Farm To Farm
by Spec MacQuayde, November 18, 2009
People keep asking if I'm planning to bring carrots and lettuce, what have you, down to the Farmers Market (They call it the “food mart”) on Sundays at the Anderson Valley Grange. The short answer is no, for now. No truck, no license — although a friend dropped his driver's license inadvertently on the gravel outside our produce shed last Saturday morning. So I have a license in that sense but it's not mine. I'm too old to go cruising around with a fake ID.
The longer reason I'm not dying to lug vegetables to the Grange on Sundays is that I don't feel like selling 20 pounds of carrots or beets, competing with some other local grower for the marginally lucrative salad mix market. People can find all my stuff at the Boont Berry Farm — either the store or the farm itself. Quite a few folks carry buckets out to the carrot field and I can actually sit in the barn, drink beer and watch them working the potato fork. U-Dig carrots. U-Pick lettuce. You pick. I drink beer. I take the money, what have you. Several people from various wineries trade wine for lettuce, beets, what have you. Whatever carrots I don't sell can go to the food bank or the cows. “If you grow it, they will come,” a voice whispered to me in a dream or something. Some people bring home grown bud to trade for vegetables and they make me grateful I didn't plant a medical crop.
There are other reasons I don't attend the farmers markets on Sundays. They are sort of like the reasons some of my neighbors growing up didn't attend church except on Easter or Christmas. Uncle Huck, as we called him, was one neighbor who didn't show up often for church.
Uncle Huck wasn't my uncle literally. He was 72 years old when I was 15 or so and he had half a dozen siblings so he had scores of nephews and nieces, grand nephews and grand nieces, what have you. He never married. We all called him “Uncle.” He smoked cigarettes and at 72 had a rasping voice that seemed to rise out of the swamps in the river bottoms like a frog with farmer's lung. He had a different name for every tractor, cow and tool down to the hoes, shovels, and pitchforks. There were two hoes, Bonnie and Clyde. They were almost a hundred years old — one had been his grandfather's, the other his grandmother's. Their blades were scoured shiny by the sandy soil.
At five in the morning starting in July I would hear the rumble of Uncle Huck's white Case tractor pulling a four-wheeled wagon loaded with the derelicts of our community — the ones who would be at home working as carnies except they didn't want to leave home. One guy had to spit constantly because his salivary glands were messed up from too many years with whiskey in his bloodstream. The women were cross and already considered whores by our uptight German community. They wore spandex biking shorts. These were the people who I wanted to work with for four bucks an hour, and as soon as I heard the rumble of the diesel I would leap out of bed, dress like a fireman, and sprint out to the field to help harvest cantaloupe, watermelons, tomatoes, what have you.
The neighbor kid, Tony Lieberman, would show up as well. We both came from homes where we had family devotions and Bible readings at night, prayers and all that, and we absorbed the uncouth banter of the castaways like puppies sucking the tits of a bitch.
Some mornings we got up before five to ride with Uncle Huck and the spitting alcoholic in a tandem grain truck with a load of watermelons, cantaloupe, tomatoes, what have you, to the old Farmer's markets in Indianapolis or Cincinnati.
The old farmers markets had very few rules. Yuppies didn't shop there for heirloom tomatoes. They didn't have bands of trust funders playing Celtic music.
These markets were more wholesale than retail. They were farmers' markets, not gardener's markets. You could bring 2000 pounds of carrots and sell them by the end of the day. You could sell anything there. This was the inner city. Women walked around in high heels and black lace. There were probably male prostitutes too, but when I was 15 I didn't really know about that stuff so I didn't notice. You could get crack, smack, tomatoes, strawberries, broom corn… They hadn't started with the neo-farmers markets in those parts yet. So these were the big melting pots. The progressive, organic, visionary disciples of Rodale and Wendell Berry had to hawk their goods out there with the hookers, pushers, and old-school produce growers, the mafia warehouse produce buyers.
I saw Uncle Huck pull a revolver on a buyer who tried to blast enough profanity at us to convey the message that he wanted a better deal on the cantaloupe because he'd lost some the week before. I had never heard so many cuss words strung together. This guy tried to communicate by conjunctions of obscenities that might have stumped a trained military code breaker. “Motherfucking shit, fucking fucked up. Fuck that shit,” he said, brandishing a switchblade. Apparently he had purchased 100 cantaloupes the week before and sat on them too long.
“Cantaloupes only last three or four days,” said Uncle Huck, calmly, not being very discreet with his piece.