For me, going to the farmers' market is always a pleasant experience, even in the cold wintry rain, even when the summer crowds are big and people aren't always behaving. I go for the quality of the produce, for the intimate experience of knowing where my food comes from, for the way a farmers' market makes me feel a part of my community. I go because I'll always run into friends and neighbors. I go for the extraordinary eggs that will sell out if I don't get there right as the market opens. I go because I want to support farmers who are growing a diverse variety of vegetables and are often experimenting with interesting new varieties or bringing back an old heirloom. I go for the stroll and the delight of shopping outdoors. And, it turns out, I go for the poetry.
Of course there is poetry at the famers' market because there's poetry in everything. And while there's a lot to say about this, what I'm talking about today is actual poetry. As in a poem you can tuck into your bag along with the last of the winter citrus and the dark, crinkly leaves of dino kale. Let me explain.
Last Sunday, an old friend whom I haven't seen in several months stopped by. We had a date to visit the Temescal Farmers' Market which is literally just around the corner from where I live. We went, and we strolled, and we purchased apples and cabbages and leeks. We talked and got caught up and even ran into a mutual friend.
As we made our loop around the DMV parking lot where the market was being held, my friend spied a young man sitting on the curb, holding a notebook. Next to him was a mason jar and a hand lettered sign saying something about farmer's market sonnets. Smart woman that she is, my friend made a beeline and I followed right behind. For a donation, the pleasant young man would write us a sonnet! He just needed a few words to get started. Since we had first met while studying at the San Francisco Zen Center, my friend said "Two old Zen friends meeting." He told us to come back in 20 minutes.
So we ate tacos and eyed the pretty but expensive jars of jam and tasted a few apple slices. Truth is, we almost forgot to return to our poet but as luck would have it, we managed to remember. Which was a very good thing because what he gave us was truly a beautiful and relevant poem, astonishing not only for how quickly it emerged but also for how it closely captured our experience. He read the poem to us and we laughed in delight. We contributed to his tip jar and he tore off the poem from his notebook and handed it over.
What's extraordinary for me here, beyond the quality and swiftness of the poem, is the manner in which it was offered. Our poet didn't put a price on it and I suppose he would have written it for a dollar, although I sincerely hope he usually receives much more than that. Just to hang out on the edges of a farmers' market and offer poetry is a bold and brave act. But this notion of offering something without a price tag is very inspiring.
When something is offered for donation, it's a different kind of exchange than when something is offered for a price. As the buyer, we are put in a much more active position, one in which we have to reflect on our ideas of what this thing is worth, what we are willing or able to pay. We have to get in touch with our own greed and generosity, and as a result we are much less of a passive consumer and more of a participant in what we are purchasing. And the seller is a brave soul to stand there, receiving all these ideas and projections, with faith that we are generous and that he will be rewarded.
Here's what we received from last Sunday's donation.
We walk though life, and seldom meet another
With whom we share a selfsame thought or tone.
And yet in you, there resonates the other;
A half unheard for years, the sound of bone
That hides behind the bolder sounds of blood
The beating drum by which we mark our days
Together once again we sing of God
In each flat step, in every common phrase.
This is true Zen: two friends who walk together
And give each other cause to listen close,
As well as means to satisfy the whether,
To dwell within in satisfied repose.
We'll meet and meet again, in each a bell
Ringing, remembered -- none but both can tell.
It turns out our poet, whose name is David Griswold, has published a book called Farmer's Market Sonnets (available on Amazon for $14.95) and even has an etsy shop. If you live in Berkeley/Oakland, keep a look out for him and if you've got a few dollars (or more!) leftover from your weekly shopping, consider purchasing a poem. After all, a person needs more than food in her belly to be well-nourished and sustained and our poets need our support and generosity. For while what they offer us is truly beyond price, they still have to eat.