News from the Farm | August 7, 2023

In honor of National Farmer’s Market Week, I would like to thank all of you who attend farmer’s markets regularly; you are directly supporting small (and often, family) farms like ours and also nourishing yourself with the best food on Earth! I also want to encourage those of you who’ve maybe never been to one to give it a try. Farmer’s markets are a great opportunity to meet the people who grow your food and to develop a real and lasting understanding of what you choose to put into your body and why. My personal market-going has gone through several iterations over the years, from toddling around the market stand, to being a marketeer, to managing our Tuesday market in Berkeley for six years. These days, I help my parents manage our Saturday market in Palo Alto. The following is an account of one such Saturday last month that I think I’ll never forget…

Middle of the night, my eyes open wide. I turn over and check the clock. 3:09 in the morning. By this time, my brain is pretty good at waking itself up a minute before the alarm sounds and I’m able to turn it off so as not to wake my wife beside me. I tiptoe out to the kitchen where I’ve laid my clothes out and ground the coffee beans the night before. I want to be as silent as possible for everyone still asleep and dreaming. I get dressed and as I’m pouring my coffee, I hear footsteps approaching. My youngest son looks at me with heavy eyes and yawns, “Don’t forget Waylon, Papa.” He has taken the liberty of waking Waylon up so he won’t miss his special solo adventure at the market. I whisk my little one back to bed, get Waylon in the car with his pillow, and we head over to the farm.

There, I meet two interns, my market helpers for the day, Mai and Isshin. Before leaving, we have to load two delivery trucks full of CSA boxes that will find their way to families throughout the Bay Area early in the morning. Once we’re all loaded, we begin our adventure down to market. Waylon’s filled with anticipation and can’t fall back asleep even in these wee hours, so we chat and place bets on how many cars we’ll see along the way through our sleepy valley. Once we reach the interstate, Waylon does manage to find the back of his eyelids. With the full moon setting to the west, our market truck floats peacefully down the road, laden with the fruits of our labor. The drive to market affords a tired farmer many hours to contemplate his existence, brainstorm new ideas for the farm’s future, consider the weeks behind and make predictions about the weeks that lie ahead. 

Memories of my childhood are often sprinkled into these thoughts. My three siblings and I crammed into the front of the market truck. My parents, both exhausted from another week of toil, would load the four of us in the truck with our blankets to make the 2.5 hour drive to Palo Alto every single Saturday. For those of you who don’t know, the front of a market truck happens to be one of the least comfortable places to spend 2.5 hours and the bumps along Highway 80 feel like volcanic eruptions when you’re hauling 10,000 pounds of produce behind you. Still, no matter how many times we went, going to market always garnered a special sense of importance and excitement. For us kids, it was a time to get off the farm, escape the heat, see my grandma Lois. Later, the fun of interacting with fellow farmers and all of our loyal customers intertwined itself into the anticipation, and still remains to this day for me.

After we finally near our destination, Waylon and I exit the freeway to deliver CSA boxes one stop before we arrive at the market. We sneak quietly in and out of a peaceful San Carlos neighborhood. Sometimes I can’t help but feel like Old Saint Nick, delivering gifts to the good little children of the city during the night. 

At 6:30 am, we pull into the market parking lot and “begin” our day. Tents go up, tables are quickly assembled, and tablecloths and baskets spread atop them. We hastily dance about with intention, artfully arranging the bounty of produce that so many hands helped to bring to this table. We stand by the motto, “pile it high and watch it fly!,” which dictates the look of our colorful, abundant display. Mai and Isshin arrive from their CSA deliveries, more helpers from the local area arrive, and within an hour, we have transformed a barren blacktop into, dare I say, an agricultural masterpiece. Only when all the beautiful produce is placed just right, when all of the season’s hard work comes to fruition through this triumphant vision, do I take the biggest sigh of my week. A sense of pride and eagerness to share fills my heart. Nowhere else can a shopper find such fresh, real food as here, at a California farmer’s market.

With a half hour to spare before the opening bell rings, Waylon and I take the small delivery truck for two more deliveries, and a quick stop for coffee and bagels for the crew. We’re back by 7:50 to find customers already forming the line to enter the market. At 8 sharp, they start pouring in and Waylon gets right to work. He starts by helping me add up purchase totals for customers – today’s math lesson for our farmschooled boy. But then, he does something remarkable. We seem to be busier this week than I can ever remember, and I ask Waylon to help a customer gather her produce. To my delight, he transforms into one of the best sales people on the crew as he helps more and more folks in line. He rattles off the names and varieties of different fruits and vegetables, urging everyone to try things that he swears have the best flavor. Customers are taken aback that a six-year-old is recommending that they buy okra this week, or explaining why the plums are so good this year. 

When he tires of all the vegetables, he steals away to the neighboring stand to help Pietro the fisherman sling his seafood. I can’t recall when I was his age if I had the same fearless attitude at the market, engaging with all these strangers. I don’t know where Waylon inherited his ability to do so, but I think it may have come from my grandma Lois. His quick mental math and sweet salesmanship are akin to those of Lois, who helped my parents at this very market stand in Palo Alto for more than 25 years. 

Over the next five hours, we proceed to sell nearly every single box of produce. It’s exhausting, with not a moment to sit down or even have a drink of water. When we hear the 12 o’clock end of market bell ring, we take a look around at the carnage, hoping that a fairy godmother will show up and magically clean it all up. When we realize she’s not coming, we give it one last push to get all the gear and any leftovers back onto the truck. Once the last stack of empty boxes is slid into place, we shut the back, say our thanks and goodbyes, and Waylon and I hop into the cab and hit the road north to beat traffic on the Bay Area freeways. After inhaling a sandwich, we turn on some NPR podcasts to keep us company on the long drive. With all his anticipation fulfilled, Waylon finds it easy to sleep the whole way home.

At 4 pm, we return to the Capay Valley in the heat of the summer sun. We unload the little amount of unsold produce that’s come back with us into the cooler, transfer our market treats and trades into our car, and head home to finally end the parade. Without a doubt, this one will go down in the books as my favorite market to date, for it was the first time I got to truly work side-by-side with my son, the two of us sharing in the pure pleasure of sharing.

Rye Muller