I’ve never forgotten a visit I made to rural Mississippi a number of years back with a college friend. A highlight was driving down quiet country roads looking for what was allegedly the finest fried catfish restaurant there is to be found. At long last we did find it, perched at a deserted crossroads, only to discover that this was the kind of restaurant that was closed for business far more often than it was open, and we had come on one of the five wrong days of the week.
As a consolation, the restaurant had a sprawling front porch topped with a few rocking chairs. The poetic scrawlings of years of catfish customers were carved into the wooden planks, a living document to prove that this was indeed a special gathering place. As my traveling partner and I sat for a spell, we were joined by two friendly, floppy-eared hound dogs who apparently owned the place. With no agenda and no pressing time concerns, I’ve rarely felt quite so relaxed as I did on that porch, though I did leave a little hungry.
Front porch culture is a treasure of the American South. But we New Jerseyans, we are a Market People.
Whether you’re a big spender or, like me, sometimes buy one apple and then just hang for an hour, I hope you’ve had a chance to take in the many charms of a local farmers’ market. Give yourself some time to dally. If you’ve missed it, these markets have become a kind of new town square, church basement and communal front porch. You can meet your neighbors at a moment when they’re not on a lawnmower or streaking via automobile toward their next destination. The food is also delicious.
In an essay on page 69, Denville Farmers’ Market vendor Monica Doshi explains how a trip to the market can be about a lot more than buying and selling produce and products: “Working at the market and interacting with the community every week helps to root me. My deep yearning to be connected has made me part of a tribe. In my 20s, I traveled all over the world. From the foothills of Peru to the massive plains of Kenya to the winding Great Wall of China and to the most remote villages in India, I searched but never found what I was looking for. Here, wedged between bread and honey, in this community hamlet of Denville, I’ve found home.” Everyone needs a tribe, and the tribe of those who eat local gathers weekly under big tents, congregating around tables filled with good food.
P.S. Be sure to check out our annual Farmers’ Market Guide