets and the Blue Collar Happy Hour at the Bank Street Cafe. But lately I've been thinking about how different these markets are from each other, and how different they all are from the market in Brattleboro.
So in my coming posts over the next few weeks I'll be writing about my markets--what are the ingredients for a great market, and how do you achieve it in a rural, village or urban setting? And what's so special about farmers markets anyway?
And finally, no gratuitous bunny photos this post. How about a gratuitous music video instead?