A few days ago, shortly after sunrise – or maybe it was by the light of a full moon still up, I was too sleepy to tell – my lady and mistress decided that we should interrupt a perfectly good sleep to make one of our regular trips to a farmers market which sets up by the river.
Markets and early getups are a millennia old gotogether, though I’ve never understood why.
As we pass between cabbages and boutique bread, I spot a few familiar faces.
A lady with a shopping trolley the size of a Uhaul trailer, but who buys little. The trolley is mostly to transport her dog, which, complete with a pink ribbon betwixt its perky little
ears, sits four square on the trolley’s top floor yapping at passersby.
An endearing creature – the lady, I mean. Soon we’ll have seen each other often enough to share a smile and a nod.
There’s a busker I give a buck to as I pass by. He may not be the world’s best musician, but he has to be one of the most determined; that has to count for something.
I recognise a few other bleary eyed bargain hunters as I wait in line to order my bacon and egg roll from a man who by now knows just how I like it.
Across the way is a new stall, the shapes and colours and the smells, especially the smells… I wouldn’t know what to do with the produce, whether to bathe with it or eat it. Turns out, bathe with it. It’s a hand made soap business.
As we wander past laden stalls I prepare myself to haul home vast quantities of fruit and vegetables too cheap to pass up. Too much for us to eat of course, so Marie will give some away to our grown up kids.
But what a deal.
Which leads me to my point, circuitously I’ll admit, but here we are. What’s the appeal?
I think, in part, markets hark back to a life we once led. We lived in villages; we knew the people we traded with. We knew those around us, at least by sight. And they knew us.
Back then we were part of… What’s the word? Oh, that’s right, a community. And somewhere, deep inside, where only our genes can find it, we miss that way of life.
Fifty years ago, suddenly everone had a car, which inevitably led to malls, which led us to supermarkets where everything is sterile and wrapped in plastic, and, well… just bloody sterile.
You can spend all day in a mall and totally OD your credit card without making eye contact with a single fellow human being. Can’t do that at a farmers market. Not possible.
These local markets and the internet have this in common; in both places strangers are taking the first tentative steps in rediscovering the idea of community. One, by geography; being a fellow local. The other by people with a common interest finding each other across the world.
Farmers markets and the internet; opposite ends of the technology spectrum, yet linked.
And they both cut out the middle people. Small operators, some in the local market, others in the global market proving you can be profitable without being a multinational.
So, why do we need malls and supermarkets at all?
Why not have permanent small traders close to our homes, to whom we can walk – and talk; where we might find our neighbours and remake our communities, smile by smile, conversation by conversation?
Farmers markets and internet traders are proving everyday that economies of scale are a mirage, that small and personal beats the crap out of huge and indifferent.
We used to have such arrangements.
They were called High Streets and there was one in every village.
I for one think the time has come to bring them back.