Thursday, August 4, 2016

Sketches from Salt Lake: The Farmers Market

By Geoffrey Dean

Two weekends ago, we made our first visit of 2016 to the SLC Farmers Market. Now in its 25th year, the market brings local farmers, craftspeople, and their customers each Saturday to Pioneer Park in downtown SLC. This time we parked on 200 W, passing the hundred-year-old Broadway Hotel on 300 S (also known as, you guessed it, Broadway) on our way to the northeast corner of the park.
    The initial sense of hustle and bustle was a little overwhelming as we merged onto the crowded stall-lined walkway and started off southward. A flute and violin duo in front of a thick-trunked tree played a Celtic tune as we passed a familiar stand to our right, for Lick’d Pops (formerly known as frozen dessert bars), personned by a young woman wearing a Juilliard Dance cap. Lick’d was one of our early farmers-market discoveries two years ago, so it was good to see that they have expanded their line of flavor combos, always in intriguing pairs of two, like strawberry basil or avocado pistaccio (the latter, interesting but admittedly never our favorite, has lately disappeared from their offerings).
    A bit farther on, we accepted an offer to sample SugarBear Kettlekorn after watching the seller dispense some to a little girl with a moose cap whom she instructed to “do her hands like a bowl,” and we ultimately opted to indulge ourselves with a $5 bag of the cheddar-flavored variety. I mention the price because our past farmers market experiences have always included non-budgeted impulse purchases totaling at least $50, and we had vowed to be more thrifty today. Our running total was now $5.50 (I had tipped the Celtic Duo).

Still on the east side of the park heading south, I paused to listen to a Bluegrass trio and watch a woman dance to their tune (another 50 cent tip $6.00) while Christa tried out milk products at a Winder Farms stand. The business of an old Utah family, Winder Farms was incorporated in the 1880s, and is currently expanding its home delivery service of a full range of carefully selected grocery items. That was how Jonell began her sales pitch as I joined in the taste-testing, and soon, with the promise of no obligation and a mere $15 initial investment that we would get back in gifts and food items when we closed the deal, we had decided to sign up for the service.
    It sounds like a great way to encourage our nascent passion for cooking and get organic vegetables delivered directly to our door as often as once a week (by 4 a.m. Monday mornings in our neighborhood). We walked away with our first vegetable box (excited about the squash, but puzzled by a bag of Dole spinach that doesn’t resonate as locally grown), two bottles of milk, a loaf of bread, plus a cap and a big zippable grocery bag ( $21.00, not including the commitment to spend at least $30 a month on Winder groceries).

The retro photographer was in his customary location near the southeast corner of the park, and was negotiating a half-off deal with someone while across from him a live magic show was in progress. A pair of under-dressed magicians tried to draw the gathered spectators in, telling them “this is close-up magic, not way-the-hell-over-there magic!” After turning the corner and proceeding west, we passed the stands of several sculptors, one working in metals, another in amber. A cartoon-inspired print collection featured macabre, blood-splattered remakes of Peanuts scenes, where a gun-wielding Charlie Brown appears to have settled some scores with unsettling finality. At a stand for home decorations from repurposed wood that we have patronized in the past, Christa spotted an elephant design, exclaiming, “an elephant!” The seller emerged from behind a screen and, with his best poker face, asked “Can I interest you in…an elephant?”
    Behind another Lick’d stand (the company that steered founder Tiffany away from a medical career is evidently doing well), people lined up to tour an old Glamper parked on 400 S and up for sale. We wondered at our lack of curiosity and moved on. A display of colorful birdhouses caught our eye, but I carefully avoided actually buying one, although I have that in our long-term yard plans. I duly pocketed a business card.
From Farmboy website
    Now on the west side of the park, our next stop was to admire the ceramic animal collection of Farmboy Enterprises, where the proprietor explained that he has completed numerous commissions for miniature painted statues of family pets. Whimsical and full of color, I especially liked the luxuriating hippo with a gull (or pelican?) on her back and the smaller animal figures that doubled as ocarinas [small egg-shaped wind instruments with a mouthpiece and holes for the fingers]. Again I restrained myself and walked away with only a business card in hand.

From farther on we heard the sounds of a cellist playing Faure’s Elegie, and we walked on to listen. We had seen this same teenage virtuoso, well-trained in the more advanced Suzuki repertoire, at the same spot on previous visits to the market, and he asked us the same question he had on those occasions: “Would you like a fast piece or a slow one?” “Both.” And as he played a Largo and Allegro from the Eccles G minor sonata with great assurance and fearlessness, an acquaintance spotted us and stopped to chat. Like us, she too is a cellist, and young Jacob moved on to the Popper Gavotte No. 2, tossing off the high harmonics as we talked.
    Three homeless (we assume) men greeted us, and one commented on how much better it must be for a young player to play out in the world than in his own room, before wishing us a good day. When events such as the farmers market are not going on, Pioneer Park is a regular hang-out of the homeless because of its close proximity to several large shelters. But this is a topic that deserves a separate sketch.
    As Jacob tackled the Bach C Major Bourree, I deposited my last bit of cash, a dollar, into Jacob’s welcoming cello case ( $22.00). Meanwhile, another boy approached us with samples of homemade sourdough bread, and we watched a demonstration of frozen pops being made using the traditional salt-and-ice churning technique (Lick’d does its as a client of a modern food-processing plant).

We had made it 3/4 of the way around the park, and the late-morning heat was starting to get to us, so we put on the proverbial blinders to speed our traversal of the north side as we headed back to the car. An African-American in long dreadlocks caressed a slow blues, agilely accompanying himself on guitar and, at select moments, a harmonica. I reached for some change before realizing that I had given my last two quarters to a small red-haired boy back on the west side, who, with little accomplishment but much concentration, sang a contemporary Christian song to simple strummed chords on his guitar (→ $22.50). I wondered whether the girl close to our exit point, performing similar repertoire in a similar manner, was a relation of his.
    We didn’t discover the Dole spinach until we got home.

Copyright © 2016 by Geoffrey Dean


  1. Love Farmer's Markets. There is one every Fri. & Sat. in Costa Rica all year round. Enjoyed the trip.

    1. Ed, Geoff's mother & I actually first met Geoff's wife, Christa, at the SLC Farmers Market. Before they were married. I'm delighted that Geoff wrote about the Farmers Market for his first "Sketches from Salt Lake" column. And you agree, don't you, that his writing is New Yorker Magazine quality?
          Which raises an intriguing question: is there a magazine that we could identify YOUR writing with? The only one I can think of (that I am familiar with and know that it publishes fiction) is PLAYBOY, but I'm not sure that it actually publishes hard-edged "thriller" stuff. Anyway, know that my thought of the POSSIBILITY of a PLAYBOY association with YOUR writing tells you how fine I think your storytelling is....

  2. There was a pron mag out for awhile called Plowboy. Are you sure you're not thinking of that one? (laughter)

    1. Ha, never even heard of that magazine, or of "pron" magazines in general.

    2. Ah, it just hit me! You meant to type "porn," and "Plowboy's" boys don't plow fields of soybeans.

  3. Sorry if you have to explain a joke it is never funny.(smile) I find myself typing like that a lot these days. Not sure why. The worst is fro instead of FOR.

    1. Ha, well, typing "porn" correctly WOULD have explained a lot!