Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Farmers' Market

My husband and I have just returned from Sedgefield, a seaside town just over three hours by car from our home town of Port Elizabeth. We went to house and doggy-sit for our son and daughter-in-law who were in America. We looked forward to attending the local Saturday farmer's market.

Every week, farmers come from miles around to set up their stalls and people likewise travel many miles to attend.

As we joined the throng of people walking towards the entrance, we were caught up with the toe-tapping sound of a minstrel band. Their music hooked us in with the promise of a fun-filled morning. An open guitar case invited us to show our appreciation.

Inside a large cordoned-off area, hundreds of people mingled with one another. They queued for Russian hot dogs; braaied boerewors (spicy traditional sausage cooked over an open fire) and homemade chicken, beef, and venison pies.

Long lines formed in front of stalls that sold freshly cooked pancakes dripping with lemon juice and cinnamon sugar; home-baked goodies, including melktert (a S.African favourite) and koeksisters (plaited pastry in home-made syrup). The farmers supplied something for every taste, and isn't that true of this group of writers?

Some write historical novels while others intrigue with cozy mysteries. Spine-chilling thrillers come alongside light-hearted chic-lit. We write from, and about, Australia and America, Africa and Asia, and other initials too. All sorts of writers with a variety of gifts, yet we share one thing in common. We love to share our abilities with those who want what we have. Just like the farmers.

Rob joined the queue for breakfast and I went to find coffee and a table (tree trunk) under the trees. We started on our breakfast of huge bread rolls split in half, piled high with bacon, boerewors and scrambled eggs covered in a home-made tomato and onion sauce. Yummy—but very messy. As I wiped away tomato from my chin, I gave thanks that out of the thousands of people, no-one knew us. The thought wasn't out of my mind when, "Shirley—and Rob!  My goodness! What a surprise."

The twist in the tale turned out to be a couple from a previous congregation. Our breakfast plot veered off course as I hastily trying to swallow a too-big mouthful of roll. Hoping I'd got all the tomato off my chin, I jumped to my feet and disappeared into an enthusiastic hug. What are their names? The couple had been at a holiday resort a short distance away and were now on their way home to Cape Town, five hours away. They had popped into the market for breakfast. How strange that in that mob of people, we would suddenly spot each other.

Isn't that what we do as writers? We bring together a group of vastly different people, often not known to one another, and put them in the same place. Then we make one or two stand out. Think of the thousands on the luxury liner, the Poseidon. Nameless people, all having fun together, when suddenly, along comes a 90' tidal wave and the ship turns upside down.  A handful of people stand out—the survivors. They are the ones that the story is really about.

Mercifully, we didn't face a tidal wave. In fact it was really very tame, probably in part because neither of us could remember their names until they were half way to Cape Town. After a few minutes, they went their merry way and we finished our meal and went back to exploring the stalls.

The "Red Berry" table groaned under the weight of freshly picked strawberries. The fresh meat stall supplied everything from the normal to the exotic, including kudu and ostrich. There was even a nut stall, and one that sold smoked fish.

The plant stall sold cut-flowers, pot-plants, and had buckets filled with bunches of magnificent proteas.

Although there seemed to be a vast assortment of random stalls, I realised a lot of thought had gone into their placing. The smoked fish stall was nowhere near the home-made cakes. The boerewors cooking over a smoky braai was nowhere near the red berries.

There was something for everyone, but not everyone has the same taste. Each stall-holder knew their strengths and what they could best supply. And as with our writing, each one had its own place, and together they created an atmosphere of interest and entertainment.

Opposite the flowers stood a statue, or so it seemed until a child threw some change into an upside down hat. Immediately the figure's arms and body twisted and jerked , then froze in a new position. The living statue provided nothing of great value, yet he entertained. Sometimes it's good for us to provide a character to bring light relief. Perhaps someone who isn't quite what he first appears to be.

By the end of the morning, our tummies were full, our legs ached, our arms were laden with goods we hadn't realised we needed, and our pockets were empty. But we'd had a good time. As we walked past the same minstrel band, we threw the little cash we had left into the open guitar case and headed for home.

We hadn't learned any amazing facts. We hadn't experienced any drama. But we'd been entertained. And surely that's what a good farmer's market is all about. Just like a good book.


  1. Super photos, Shirl. I wish I lived closer so that I could meet you there for coffee.A farmers' market has just opened near Alberton and I went there on its opening day. It was great fun and I'm sure it'll grow and be successful like the one in Sedgefield.

  2. Wow, thanks for sharing, Shirl! My daughter-in-law manages our local farmers' market and it was really cool to experience yours from clear across the globe!

  3. the Farmers Market are very small around here,
    but when I was a teenager, and my first trip to Calif, we went to one and was shocked at how big it was!

  4. There is a large Mennonite population in the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Ontario, Canada. We were there this summer and had a great time with home-made baking, home-made jams and jellies and, of course, beautiful, handmade quilts.

  5. Shirl

    I felt like I was there with you. The Farmer's Market reminded me of two things. Firstly, my introduction assignment for The Writers' Bureau course I'm doing. I did it on the craft market in Irene, not too far from where I live. Perhaps sometime I'll share it here. Secondly it reminded me of the 4 pillars of fiction that Randy Ingermanson teaches of: StoryWorld (you certainly created a fascinating one here, although it wasn't fictitious); Character (definitely some interesting and unexpected characters LOL); Plot; and lastly, Theme.

    Thanks for sharing. Thanks for the reminders!