The Ornatelier has kindly been invited to take part in two markets this season. In the case of Albuquerque, the season extends from April through November, just about seven months. For those not in Albuquerque, you can find your local markets through www.localharvest.org, but also watch for signs, adverts in local papers (especially free ones!) and by searching on FaceBook and other social media.
My two main markets this season are the Los Ranchos de Albuquerque Art Market and the Downtown Growers' Market.
Los Ranchos Art Market is going into its 22nd season, conducted in synchrony with the Los Ranchos de Albuquerque Growers' Market. The Los Ranchos markets are held every Saturday from May 6th through November 11th, and is open for business from 7 a.m. to noon until August, and then from September onward opens at 8 a.m. and goes to noon. (Civilized!!) The Ornatelier will be at this market the 2nd and 4th Saturdays at least. [5/13, 5/27, 6/10, 6/24, 7/8, 7/22, 8/12, 8/26, 9/9, 9/15, 10/14, 10/28, 11/11)
Downtown Growers' is into the 20th season now, and runs April 17th through November 4th, from 8 a.m. to noon. I am on-call for this market, meaning that the Ornatelier will be set up there only when there is another vendor who can't make it that day, as long as that day is one of the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month.
First and foremost for those of us who eat it, the local produce is outstanding. This is where you get tomatoes that taste like a sunny day, corn that was picked this morning, eggs that might as well still be warm from the nest, fresh herbs like you've never seen. Fresh picked, fully ripe fruit is hard to beat, and the berries are worth fighting for. You won't wonder how fresh things are, how they've been handled, what they've been treated with, where it came from, or anything else. In most cases, the person selling it to you has been involved in all this from the beginning, and can answer any questions you have. They can also give you storage tips, preparation info, and other useful info that you just won't get from a supermarket. Most growers' markets have at least one baker (usually several), a butcher, a dairy, and someone selling seeds, seedlings, and plants for those who want to grow their own.
It's not just produce, though. These markets also generally include locally produced honey, which is pretty well known to help with allergies and comes in distinct flavors generally not found in store-bought honey. Fine art, crafts, and unique gift items are to be expected, clothing and jewelry makers are pretty much required; crafts and unique gift items are to be expected. Many markets have someone who sharpens knives (like the Ginger Ninja at Downtown Grower's here), local makers of soaps, lotions and bath products, leather artisans, woodworkers, coffee roasters, as well as at least a few prepared food vendors. I was excited to meet some folks who'll be selling fresh buttermilk biscuit sandwiches at DGM this season!
In fact, local markets aren't even just about things you can buy. There is often music, live entertainment of several kinds, kid activities, demonstrations (like dog training demos, not like protests), and it's very common to meet people who are spreading the word about local events that might not be getting much attention in your community -- social, political and infrastructure issues that you'd like to know about BEFORE it is a done deal. Often you can register to vote, talk with alternative energy representatives (and sometimes even your local utilities have a booth to talk to customers about their concerns), and public outreach efforts from any number of charities, community services, youth organizations, and other groups. Local authors, publishers, and other creative types are also going to put in appearances from time to time.
In some ways, a local market is like a shopping mall that is tailored to things specifically relevant to your immediate life. Information, human contact, food, socializing, colors and textures and experiences you will benefit from. All markets are family friendly, most are pet friendly. If you're into food trucks and your town has 'em, you will almost certainly find those here.
While an open air market is very definitely focused on interpersonal exchanges, they are rarely totally unplugged events. Many vendors take card payments, can email your receipts, have online shops and websites, can look up answers to your trickiest questions on the spot and spread news of their business via social media (so you'll know where and when to find them next, for example). Some markets have fabulous programs going to help people get more for their money. For example, folks with public assistance vouchers can get double credit on fruits and vegetables at growers' markets here in Albuquerque, which helps the folks who are really scraping by have better access to real food and nutrition, instead of having to live on ramen or ketchup sandwiches.
Most of the vendors you'll meet at markets like these are experts in their area. They are going to know a lot about tomatoes, or baking, or cheese, or whatever their thing is. They know their customers, are as a rule friendly and helpful, and will be happy to see you. If you take time to get to know them as people, they will remember you and greet you by name and get to know YOU as a person. Happiness is having someone tell you they saved the last ice cream taco specifically for you, because they knew you'd come looking for one!
These are people making their living and supporting themselves and their families through this expertise and community involvement, and frankly, none of them are getting to be wealthy moguls this way. The point is, they (we! I'm one!) are doing it because it is the thing we are passionate about, and if we weren't doing our passion, we'd be pretty lost in the world. If you've ever had a disengaged employee of an impersonal retailer treat you like poop for no reason you could spot, then you know the difference.
I talked to a lot of people last season at the Albuquerque Rail Yards Market, and found that a market morning makes a great outing. Lots of people go to these markets as a relaxing form of entertainment. A nice stroll, interesting things to see / hear / do, lots of other folks to interact with (or not, as you prefer), maybe a snack or a hearty meal. Perfect for picking up birthday and special occasion gifts, learning about your town, and staying in touch with the seasons. The people watching is amazing at these events, and the vibe is generally mellow, happy, and enthusiastic. Sometimes there's a goose that reads tarot, too.