Saturday, July 16, 2011

No Corn... Early 2011 Edition

The scene: Downtown Westminster Farmer’s Market
Time: May 14, 2011 approximately 10:20am

This year, we, that is the Downtown Westminster Farmer’s Market decided to open two weeks earlier than usual to have a plant sale. The date chosen was Saturday, May 14th. While plants were the majority of what was offered, some produce was available as well. Most of that produce was either asparagus, which is a very early crop, or crops grown under the cover of greenhouses, such as salad greens and spinach. Most gardeners who read this will realize that a harvest of any kind on May 14th is a miraculous thing.

So the day started, as usual, at 8am, that is, for the customers, and for the most part it went smoothly. The crowd was much sparser than the normal summer farmer’s market crowd, but that was to be expected, for most of the customers realized that the majority of what would be for sale that day would be plants. And I stress “MOST” customers.

Every year at the market, from my spot amidst the line of vendors, somewhere around the middle, I overhear a comment of dismay about there being no corn for sale. Inevitably, this comment is heard early on at the market… before corn is ripe in our growing region. You see, our market is “producer only”, which means that the vendors can only sell what they produce. Many other markets allow for vendors to “buy in” produce. Over to the right and down in Jessup, that is, if you are looking at a map of Maryland at the moment, there is a huge depot where bulk produce is sold. That produce comes from all over the country and the world. And it is CHEAP! Anyway, those markets that allow vendors to “buy in”, allow for bulk produce to be sold at their market without any type of declaration of where the produce originated. As a result, produce from China from one stand could be sold next to local Maryland produce at another.

(That last paragraph was getting long, so I thought I’d start another.) … The Downtown Westminster Farmer’s Market’s “producer only” approach means that the produce is grown at the farm from whom you purchase it at the market. Now this leads to the dismay over corn from some customers that stray through the market. I will get back to this point in a moment. As for now, it seems time to paint the rest of the picture for that early Saturday market.

Through the market strolled a couple, a young female pushing a baby carriage and a young man beside her. I have to pause here, because the following will surely sound biased, but I assure you, that after you have witnessed such events countless times over ten plus years, it is not a stereotype, it is blunt reality!

I will skip the description of the female and baby, other than to say she had blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. She is of no importance, because she did not make the statement that inspired this entry. The male... He… had short dark hair, was wearing a light blue muscle beater T-shirt, baggy jeans sans belt, which unfortunately revealed the fact that he had on boxer underwear, and tattoos that covered most of his revealed flesh up to his neck but stopping at his face. A rare human specimen indeed. Of course, I jest.

It was just after he walked past my booth that I heard the statement that inspired this entry. And oh so clearly it resonated through the somewhat quiet market…

“Doesn’t nobody have any corn?”

I wouldn’t say the inflection of his voice was that of dismay. It was more of disgust. And that statement almost always is released with disgust, so much as to say, “This place is a complete waste of time.” Or more accurately, something with a multitude of expletives.

Now to begin, I am by no means qualified to be an English teacher, but I certainly am aware of the quandary that arises when one takes the young man’s statement straightforwardly. “Doesn’t nobody…” Eesh! I will have to leave that for the experts to diagram.

Nonetheless, the point is… corn. It is mid-Maryland in mid-May. Corn (Zea mays) is a grain that is not frost tolerant and can mature to a fresh eating stage in 75 days, and is often not planted until the average last frost date for the region, which happens to be May 15. So, if corn was planted realistically in the region the day after that market, it would theoretically be ready for harvest around August 1. For sure, there are many ways to quicken that crop, such as starting in a greenhouse, etc., but that is not the point here. The point is that it was May 14 at our “producer only” market, and a young man was expecting for there to be corn for sale, AND, as a result of us vendors not having corn for sale, where it would really only be available from somewhere over a thousand miles away, we were viewed as a pathetic market.

It is always striking to us farmers, when we come to learn how ignorant many people are on the growing cycle of the produce we bring to market. Even after we encounter such situations year after year! Oh, how I long for the day when supermarkets did not exist, and even the most clueless citizen was aware that you can’t get corn on May 14th, AND THAT IS NOT THE FARMER’S FAULT!!!

Every year a group of us farmers discuss the approaches we can take to educate the public on when produce will be ready in our growing region. When someone complains that there is no corn in May, it very bluntly reveals how remote the chances are for us to truly educate that public. Some will get it, but alas, a slim minority at best.

But enough for this rant! The couple left the market dissatisfied. So what? There will be more comments of disgust about there being no corn for sale at the early markets, I am quite certain about that. But as for that young fellow, I have this to say in response to his unanswered query over a month ago, “Nobody does not have corn, and us market farmers do not have corn, either.”

No comments:

Post a Comment