07 May 2010

Volunteer Voices – A Day in the Life

Photo by Allison Jones

I’ve always wanted to be a farmer.

As a kid, I had visions of sitting in a rocking chair on a big wrap-around porch drinking sweet tea from a mason jar. I reveled in the idea of being outside all day long and eating not just 3 times a day for all those city folk, but five times a day, because I was working so doggone hard. I would eat fresh strawberries all day as I wandered through my farm corralling hens and petting horses along the way. And at night, when all my work was finished, I would sit myself down at a big wooden table, freshly baked bread in one hand and a ripe tomato in the other thinking to myself, this is the life.

That is, until I realized what it is that farmers really do.

The backbreaking work, seasonal droughts, storms, and the harsh realization that one tiny little insect with an agenda for destruction can virtually wipe out an entire year’s worth of work. Our local, small business farmers are some of the hardest working people in America, and really, I’m just not cut out for that.

Which explains why now, as an adult, you can find me happily, humbly, eating my three meals a day at home. Expressing my gratitude to the people who harvest my food as a volunteer at our local farmer’s market.

Volunteering at the market is an incredible way to really understand what goes into getting our daily sustenance from field to table. It’s also a great way to get to know others in the community, talk with people about peas and peaches, and give back to the farmers and artisans who provide so much for us here in Oregon.

Showing up for the 11:00am shift at the market feels like a luxury. Market staff and vendors have been buzzing about since 6:00am getting stalls set up, produce laid out, and cupcakes delivered. I walk to the Manager’s booth and say hello to the morning crew, grab my bright red volunteer apron, and make my way to the Information booth, passing wood-fired pizza, spring greens, and small-batch chocolate along the way.

The Info booth is alive with smiles, stories, and if I’m lucky, a kind donation from Two Tarts Bakery. Rumor has it they donate an entire box of treats to market volunteers every Saturday, but I have yet to see any such evidence left over by the time I walk in.

The primary role of an Information booth volunteer is to answer questions about the market and direct people to where they want to go. Some of the most commonly asked questions are things like, “where’s the bathroom,” or “is there an ATM nearby?” But my favorite questions are the ones that are the most mysterious, the ones that really take the whole Info booth to answer like, “There was a vendor here a few years ago, they were right in the middle of the market and sold the most beautiful lavender. I’m looking for the lettuce guy that was right next to them.” Believe it or not, we usually figure it out.

A typical shift lasts for 3 hours and by the time I realize I’m thirsty from talking so much it’s just about time to go. At 2pm market closes, my apron comes off, and my shift has ended. I walk past vendors breaking down their stalls while fielding last minute pleas for green garlic. I feel happy, and while I realize that I may not have what it takes to become a real farmer, I can’t help but think of us volunteers as farmers ourselves; cultivating, enriching, and helping to grow love and knowledge of local foods and farms.

The wrap-around porch, strawberry grazing, and horse petting may not be my reality right now, but on Saturday nights after the market, sitting down at the dinner table for my third meal of the day, it’s pretty easy to think to myself, this is the life.

–Nicolette Smith

Visit Nicolette’s blog