A many-splendored market

Jun 27, 2012 at 5:00 am

It had been a bleak week. Addiction, secrets and lies had ended a friendship. For the second time this month, an obituary memorialized a friend of my parents. An uncle’s dementia was deepening. The only joy I had experienced was at a Tuesday luncheon — during which I threatened to catapult a smartphone across East Market Street — and at a Thursday dinner with close friends.

With a heavy heart, I ventured to the Douglass Loop Farmers Market to meet my touchstone Cindy Lamb, who teaches exuberance by example. Maybe she and food would buoy me.

It was a conspicuously pivotal day. The market crackled with excitement unique to TV production. In the northwest arc of the shaded circle drive, swells of applause rose from spectators whose taste buds would decide the winner of a “Secrets of Bluegrass Chefs” showdown. It was the birthday of Paris, Ky., farmer John Garey, a red-haired favorite among housewives desperate for fresh eggs. He was selling out of pretzel breads. I bought a baguette. John seemed unusually jubilant.

The scene was routine — organic meats, gourmet cheeses, oil-vinegar mixes, fresh produce and the amorous clamor of farmers and foodies — yet the mood was more euphoric. Attendance was unprecedented.

I tested my theory that the market had arrived. Others agreed it’s thriving in this, its second year. But where was its matriarch, entomologist Blair Helvey, whose professional contacts with regional farmers made her the obvious originator? Blair wasn’t there. Either she grew tired of hearing me say, “You’ve really let yourself go” as her belly swelled, or she was at home nursing the daughter she delivered on June 15.

I lamented her absence as I witnessed her farm-to-market passion reach a critical mass on a spectacular Saturday of low humidity and high humanity. I wondered if she realizes what a difference a world-class market makes — and what makes it. A month ago, its momentum was evident on Facebook. “Excellent products from friendly people,” wrote Sean Campbell. “Great, energetic market under a canopy of trees,” opined Holly Hamilton.

The shade holds great appeal for me, a heart patient who prefers hibernation to suffocation amid Ohio Valley summers. But it’s the weekly nourishment of body, mind and spirit that keeps me coming back. It was there a month ago that musician/sage John Gage reminded me that it’s not happiness that makes us grateful but gratitude that makes us happy.

Last Saturday, after an abysmally sad spell, I had an attitude for gratitude. I was thankful for all the bluegrass and Grateful Dead tunes performed by Tom Boone and the Back Porch Pickers. I was grateful for all the canines, including the most adorable schnoodle I’ve ever seen and another terrier with a tongue long and deft enough to wiggle up your nose and tickle your brain stem, her owners told me. And for Griffin, Miss Charlotte’s giant schnauzer. Months ago we lied on our sides, face to face, and playfully pawed at each other as onlookers cooed.

The vendors provide quality foods, elixirs and repartee. When I asked Paul Brown of Earthy Brown Natural Products if he had a cure for gangrene, he offered a pocket knife. Paul Haney and Alison Baker of Long View Organics in Springfield, Ky., thanked me for a pad thai recipe their radishes had inspired me to provide. “I didn’t sabotage it,” I assured them. We agreed that folks who alter recipes just to hear you say, “Mine wasn’t as good as yours,” should get no fruit cup. When Paul sold me the last of his radishes, I draped them over my shoulder and asked how he prepares the greens. “I feed ’em to my goats and pigs,” he replied. Right on cue, Cindy began grazing and mewing.

I shook down Ilse of Sweet Sixteen Farm in Henry County regarding a curried goat recipe she offers. “What the hell are sweet chilies?” I asked, whereupon a neighboring vendor sold me five for $1, a fraction of the supermarket price. I rarely leave without a large ($6) bag of Mr. G’s kettle corn (made on site), which, everyone agrees, is kettle crack. I’ll never go back to Cracker Jacks. For $2, I bought a “Coexist” bumper sticker, a synonymous companion — or replacement — for my “Ditch Mitch” decal.

Happiness is a market where a bargain whore can score. Thank you, Blair — and all who grace my healthful, happy Saturday staycation from the woes of the week.