We’ve cut back our market presence as of late, due to seasonal decreases in business. Customers, it seems, identify farmers’ markets with high summer, and though the bounty of the fall is upon us, the customer base is not. This has opened up some Saturday recreation time, and I was given the opportunity to serve as the “Chef on the Square” demonstrator at the Stevens Point Market last Saturday. After kicking around some ideas for seasonal soups or appetizers, I decided to follow my heart and focus instead on fall vegetable ferments. That way, I figured, at least one person at the market would be interested in the topic. So, on Saturday morning I gathered my buckets, jars and seasonings and made my way for the downtown square.
Running customarily behind, I rushed in at 9:25 with nary a minute to spare. There were only a couple folks standing around the demo area as I hurriedly set up my table.
“Do you want the headset?” asked Madisen, the Farmshed intern and event coordinator.
“Hell yeah.” I responded, “Crank it up.” I got rolling, and the sheer volume attracted a decent crowd in short order. I started out with a small-batch jar fermentation demo while talking through the basics of the science and process. After this, Madisen plated up samples of my ferments from earlier in the season, while I opened my buckets of currently fermenting cabbage and peppers.
“Don’t worry about the mold on top,” I told the crowd as we unearthed the first bucket and removed the fermentation stone. “It’s totally natural; you can skim it off, and it’s all good.”
Surprisingly, a majority of participants actually sampled the bucket goods, which I took as an indicator of positivity. I felt good as the crowd dispersed, having given them a taste and visual for each of the phases of fermentation.
Following the main demo, I hung around the booth for a while, chatting with anyone and everyone drawn in by the sight or smell of the buckets and jars. Overall responses ranged from “Yeah?!” to “mehhh…” but most people seemed at least vaguely interested.
I had just gotten started cleaning up when an older guy rolled over, with one booted leg on a wheeled cart. He asked me a question or two before diving into an extensive tangent of his own. For the first time that morning, I found myself on the receiving end of a demonstration of sorts, and after carrying on for some time, he bit into one of my fermented carrots. “Just wait,” he said, swallowing and wheeling off across the square. “Here.” he said proudly as he returned. “Try some of these.”
I opened the jar and was slightly taken aback. “Hmm, are these… baby carrots?”
“Oh, yeah, those are some organic baby carrots that I bought. Yeah, I bought the organic ones… the garlic is mine though! Yeah, so for those, I did an apple cider vinegar with sugar and…”
“Hmm, I hate baby carrots. They’re always so slimy…”
“Nope, not these ones; these were the organic ones..!”
Though somewhat confused by this gentleman’s enthusiasm for vinegar-picked baby carrots over home-grown, natural ferments, I tried one. It was decent, and I patiently munched a couple while he carried on some more. Finally, he wheeled away, and I took the opportunity to wander over to my favorite market corner by John Sheffy and Joel K.
“Hey, would you do me a huge favor?” asked Joel desperately as I approached.
“Maybe.” I replied.
“I need you to watch my stand for a couple of minutes. I really gotta go…”
“Okay, so these are $2.00/lb; these ones are $5 for the big, and $3 for the small; this is $1; bread is $8, and tortillas $5…” he went through his whole display.
“Got all that?”
“Uhhh, sure man.”
“Just do your best. Thanks!”
And with that, he set off hurriedly to take care of his business, while I stayed back to take care of his business. I greeted a couple customers in his absence, and charged to the best ability of my memory and intuition. “Hmm, a bundle like that? I think we’ll call it $3.00; how’s that sound?”
After a solid chunk of minutes, he returned, and we chatted a bit about his on-farm meals, some tomatoes he’s got set aside for Supper Club, and some potential community involvement opportunities coming up. Then he got busy again, and I made my way back to the demo booth to close up my buckets and get out of town. I bade my Farmshed friends farewell and hit the road, feeling especially blessed and refreshed after a recreational morning at the market.