Farmers’ Market as Teachable Moment

Most Saturday mornings before we head off to the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market, Catherine hands me and Oliver a list of things she wants us to pick up there for her.

Usually we do this shop together after we’ve fortified ourselves with smoked salmon on a bagel, but this weekend Oliver was quicker to finish his bagel and so, from our position sitting on the loading dock stoop, I sent him on missions into the market to do the shopping by himself.

The market is one of the public places where Oliver feels really comfortable (we’ve been going there every Saturday morning for almost a decade), so he knows the terrain well, and knows a lot of the people there. So these missions were in friendly territory.

It took him about 20 minutes to gather up everything on our list – potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, eggs, rhubarb – and he learned a lot in the process that he wouldn’t have learned had I been doing the shopping and he tagging along:

  1. He learned how to ask one trusted vendor what other vendors they recommended for things they didn’t sell themselves. He asked Paul Offer, for example, from whom he bought mushrooms, where he could buy carrots. I didn’t tell him to do this, he just figured it out on his own; it’s a pretty good skill to have.
  2. Math became concrete. They’ve been studying fractions in grade 3 at school this year; when I told Oliver we needed “half a pound of mushrooms” he knew exactly what I meant, and all of a sudden math became a useful tool instead of an abstract concept. Same thing with money: he had to figure out whether $5 was enough to buy rhubarb and potatoes (it was).
  3. He learned about vegetables. The potato man asked him “what kind of potatoes?” I don’t think Oliver ever knew there were different kinds. They worked this out amongst themselves. Same thing for “how much rhubarb?” (answer: “enough to make a pie”).
  4. He became an actor. Usually Oliver’s in the audience at the Farmers’ Market; this week he was in the driver’s seat. His sense of accomplishment was palpable when he’d acquired everything on the list.

It’s not like we need more reasons to shop at the Farmers’ Market – there are already plenty – but it’s worth considering how this exercise was something that Oliver could really only do at a place like the Market. If I’d sent him into the Atlantic Superstore on the same missions he’d have been overwhelmed, without anyone to call on for help, and wouldn’t have learned anything at all (with the exception, perhaps, that supermarkets are large and faceless).

Thank you to all the vendors who made this possible; Oliver will be back next week for more.


Island Journalist's picture
Island Journalist on June 21, 2010 - 23:44 Permalink

Hi, Peter,

While I take your point that the Farmers’ Market vendors were helpful and welcoming; and that our local Farmers’ Markets are the BEST place, bar none, to buy our produce in season; I might take issue with your bald statement that our supermarkets are large and faceless. I would posit that had you taken Oliver to the local Superstore each Saturday for the past decade, he may have gotten to know the Sushi guy, the meat market manager and the bakery manager on the same level. And they would have been just as helpful on Oliver’s first foray into single shopping.

IMHO, just because the place one works may be defined as big business, this does not mean the people who work there are not knowledgeable about what they sell and would not be helpful to a young gentleman seeking to fulfill his family’s shopping needs.

Yes, one may prefer the market for its more human scale. However, there are sellers there who source their food from off-Island. (Tomatoes in February? Pears in November? Please.)

Are they above suspicion because they are Islanders, selling at The Market and helpful to our children?

Please understand, I am not dissing the Market; I love it and shop there myself. However, I have found helpful, kind, understanding and VEGAN staff and the Superstore and Sobey’s as well. It behooves us all to have a critical (as defined as carefully checking things out) mindset.

Sustainable marketing comes in all forms.

Island Redhead's picture
Island Redhead on June 22, 2010 - 02:32 Permalink

I must second Island Journalist’s comments. I live in/near Summerside and while I do some shopping at the local Farmers’ Market I do most of it at Sobeys. (The hours at the market aren’t convenient for my grocery shopping needs. I do purchase locally when possible, but it is not always possible. I can’t wait for Compton’s to open in late July) My daughter would, at that age, have had a similar relationship with the various sales people at Sobeys. Actually, our whole family knows the great majority of the staff there by name simply from having been there two times a week for the past number of years. It was the meat manager there who taught me how to properly roast pork and the produce staff who provided assistance to my daughter’s locavore project for school. Perhaps this is a small town (read: Summerside) phenomenon, but I doubt it.
Kudos to the Market staff for making Oliver’s first independent shopping foray such a positive one—and to you for recognizing that it is such a teachable moment on so many levels. It’s moments like this that make me miss parenting younger children.
(For the record, I can’t believe I just wrote something that might be construed as defending big business!)

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on June 22, 2010 - 12:33 Permalink

While the thin simulation of a genuine market that the culinary-industrial complex attempts to pull off in today’s superstores may bear some faint similarity to an actual farmers’ market with actual farmers selling actual food, and while there may be some very nice people working in these places, I can assure you that in no way that actually matters do corporate supermarkets bear any actual similarly to an actual market. It’s clever theater, pure and simple.

L.C.'s picture
L.C. on June 22, 2010 - 21:25 Permalink

I am agreeing with Peter -there is no comparison on any level and I liek and appreciate teh very hard work and frendliness of staff at any store including the grocery stores — the fact is that the ratio of staff to store merchandise and per customer is very very low and it is good to have good relationships with store staff who take pride in their work but the whole experience and store design is to maximize sales and the buying practices of such stores is quite different from vendors who are selling their own food that they either grew or prepared — Should we remind people about how much farmer’s actually receive and how much middlemen (they are mostly men) make from the same products gorwn by those farmer’s — remember Sobey’s CEO comments about farmer’s on P.E.I. last year and by the way they make profits partly on basis of cheap food policy

STELLARTON, N.S. — Sobeys supermarket owner Empire Co. Ltd. (TSX:EMP.A) has reported a 12.5 per cent rise in second quarter net income to $65.7 million, as revenue grew seven per cent from a year earlier to $3.73 billion.

Island Journalist's picture
Island Journalist on June 22, 2010 - 22:15 Permalink

I just want to say it was this comment of Peter’s I was responding to:

If I’d sent him into the Atlantic Superstore on the same missions he’d have been overwhelmed, without anyone to call on for help, and wouldn’t have learned anything at all (with the exception, perhaps, that supermarkets are large and faceless).

If we are discussing the merits of grocery stores vs. farmers selling their own produce, that is an entirely different discussion, one, I am sure, that I would tend to agree with Peter and L.C.

What I was commenting on was the assumption that outlets like the Superstore would have no-one to help you and they are large and faceless. My experience has been very different, and, to reiterate, if Peter and his son were familiar faces each Satruday morning for a number of years, I would posit that the staff would be very helpful. And many of the staff are very knowledgeable about that which they selll.

On another note, iI, as a person with disabilities, am welcome at the Superstore, There are depressed curbs, wheelchair baskets, etc. I do not feel welcome at the market, there are steps to get up into the market proper, steps down into the eating area. It is an effort for me to go each week, despite my enjoyment of the atmosphere and the availability of fresh, local food. A friend of mine uses a wheelchair — I would say that it would be almost impossible for him to visit — there is a very awkward entry into the washroom and virtually no room for a wheelchair inside.

So, we have work to do on both sides. The Superstore needs to be more responsible and open as to where it sources its food, and the Market needs to be more accessible, and open to the fact that not all patrons are mobile.

oliver's picture
oliver on June 23, 2010 - 14:17 Permalink

That’s a wonderful story.