After spending the last third of my life intimately involved with the working and knowledge of a farmers market, it really rang a bell when the subject of one was suggested at my writing group this week. Surely I would have a lot of memories of something that took over my life for such a long period of time. I can remember vividly what it was like to sort apples, peaches, pears, cherries, plums, and especially apricots. When it came to apples, we raised 25 different varieties over the season. At most any time we would have 8-10 kinds on our tables. And they were all carefully placed in quart boxes and half peck, peck, or half bushel baskets. As the people came pouring thru the market buying them, we would try to quickly refill the containers all the while waiting on other customers. We brought about 250 half bushels in to the market in our reconditioned older beer truck. But before they got there I had already been sorting many of them from huge 20 bushel boxes at home the day before. Bob picked apples in half bushel baskets with a picking strap every other day. Also he picked the many other fruits. We were a busy family, three days at the market, three and a half on the farm. There were also many pickers picking in 20 bushel boxes for the local growers who processed them for the national market.
One of the things we were famous for is that we graded all of the fruit very carefully so consequently we would have quite a bit of “seconds” to sell at reduced prices. One of our special helpers, Carol, took over that department. People flocked to her for advice on how to cook everything. They would wait in line to talk to her when she was busy. A retired nurse, she was an expert at helping people. All of our nine workers felt it was their job to please our customers in every way they could. To this day I believe that our great success was a direct result of all of our helpers working as a family.
Bobs family and he had been going to the market in Muskegon since 1936. After Bob was married, his children often went to market with their grandpa and sold fruit themselves. Later on our grandchildren took turns working on the farm and going to market. Our son Gary worked with us for many years. It was a very productive life and only when life interfered and we became older did things have to change for all of us.
But I have very fond memories of it. And some that I put away safely in the back of my mind. The mornings in November and December when we arrived in the dark so early in the morning. The gloves that we were wearing as we were sorting the cold apples, the wind blowing off of Muskegon Lake, the lack of customers on a cold and rainy day, and yet, there we were with the fruit we had promised. The coveralls, boots, gloves, hats, raincoats, all a necessary part of our days.
And the beautiful sunshiny warm days when 5000 people would show up, exchanging smiles and hugs with people who were so happy to see us. That made it all worthwhile. Going home with an empty big truck, after having taken in extra fruit in both the pickup and the car. All of it seems like a dream now, but it is a happy dream. We went to the Farmers Market, we made people smile, and what could be more satisfying than that!