All this talk about Sukkot, which is happening right now at the height of the autumn harvest season, has gotten me thinking about one of my favorite harvest traditions—the farmer’s market. It’s always felt like a very Jewish place to me since our connection to the earth and agriculture is core to Judaism.
As Sukkot nears its end, my weekly visits to the local farmer’s market in downtown Chicago are winding down for the year as well. Every May through October, farmers sell their organic, locally-grown food straight to us consumers. Some of the items on my grocery list include peaches, cheeses, asparagus, a zillion kinds of tomatoes, honey, basil, and cilantro, and—now that it’s fall—pumpkins, apples, and fresh cider too.
I love wandering by each vendor, bumping into other shoppers, with their babies and dogs in tow. People live in the moment at the market. Farmers and shoppers talk to one another, consumers pay with cash not credit cards, and, at least for a fleeting moment, we’re focused on edible blackberries and Gala and Honeycrsip apples—not those other kinds of fancier Blackberries and Apples. For most of us, who eat so much processed food, with little sense of the process it takes to get our food from the earth to our tables, the farmer’s market serves up a chance to connect with what we’re putting on our plates.
One of the reasons I love the market is it reminds me of bonding with my father during my childhood. When I was growing up in Minneapolis, he and I would wake up early in the morning and visit the farmer’s market together all summer long. We’d pick out produce for my mom to cook with, and I’d help my dad buy flowers to plant in our garden.
The market was also one of my first experiences encountering other ethnicities and immigrants because Hmong people—a huge immigrant population in the Twin Cities—worked at the farmer’s market we frequented. Even now, in Chicago, I interact with farmers, people I wouldn’t otherwise meet on a daily basis living in the city.
Back home in Minneapolis, my dad and I would sometimes take photographs at the market, the produce a painter’s palette of color. I once shot a photo of green peppers that I later submitted to a photography contest at the Minnesota State Fair. Guess what? The photograph won first place. Wow, it doesn’t get more Minnesotan than winning a blue ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair. Next, I’ll tell you how I molded a sculpture of famed Minnesota lumberjack Paul Bunyan out of butter…Maybe next year.
My fieldtrips to the farmer’s market came full circle when I recently escorted my three-year-old nephew on his inaugural trip to the market, just about the same age as I was on my first visit. He enjoyed himself, but when I asked him what he wanted to buy, he selected the most unnatural, inorganic item possible—a fluorescent yellow smiley face sugar cookie with colored sprinkles for where a tuft of hair would be, something I’m fairly sure didn’t come straight from the “smiley face” tree. But it didn’t matter. We were soaking up the flavor of the market and that’s what counts. And like my visits to the market as a kid with my dad, I know he, too, will always remember his time bonding with his aunt there.
As this Jewish holiday season draws to an end later this week, the farmer’s market, too, closes up shop for another season through the long, cold winter. But don’t doubt, I will be the first one back to the market in the spring when the weather warms back up. Until then.