I’ve never been on a farm and I don’t live near one, yet the ubiquitous lure of the farmers’ market brings me to our local milieu most Sundays. The freshness of the locally produced fruits, vegetables, flowers, honey (even beehives), breads, marinated olives, garlic, ravioli, varied nuts are all fair game; the local musician enthusiastically cranking out tunes and livening up the ambience.

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It was a glorious 70 degree day, last Sunday, and the refrigerator resembled Mother Hubbard’s bare cupboard, so we trekked out to the market toting our reusable cloth bags (like all good Indian Americans, who were green even before being green became fashionable). The scene was awash in bright sunshine.

The local guitarist was strumming musical numbers that we knew all the words to (read Beatles, ABBA, Eagles). The smell of fresh flora, and the delectable taste of fresh fruit set out for tasting by vendors combined to create a really heady feeling.

I felt transported to another time and place. The busy street junction’s usual hustle and bustle was replaced by people on foot, strolling along with babies and dogs in tow, pausing to examine the wares, testing them for ripeness, sniffing, scratching, staring intently and then haggling with the vendors for a more affordable price. These days the  haggling has all but disappeared, as the savvy farmers have realized that their wares, once considered a cheaper alternative, are now considered “super foods” and command a higher price, suitable to their “organic” status.

All in all, I was feeling good, socializing with known faces and sharing recipes with strangers while tasting an unknown variety of fruits and vegetables. I watched the world pass by in slow motion as the sights and sounds were filed away for later retrieval. These moments represented tranquility in my busy life, a few stolen moments of respite amidst the clamor of attention from all that touched me. What was most endearing was the ability to select the amount of food and have the farmer measure its weight … much like the old times, or, like when I lived in India.

The “bhaiya” or “dada” factor is somewhat restricted, but we are getting close to calling them “amigo” or “buddy” whenever appropriate, which makes the simple act of buying food somewhat more personal.

A few years ago, I recall stopping by a farmers’ market and catching a glimpse of fresh crabs as they were being unloaded.  Deciding to be adventurous, I had bought some. Back at home cookbooks had been rifled through, in our maiden attempt to cook this delicacy, and finally hubby dear had decided he was confident enough to try to recreate the black pepper crab we had so enjoyed in Singapore. I had been warned of the lingering smell from cooking crab at home, so, the stove on the outdoor barbecue grill was used and a big pot of water was soon bubbling with boiling water, into which the crabs were dropped.

This act should have evoked other thoughts, rather than the one of imminent food, however by this time in the afternoon, we were all too hungry to be sentimental about the last rites for the crab.

The dish was topped with black pepper liberally sprinkled on melted butter. Then began the crab fest … a sight to behold, and about an hour and four large mounds of shells later, we were satiated campers. I realized then that our family tended to bond over food.
More recently, it has been whole walnuts from the farmers’ market that have prompted similar moments. I miss my hinged doors to crack the walnut shell with, and contend with the nutcrackers. I also miss the kids cracking their own walnuts, instead of waiting for me to finish cracking theirs!

Fresh flowers are my husband’s indulgence. There is always a reason to buy flowers in my household (special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, makeup after fights), or for no reason. Honey is another interesting item to pick up at these local stalls, especially when you can see it being made as you watch the buzzing hive in action. What is missing is live cows, and then we’ll be all set with fresh milk!

Until then, we enjoy our Sunday mornings spent outdoors, buying food in a way that brings us closer to the source, and more importantly re-establishing the human connection.

Archana Asthana is a biologist by training, and  currently a high school science teacher in Fremont. An adventurer by avocation, she is always on the lookout for something interesting to read, talk, or write about.

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