Monday, August 17, 2009

Studying The Farmer's Market

It was a farmer’s market weekend, and tiring. Saturday, New Hope, a second-ring, western suburb, and Uptown, a younger, urban neighborhood on Sunday. It’s interesting that very light work, really just playing with people, can be so tiring. Barbara says it’s the standing.

I think I agree. It’s on pavement, with no real opportunity to move around.

Each market has a different style. The same kinds of people show up at each venue, but in different proportions. Uptown is younger, of course, and whiter, also more bohemian and gayer. New Hope is more Scandinavian and Baltic, local stock of long standing, with more African Americans, too. Midtown is more of a mixture, white people of more southerly or westerly extraction, with more East Africans and fewer African-Americans than New Hope. Midtown seems closest to being a party.

Saturday, at New Hope, rain threatened all morning, but never materialized. At one point, a Met-Life blimp flew over, wallowing in the turbulence. I watched it with the guy from the Hmong vegetable stand on our left. I told him it would make me seasick. Either that or it would be more fun than any roller coaster ride I've been on.

Across from us, the woman selling Verti-Gro vertical hydroponic systems seemed to be having a good time talking about her product. I talked to her and her husband, Meredith and Keith Henderson, after the market. They are both enthusiasts, and have a large system in their yard.

The basic system stacks four perlite-filled Styrofoam tubs above a nutrient tank, with a pipe rising through the center of the column to keep everybody’s roots damp. The kit on display was pretty lush with strawberries. There’s a 16-pot kit, and a 16-pot extension you can add to that. Watching the Verti-Gro booth all day got me thinking. A kid with with the space and the energy could use a Verti-Gro system to model one of John Todd’s “living machines” as a Science Fair project.

Todd designs systems that process sewerage or aquaculture runoff using plants, basically ecological microcosms.

Here’s what the kid would do. She’d filter the aquarium water with the hydroponics, her first iteration being a concept demonstration, sacrificing an unfiltered tank as control. Subsequent experiments and research would include sizing, pH buffering, food production (both fish and vegetable), and safety (particularly regarding coliform bacteria). For the right student, this project could continue through college and grad school. Increasingly, human welfare will depend upon economics’ congruence with ecology, and a food-production system which runs one cycle with another's waste is how we’re going to make it.

Sunday we borrowed Tom and Kim’s van for the Uptown market. (That’s their monarda/bee balm and Earth flag.) Barbara opened the Kingfield market, and Jason relieved her. Using the van made it possible for me to have a vehicle loaded and ready when Barbara swung back to help me set up at Uptown. That market opens later, to accommodate its patrons’ somewhat more laid back Sunday mornings. Using a van was luxury. It’s possible to pack everything for a farm stand into a subcompact, but it’s a puzzle. Having all that space made loading quicker as well as physically and mentally easier.

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