Living the Farmer's Life
What do local farmers do to prepare for and unwind from the farmers market? We asked around…
The farmers market is an ephemeral beginning to the weekend for most local food lovers. It’s a time to imagine cooking vibrant dishes with just-picked vegetables and to relax in the crispness of morning before the afternoon heat of Ohio summers. Yet for the farmers, the market is a monumental event that demands long hours of work and planning and offers a chance to demonstrate the knowledge and talent that has made these men and women staples in the Columbus local foods community.
In the Wee Hours
For Milan Karcic of Peace, Love, and Freedom Farm, preparation for the market begins several days before. It’s a slow process in which he judges which produce will keep and which should be picked just before the market. “Carrots and beets, I’ll start picking those the day before, but lettuces and herbs, anything that’s not going to keep in the weather, I try to do the morning of, which means getting up at 3am and working with the head lamps.”
In the eight years that Becky Barnes of Dangling Carrot Farm has been cultivating produce on seven acres near her family’s grain farm in Williamsport, Ohio, she’s become methodical about packing produce and unloading it. After filling eight trucks and multiple other vehicles bound for Columbus, she arrives at Clintonville by 6:30am to set up the stand before moving on to Worthington, leaving the Clintonville stall in the care of friends.
Steve and Gretel Adams of Sunny Meadows Flower Farm have avoided this challenge of intense, early morning preparation and packing by hiring additional help, beginning work on Thursday with their small crew and picking into Friday afternoon. After harvesting the flowers, they assemble the bouquets and store them in a cooler to maintain the quality and lifespan of the floral arrangements.
As beekeepers, Carmen and Barry Conrad of Conrad Honey and Hive are not subject to the time-dependent commotion that comes in the days approaching the market. If stores of liquefied honey are low, they convert reserves from a crystalized state through heating and water baths. Carmen makes a creamed honey as well, a weeklong process that she begins two weeks in advance.
After a Long Morning’s Work
For Marshall Branstool of Branstool Orchards the farmers market is an opportunity to expand customers’ awareness of different produce. “I’ve got so many different varieties of apples you’re never going to find in a store, most people haven’t even heard of them. I like to cut samples off to give to everybody so they know exactly what they’re getting. That’s the most fun thing for me.”
Yet despite the full mornings, the day does not end after Marshall returns home. He frequently finds himself in his store, selling again or grating peaches. “When I get back here, it’s pretty busy. Sometimes we don’t have enough room to park. That’s a good problem to have and I’m not complaining, but I usually need to get right back in there.”
Milan often finds himself in his garden as well, after spending time with his wife and dog, taking a nap, or lying in the grass. “You love it, so it’s not that bad. Every day is not a walk on the beach, but loving your job the way I do, it’s not really that difficult to get back out there.”
Though the growing season is busy and makes hobbies and social lives difficult to maintain, each farmer has a way of unwinding. Marshall enjoys CrossFit and fishing when he has time, and Barry, a retired photographer, still does some commercial photography. Milan and his wife are half of the local band, “Alwood Sisters,” which also includes his brother and sister-in-law.
Becky has made a rule against working on Saturdays after markets and uses the evenings to hike or go out with friends. She drew her farm’s name—Dangling Carrot—from modern philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s theory of pleasure in the pursuit of a dream, citing the classic image of the mule striving for the carrot. “Balance—that’s a good word. I’m trying to learn that over the years. I used to really pride myself on putting in these long days, and not just pride myself, I actually had to do that for four or five years, but now I am more proud if I can take a little time off.”
Steve and Gretel find Saturdays after the market to be the most enjoyable time, when they can have a few beers with the crew and take a nap. If Gretel is working a wedding, Steve likes to stay in Columbus later and can often be found at Harvest Pizza. “We used to have to harvest on Saturday when we got back but then we made the decision to bring in a couple of employees to pick while we’re at market. When we brought on staff, we knew that it was going to cost a lot of money, but we looked at quality of life to help us decide that, yes, it might cost a little bit, but I don’t have to work as late on Saturdays.”
Milan, Becky, Steve and Gretel, Marshall, Barry and Carmen all seem to have found a certain balance in the successive process of markets and labor, and the flirtation with new ideas. While continued growth is in their future, they strive to maintain their personal lives and connections to the community that has supported them, a balance that is truly the universal metaphorical carrot. As Becky says of living the farmer’s life, “…what’s important is to just live your life happily, because it is a good life, but you can’t let work take you over.”