The following is a description of UMass Sustainable Food and Farming graduate Sam Bavelock’s experience working at the Amherst Farmers’ Market. Great story…..
Over the summer in 2016, I had the opportunity to volunteer for the Summer Farmers’ Market here in Amherst, MA! I had been helping out with the Winter Market and wanted to continue to help throughout the summer and fall seasons. I was eager to be outside, note the differences between the two markets, as well as engage with community members, farmers, homesteaders, artists, bakers, and more, in the discussion about food.
While the winter market is held indoors at the Amherst Regional Middle School, the summer market vendors line the parking lot right off Boltwood Ave in downtown Amherst. Being closer to downtown brought a lot more foot traffic to the market. The summer market being more accessible than the winter market showed to be the biggest difference. While the winter market is in a location off the bus route and customers typically already know about it, the summer market location allows for people who didn’t plan to go shopping to explore and learn more about the products available locally. Being downtown also made it more accessible for community members without a car due to the PVTA bus system that runs through downtown.
Along with more people, summertime also brought fresh fruits and veggies! Through talking with vendors and even just observing what was available, I was able to learn more about the seasonality of the produce that was grown locally. It was from an orchard farmer that I heard the unfortunate news that a late frost killed all pit fruit blossoms, meaning there wouldn’t be any local plums, peaches, or apricots. This was discouraging news that made me realize how climate change is impacting New England agriculture. Getting the opportunity to speak face to face with the people who grow my food gave me a better sense of connection to the local, natural environment and allowed me to understand its relationship to the greater state of our Earth.
It was rewarding to then bring these pieces of knowledge to customers and community members and to engage in conversations about our responsibilities to one another and the actions we take to be mindful of our impacts. Most of the conversations I had made it clear that people felt that the market was a place for practicing this mindfulness, allowing us to be present and aware of where and who our vegetables, maple, honey, care products, art, and even clothes come from. The market worked as an educational space, especially for the many kids and teens that parents brought with them to shop.
I remember learning in my freshman year world development class about the advertisement methods that companies, for example cereal companies, use to tap into the developmental phases of a child’s mind. Their goal is to have kids build a relationship, an emotional connection with their product, so that they want and continue to want to invest and even go on to be adults who form nostalgia surrounding these products and possibly introduce them to their children. I was horrified to think that companies were taking advantage of children in order to sell them products that aren’t healthy for them just so that they would continue to give their money to these companies. Youth education surrounding food is one of the most vital practices if we as a community are working to better ourselves and our environment. To see so many kids and teens getting excited about being able to pick out the week’s supply of berries, greens, or eggs was an inspiration! The market really allows for a sense of community to blossom and for knowledge to be passed from one to another, and I was grateful to be a part of that for the summer at the Amherst Summer Farmers’ Market.