Bartering at the Farmers’ Market: A Child’s View

Zada Clarke

by Zada Clarke

Zada Clarke

Photo courtesy of Zada Clarke

Vivid green shoots, vibrant and lush, promised a bounty of customers and a good day’s revenue. My father, barefoot, with calloused hands and a beard in much need of trimming, was laying wheatgrass flats on the ground. The dewy grass clung to my cold bare toes as I rolled the spool to our spot in the line of vendors setting up their tents, careful of splinters as my hands rubbed against the weathered wood. It was chilly and the air felt moist, yet the sun peaked over the treetops, hinting that it was going to be yet another sticky midsummer day. I wiped the sleep from my eyes and used all the strength my little seven-year-old arms could bear to prop the spool upright. My blonde five-year-old brother sat atop the rusty red truck, lost in his imaginary world, playing with his own toy model.

In mid-July on Martha’s Vineyard, the Saturday Farmers’ Market was the place to be to collect a bounty of fresh vegetables, each covered with a slight dusting of dirt that ensured that they had been uprooted from the soil only a few hours before. There were rows of jars filled with sparkling homemade jams and piles of bread still warm, wafting the musky smell of yeast. There was sweet clover honey and mason jars erupting colorful bouquets of blossoms: marigolds, ruby-red zinnias, and burnt orange sunflowers. Piles of citrus promised fresh-squeezed lemonade to quench eager customers’ thirst as soon as the sun rays began to burn by midmorning.

My father, Jack, was a staple in a long list of purveyors. His ground wheatgrass shoots made a vibrant green juice that tasted of the earth and revitalized the senses. He was a strong believer in this tonic, and he dragged us kids to the market every Saturday at sunrise to help him. At nine a.m., the crowds rolled in and my stomach began to grumble; my brother tugged at my shirt and groaned that he was hungry. I told my father, hoping that he would hand us something to eat, but instead he handed me a shot of wheatgrass. The cup of deep-colored juice was not meant for me, but to barter with, and I understood this although I wasn’t fond of the task.

I walked toward the bakery stand, weaving in and out of the legs of shoppers, until I arrived in line. I stared down at my bare feet, grass-stained and dirt encrusted, comparing them to the manicured ones in front of me tucked into a pair of whale emblazoned flip flops. A large bag, shiny and modern, bumped my head, and the woman clutching it reached her soft hands, with their long red nails, inside it and extracted a wallet. I watched enviously as she took out a crisp twenty dollar bill and exchanged it for a paper sack full of baked goods. I stared self-consciously down into my paper daisy cup with its frothy pool of wheatgrass and felt my freckled face grow crimson.

As the vendor stared down at me, I mustered enough courage to ask if I could have a blueberry muffin in exchange for the wheatgrass. The man smiled a toothy grin and took the cup in his hand, downed the contents, and gave a hearty sigh, his grey streaked beard now stained with green foam. He grabbed the largest muffin, chock full of blueberries, and wrapped it in a napkin for me. I breathed in the scent of accomplishment and took the muffin back to the stand where, splitting it in half, my brother and I sat munching, the grumbles in our stomach subsiding.