I’m a person who says good morning to everyone. On the dawn of a recent Friday, I said good morning nearly 500 times. I was at the Lewinsville Park Farmers Market in McLean, Virginia, where I had volunteered to be an attendance counter at the Fairfax County Park Authority’s celebration of National Farmers Market Week.
When I first arrived, I walked around talking to vendors. Being a gardener, I was drawn to the herb grower. I spotted a lettuce leaf basil plant that excited me. The leaves were huge, bright green and fragrant. I purchased three plants and placed them by my chair as I counted. They were a conversation starter, and people were knowledgeable and eager to talk about growing herbs. As a Master Gardener, I can talk plants all day. I googled Lettuce Leaf Basil at home. I learned it’s a large leaf variety of Ocimum basilicum. That evening, my family enjoyed it wrapped around grilled salmon.
My counting chair was positioned at the market entrance. Here I was able to count visitors, watch three diverse political groups engage visitors, observe young families coming to the market, and chat with seniors who had the time and desire to talk. One older woman shared that she was a widow of 40 years and had come to buy one tomato, one peach and a bouquet of flowers. Another senior came with a list put together by her husband. She told me she’d been married 53 years, and that was way too long. I saw a young mom and dad dancing to the music of a performer while their three small children clapped and cheered.
Fairfax County hosts ten Farmers Markets weekly Wednesday through Sunday from late spring through fall. The markets offer local fresh fruits, vegetables, baked goods, plants, honey, cut flowers, meat, dairy, eggs and more. They are overseen at Green Spring Gardens where I volunteer as an Extension Master Gardener.
The Lewinsville Market is one of the smallest of the Fairfax County markets due to space and parking limitations. What it lacks in size it makes up for with loyal shoppers, friendly vendors, quality products and fabulous music. During this National Farmers Market Week, the usual vendors were joined by McLean Community Center, Inova Hospital, local library staff, chefs holding healthy cooking demonstrations and people leading a variety of kids’ activities.
The Park Authority staff were present and welcoming. They posted welcome signs, chalked hopscotch on the pavement, talked about healthy cooking and composting, and had friendly smiles for everyone. They introduced me to my first yellow watermelon, a yummy experience. I counted and ate simultaneously and found many people who also hadn’t seen yellow watermelons, and I was delighted that a number of people took one home. I learned afterwards that the flesh of watermelons turning yellow is a natural mutation. I enjoyed the sweeter honey-like flavor, and I discovered that there’s also a purple watermelon. I can’t wait to try that.
I love farmers markets and visit them everywhere I travel. Working one gave me a new perspective. Here’s what I learned:
• Volunteering is great fun.
• The Park Authority staff is awesome.
• Yellow watermelon is sweet and yummy.
• National Farmers Market Week welcomed many children.
• Saying good morning is not for everyone.
• There are many seniors lonely for conversation.
• The vendors work hard and put in early days.
• The volunteer market managers are conscientious.
• The quality of the produce is fabulous.
• A gardener like me can always find new cultivars.
If you haven’t yet visited your local Fairfax County Farmers Market, there’s still plenty of time. Most remain in operation till mid-November and even December.
Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Green Spring Extension Master Gardener and a board member of the Friends of Green Spring.