September was an extremely busy month. In addition to the usual school work, teaching, a part-time job and my editor job at the Daily Cal, I took on editing a special issue on Food (how could I resist?) and I worked for Sinto Gourmet for two weekends (again, it’s food work, I just couldn’t resist). The first weekend, Hyunjoo Albrecht, Sinto’s owner, asked me to be at the Stonestown Farmers’ Market at 7:30 am on a Sunday.
I told myself that waking up early is good for me, and that after the Farmers’ Market finished I would have the rest of the day to study. That was all good in theory, until I couldn’t sleep the night before and ended up working all night, then begrudgingly got dressed to leave at sunrise. (My friend Nancy was so unbelievably kind to drive me all the way from Berkeley to Stonestown, otherwise, I would have had to take the bus at 5:30 am and made a few transfers)
After leaving me with the kimchi, Hyunjoo rushed to another Farmers’ Market to set up her stall. Other vendors slowly arrived and filled up their space, but not the stall to my left. The wind blew fiercely from Lake Merced in the west, which is also on my left side. Of course, I didn’t dress warm enough, had no scarf, and had to mentally fight off the cold by reading about sushi. I hated the first two hours at the Farmers Market.
By 9:30, the sky got clearer and I stepped into the sun to warm up. Then customers started coming by, I started giving out samples, the vendors of the stall to my left finally came and rushed to set out their vegetables. I came back to life.
At the end of the day (which was about 1 pm), the vendors began packing up. I dropped by the neighboring stalls to say hi and see what they were selling. The Saint Benoit Yogurt lady gave me a strawberry yogurt, the Phoenix Pastificio guy gave me a chocolate macaroon (not macaron), the honey guy let me taste 5 (or 6?) different honeys and gave me an orange blossom honey jar, and the vegetable vendors to my left gave me some tomatoes (the girl even washed one for me to eat right there – I hadn’t tasted such an aromatic tomato for years!). The other vendors also traded stuff with one another, kale for honey, marinated tofu for pastries, and so often they just give them for free.
By the end of the day, I was exhausted from standing and talking and dragged my feet to the bus station without a care in the world, but I was happy. Not just because I got free food (that made me happy of course). Not just because the food was so divine (the yogurt was so creamy because it’s made with whole milk, the honeys actually tasted like the flowers that the bees used to make honey, and over all, these fresh, real foods have such pleasant floral smells to them that store products can never compare). I actually didn’t know why I felt so happy until two weeks later, when I worked at Eat Real Festival with Hyunjoo. I was happy at the end of each day at the festival too.
Sure, I had to wake up at the time I normally go to bed, walked half a mile each way (from the bus stop to Jack London Square, where the festival was held), stood for 8 hours each day and felt like my knees and heels were going to shatter. Neither Hyunjoo nor I had any time to eat or check out other stalls, no vendors did. On Saturday, we bought two pastries from the stall right in front of us and a few sad dimsum (that were tiny and tasted no difference from the frozen ones). On Sunday, we ate nothing. We were tired for sure, but like Oaktown Jerk’s Randall Hughes in the next stall said, I didn’t feel miserable. There’s something so real about working with products, holding them in your hand, handing them to your customers and watching their expression as they got surprised by its quality. It was motivating. The kimchi is not even my own product and I’m already this happy selling it, I can hardly imagine how happy Hyunjoo must feel, and how the other vendors feel about their own. I began to understand how my parents feel when they spend hours everyday tending the apple and plum trees and cucumber vines in the backyard (and others in the front yard too).
For someone who spends almost all of her time in front of the computer, the interaction with physical products and physical people was fresh air. There were some annoying customers and some crazy ones of course (literally crazy, as in something is off in their head), but it was all very real. The interaction among the vendors was even better. Everyone was kind and eager to share their knowledge, and I like how they buy from one another (for example, Hyunjoo buys apples from another vendor at Farmers’ Market to make apple juice in her white kimchi). There was hardly any competition. During those hours, my focus was on preparing samples fast enough while observing and talking to the customers; I didn’t have to think about what I should do for my future, how to write my resume, how to sound smart against everyone else in my field. During those hours, I could actually rest.
The day after, my calves felt as if they had shrunk and standing up to start walking was the most painful moment ever. But, I would gladly do it again. I’m sure I would hate myself when I try to get out of bed, but as soon as I leave the apartment, I would feel alive.