Industrial Harvest

To Market by sarah kavage

Yesterday was the first flour giveaway at a farmers’ market.  I have been working on setting up a few farmers’ market appearances around town, and this one is a brand new market on the UIC campus organized by the Hull House Museum.

Having several friends that are seasoned flea-market vendors, I dig the market vibe.  It can be an endurance test in the same way that waiting tables is – you either seem to be standing around twiddling your thumbs, or totally “in the weeds” – and there’s a cameraderie among market vendors that comes from going through all of it together, the same way there is with a good restaurant staff.  I’ve spent many an hour hanging out at friends’ booths, which usually means helping with setup / breakdown, watching booths during bathroom breaks, running food and water, kvetching about the customers and maintaining a running commentary on street style and dogs as the parade of humanity goes by.  So, given that I’ve also been schooled on proper market presentation, here’s the market signage…

We didn’t even get a chance to take a picture of the whole setup.  It was complete madness, in a good way of course.  The kind folks at the Hull House had arranged for a volunteer to help me.  I didn’t even know I needed help but was so, so glad to have it!  Cristina, a grad student in urban planning who is studying food systems, helped me set up, I walked her through the drill of the flour distribution and accounting “system” and we were swamped with “customers” shortly thereafter.  A line of people kept us hopping – Cristina did the accounting and label preparation, and I scooped flour into bags.  I started having flashbacks from my restaurant days and kept having to remind myself to relax.  People did not seem to mind standing around for 5 minutes, and if they did, well – whatever, it’s free.

Most of the folks that came by were from the UIC community – many of them had read about the project already, but for those who didn’t Cristina and I got lots of practice explaining the project.  There were a couple repeat customers from the Hull House talk, some visitors from New Orleans, an economist, most of the other market vendors, and the UIC food safety officer, who seemed curious but completely unphased by what I was doing (as it should be, but a relief nonetheless).  Someone pointed out to my surprise and delight that the vintage scale reads “not legal for trade”!  It took about 2 hours for the “lunch rush” to die down and we were able to visit the other market booths for some lunch of our own.  One of  the vendors told me that he thought we’d helped bring him some business – awesome!

By 3:00 the sun had taken its toll.  We had no tent or shade, and I could feel the sunburn / heatstroke coming on.  So we packed up (another nice thing about giving stuff away is that I’m not losing any money by going home early) and got out just in time.  Hopefully those that came later in the afternoon were not too disappointed.  I’ll surely be back to Hull House again and will also be making appearances at other markets around town.

Upon returning home, I was thrilled to find out the “official” ledgers had arrived!  These gorgeous ledgers have been gathering dust at home for at least several years, and when I realized they’d be the perfect thing to use for accounting purposes, I had Rob ship them out.  Much better than an old crappy notebook.  Get ready for a barrage of statistics.
FYI, these are actually Czech ledgers (you think they still make things as nice as this in the US??).  They appear to be made to track blood transfusions…

Shifting gears now as I go up to Wisconsin for the opening weekend of the “Women in Grains” show in Reedsburg…