31 May 2011

Market Kids

Article by Leslie Gilman

If you happened to stop by the Ancient Heritage Dairy booth last Saturday and found the wonderfully talented cheese maker, Paul Obringer, fighting a losing battle to keep his sample plates filled, I apologize.

It was my son. He’s two and just barely tall enough to reach his chubby little hands over the top of the table — and yet with a ninja-like accuracy he is able to obliterate the samples in the blink of an eye. And there I stand, dumbfounded, as he smiles up at me with scio feta oozing through his widely spaced incisors.

The Cheese is sooooooo close

Every variety pleases him – soft and mild, hard and sharp, or creamy and smooth. On one hand, I’m a little embarrassed by his voracious appetite and complete disregard of social convention but on the other hand, I’m insanely proud. While most toddlers wander around with goldfish clenched in their sweaty little fists, he has pecorino romano in his.

But that’s typical for my son, a kid raised with farmers markets central to his understanding of food, its origins, and its celebration. That’s not to say that we don’t go to the supermarket – we do, and he sits passively in his little plastic car/shopping-cart, watching the parade of rain boots, high heels and shopping cart wheels pass before his 18” high perspective. If we make it to the checkout counter without a meltdown – and then over that final hurdle of resisting the barrage of toys and candy offered right before you hand over your credit card – it is a successful trip.

Our outings to the farmer’s market are on the far other end of the spectrum. When our train makes its final stop at PSU and we disembark, his little legs start kicking with wild enthusiasm, knowing what lies just up the hill. As soon as we reach the market he leaps from my arms and walks amongst the crowd, a proud member of the group, rubbing shoulders with other toddlers, fingering the leafy kale that hangs over the table’s edge, and staring into the eyes of banjo-strumming musicians that recline on the grassy knoll.

The market for a toddler isn’t just a place where food is sold; it’s a place where food is celebrated. It’s where wooden coins and broad smiles are readily exchanged, where shouts about the health benefits of local wild honey mingle with the hiss of coffee brewing, oil popping and tote bags bristling against each other, filled with seasonal bounty. It’s a sensory rich carnival of colors, sounds, people and products that he only finds here, in this great cultural gumbo where food and people collide. I couldn’t find a playground or a prescribed “enriching toddler experience” that offers him as much as this reality.

And to me, this experience is as nourishing to him as the food itself.

Besides volunteering at Saturday’s PSU Market, Leslie is raising a cheese ninja