This is a F-ing Farmers Market

Mr. WholeHog and I often happily reflect on a screaming fight we witnessed years ago at the farmers market. We were in the back of the Ferry Building, eating our usual Primavera breakfast and listening to the usual market busker play guitar and sing Neil Young covers, when an argument broke out between the musician and a local writer who is a regular market shopper. The writer was there that day with his two children. Mr. WholeHog and I never learned exactly what sparked the disagreement between the two men, but the highlight for us — and the moment we remember so fondly — was when the writer screamed at the musician, “This is a fucking farmers market!

Mr. WholeHog and I repeat this quote to each other all the time, and I often think about it when I’m working at the farmers market. Although I’ve mostly sold apples and flowers, I’ve worked at three different stands at the Ferry Building farmers market, and whether I’m selling dahlias or Gravensteins or baguettes, I’ve had moments where I, too, wanted to scream, “This is a fucking farmers market!

These moments come when customers ask me to wash their apples or arrange their flowers in a vase. The day I helped sell bread and pastries, it happened when a woman asked me if I could heat up the croissants she was buying. It comes up when people hand over their garbage — a half-finished cup of coffee, the rind of an orange, a green plastic bin that once held strawberries — or when they ask for things, like office supplies, that we don’t have readily available outside under our farmers market tent.

I know customers don’t mean to be daft, but it’s strange to be asked for an oven, a sink, or even a stapler when I’m standing in front of a folding table on the sidewalk. Whether I’m selling loaves of bread, bags of apples or bunches of flowers, I’m not at a bakery or a grocery store or a florist — all of which probably have electricity, running water and supply closets; I’m outside, under a tent that was set very early in the morning, often in the dark and sometimes in the rain or in strong winds.

When these moments inevitably come up, I refrain from acting like the local writer and screaming “This is a fucking farmers market! Instead, I just politely say no: No, we don’t have an oven to heat up your pastries. No, we don’t have a sink or running water to wash your apples. Sometimes I even gesture helplessly behind me, as if to say, “Take a look for yourself.” I try to be helpful by pointing to the garbage cans or suggesting a nearby shop where they might find a vase for their flowers.

Sometimes, it feels like those of us who work at the market are saying “no” all day long. No, we don’t have a large handled bag  that will fit everything you bought today at the market. No, we don’t have a box so that you can ship this item to your friend in Virginia. No, we don’t have a place for you to wash your hands. No, we don’t validate parking. No, we don’t have a place for your stroller or your dog. But what we’re thinking is probably some version of what the writer screamed at the musician.

There are times when a customer doesn’t want to take no for an answer. One Saturday, I gave my standard market “no” to a customer who asked me to staple together the paper I’d wrapped around her flowers: “No, we don’t have a stapler,” I said. “Sorry”, I added, as if staplers were standard farmers market equipment. “Yes, you do. It’s right there!” she said, pointing to the table behind me. I turned around and picked up the item that I thought looked most like a stapler: an orange-handled metal clamp that we use to attach signs to the tent. “This?” I asked. “This is a clamp.” “Oh,” she said, “Well, do you have Scotch tape?”

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