Tales From The Farmers' Market, Covid-19 Edition (a rant of sorts)

To the memory of the Produce Marketing Goddess Extraordinaire

I've worked at this market for fifteen years and some. The farmer was the third person I met in the whole of the United States. Christine used to help him out Saturday mornings in Davis, because she loved both the community, the culture and the food. I work here for the same reason. Over the years I've come to develop real friendships here, through relationships that grow five minutes at a time, week after week, month after month, year on year. I've watched their children grow from little snotnoses into wonderful young adults. I've celebrated and commiserated their life events, laughed with them and cried with them¹. Some of these are people I'd take a bullet for, frankly. I love my job, and despite getting up at sparrow fart to ready myself for the day, I have a spring in my step, a song in my heart and a hug readied. Until today.

The pandemic has resulted in our having to take extraordinary steps to protect people, and the hygiene protocols we follow result in a very different shopping experience for everyone. Normally our produce is set out on tables or in baskets, beautifully presented and available for the customer to select for themselves. We've salad mixes and loose greens in baskets for folk to bag themselves. Bunches of radishes, beets, onions, shallots and garlic. Several kinds of kales, mustards and other greens are bunched in baskets ready to be simply plucked and paid for. There's a little time for schmooze and occasional flirtation. Everyone gets attention, we all have fun and usually I'm happy at close of day, replete with the tired satisfaction of a job well done.

Let's move up. In order to keep the markets going, the flow of fresh food continuing to the public, we've all had to make changes. We separated out cash handling and food handling. Wore gloves, sterilised everything to within an inch of its life. No physical contact with customers; no high-fives, handshakes or hugs. Put up signs telling people they mustn't touch what they weren't buying, and that we'd happily help in any way. Additionally we had pre-weighed bags of the loose greens but customers were still willing and able to make a mix to their own requirement. "A little of the mustard mix, a pinch of argula and oh my, is that spinach? A handful of that", and they'd pop it in a bag. We had signs bloody everywhere stating that market rules dictated that they should touch only what they were willing to buy.

One sonofabitch screwed that up. Let's call him "Airforce Cap". He looked down his rude nose at the world, strode in like sodding John Wayne, picked up a bunch of beautiful Round Red Radishes and squinted at the price before cramming them back on the pile because "three dollars is too much". I was fuming. Three customers were shocked. I asked which bunch he'd mauled. Three fingers pointed and I snatched up the offended bunch and walked after him like a damned Sergeant Major. Now, I stress that I was polite. I told him firmly that the radishes were now his because he'd touched them, in defiance of the edict. I told him there were signs, and that if he had any honour he'd pay for them but even if he didn't I wasn't going to take them back. I asked him if his Air Force training taught him to hold himself accountable. And I held out $3 worth of radishes while I held his gaze. I was seven foot tall, in blessed dragonmail armour and armed with an AR-15 of indignant wrath. His wife paid the money, he demanded to see the signs. I showed him, assured him that we'd worked hard to bring good, fresh produce to market. Then I returned to my station, returned to my normal size and spent ten minutes getting rid of an unpleasant adrenaline rush.

Following that, we've said customers can now no longer handle food before taking it; rather we have to select it for them. There is a tape barrier so they can't reach the table. I run around like a blue-arsed fly getting stuff at their behest, which I'm happy to do, even though it's made the experience more mechanical and twice as hard. It took three of us today to do what two could have done Even so there's less time to be sociable, no time to shoot the breeze or inquire after family. And most people are wonderful, they understand what's going on and are patient; they want fresh food, want the farm to succeed. They're leaving tips ("keep the change…"), which is vanishingly rare. They recognise we're doing a Good Thing under Very Trying Circumstances and they are willing to forego niceness for a moment. But it's hard for both sides and we all know it.

So to you, Miss Biatch, who snuck under the wire to grab that lettuce; to you, Former Fucking Army Slime who left six dollars of stuff on the table because he "had to run and get cash" and didn't return; to you Mrs High And Mighty, who asked the other helper to show them every fucking Romaine lettuce we had before making a selection; to each of you I have only this to say: try it again, motherfuckers. You have fifteen seconds to reach Minimum Safe Distance.

To the rest of you who come here rain or shine and appreciate that we do the same, when this emergency is all over, I'm going to hug the squeak out of you. I'm going to hug everyone I love here, and it'll be all better. But until then I am taking no prisoners.

Love you, Christine, still love you, eight years on

¹ Romans 15:12 if I recall right. I was wrong, DonJaime is right. It's Romans 12:15. But damn I was close, not bad for an atheist.

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