With $25 in Greenbelt Market Bucks each, two savvy shoppers set out to show how you can make a buck stretch at The Stop’s Farmers’ Market. T is a 50 year old vegan who describes herself as not a regular market shopper, and someone who must spend the majority of her money on meds for a back condition. "You would be shocked to learn how little I spend on food each month.".
Earth and City was our first stop. Run by a pair of ambitious young women, this booth offers prepared foods that are simultaneously vegan, raw and ethical. Further, all the brightly coloured offerings are made from ingredients purchased directly from farmers at this market. T was bowled over by the multitude of brilliantly coloured treats available. She loved the "innovative, forward thinking" ethic of the vendors and wanted to donate her $25 right then and there to this booth. We agreed to at least check out the rest of the market first.
As T shopped, I tried to hang back out of sight to see if she would get any deals. At our first farm stand stop, she held back from the scrum of customers trying to get attention and didn't speak to the vendors at all. She did emerge victorious after a few minutes with an $8 purchase of beets and carrots from Highmark Farm, which she said would be great for juicing. I suggested she could use the beet tops for a fry up.
We stopped at Ted Thorpe's booth next, after chatting about how willing vendors might be to splitting up bunches of produce. T wanted to buy only one or two beets, one or two carrots, but was hesitant to ask. T wanted to bypass Ted's booth, but I made her try a bit of the Striped German tomato on offer, and she promptly spent $2 buying one. They're huge and misshapen, but incredibly delicious, and can weigh 3 lbs each.
Our next stop was at Forbes Wild Foods. I explained to T, who was so interested in the ethics of Earth and City, that Forbes brings to market crops which farmers might not even have known were on their farms. Wild mushrooms, leeks, berries and nuts for example. The wildcrafters of Forbes map out the farm with the farmers, negotiate which crops they will take to market and equitably share the profits. T bounced over immediately and returned with a tiny bottle of wild mustard to spread on toast, $5.
At Christine Klucha's farm stand T got into the spirit a little by asking if Chris would split up a basket of pears for her. Chris said "Absolutely!" and T got 3 large pears for $2 to add to her juice.
Next stop was Round Plains Plantation. Bob Proracki was a 3rd generation tobacco farmer, but he picked up a subsidy on offer from "the gov't" and converted his farm into sweet potatoes a decade ago. T. bought an organic sweet potato and some vegan sweet potato dip for another $2. She was really happy to find someone that had vegans in mind, and surprised how many vendors had such offerings.
At Vicki's Veggies, T picked up a small bag of potatoes for $1, and a green pepper for another $1 from Woolerdale farm. Her last $4 was spent on peaches and nectarines from Milan Bizjak, who agreed to split up the amounts to help her get just what she wanted.
When she was finished shopping we regrouped and T showed off her purchases. She said "This is a grouping here, so that I can think out recipes. These are for juices, these are for sandwiches, and these will be a soup". T said she thought she had food for at least a week here, but would need to use up some of her staples from home too. She said the fruit was a real treat. I asked her if she would be able to freeze some of the soup or even some of the fruit, and she said no, the freezer in her apartment fridge gave everything freezer burn and she didn't trust it to keep food safely. "I would enjoy coming every week for fresh food, but financially it's not within my ability. Not to say I won't come back and spend some money, but there's no way I could spend this much every time."
In the end, she was quite pleased with her purchases, and said she felt that she had paid a fair price for the value of all the food she received. She was pleased to have learned that vendors will weigh your produce or split up stuff. For people on a low income, she said, that's a handy tool.
Our second shopper, S, was also a single middle aged female. S has a large family, and shops with gusto. She owned a restaurant at one point in her life, so buying food does not faze her at all. Her plan of attack was to go around the market once without buying anything and ask "what will I need for the next two days?" She also stressed the importance of never shopping hungry, or shopping with hungry kids.
"I will make a vegetable moussaka" she told me as we went to Highmark Farms'booth. This is when the real show began. In her pre-amble around the market S had liked one of the workers at Highmark, so she waited patiently for the same woman to finish with customers. There was a worker closer, but S said "No. Sheis funny. I want to have fun while I spend my money!" S began holding up vegetables and saying prices. A huge eggplant held aloft: "Two dollars, ya?" The woman looked amused and said "Ya". And so it went. S posited reasonable prices and mostly remembered the prices the woman had told her before. S became more and more animated, and drew in the people around her too. She held up a huge cabbage "$3?" and then turned to everyone near her and told them that she would use this for soup, once she had used the outer leaves for cabbage rolls. A woman beside her asked what she would do with a celeriac. S gave a detailed explanation of how to clean among all the little roots, 3 recipes you could make with it, and what to do with the tops. A young man stepped out of the crowd and videotaped some of the pearls of recipes falling from S's lips. Another nearby customer said he mashes it with potatoes and everyone around, including S, paused as if to test how that would taste in their mind. Then: "Yesssss....".
S offered the vendor "$18!" and the woman nodded ok. S, her bag and hands overflowing with her purchases, turned to a young man beside her and said "You, young man! You have big hands! Help me carry these." He giggled and they set off down the walk talking about a soup recipe. In no time, her new friend had bought her a package of bacon to go with a smoked chop she had purchased from Green Gate Farm.
In the end, S got an awful lot of stuff for her money, including a package of free bacon in exchange for all those recipes. She said "You have to get fun out of the market. Some people come, they put their money down and go.... NO! You have to enjoy.". I spoke with some of the vendors who had sold stuff to her and seemed to have given her deals. None of them felt that they'd given S too much for her money. One vendor said "People can get deals from me by being nice. I mean, don't print that you can have 10% off for saying please, but people that spend a little time and obviously enjoy the market, I'm likely to not mind letting them have a little extra".
I think this was some of the best $50 I didn't get to spend.
- Cookie Roscoe Handford, Green Barn Market Manager with the Stop