Here was the plan – go to the opening of the Downtown Terre Haute Farmer’s Market, see what there is to see; chat with whoever chatters. A totally random sampling. Except, somehow, everyone we managed to talk to had a last name beginning with W. Coincidence or secret requirement? We know it’s the former, but wouldn’t the latter be fun? Unique, perhaps.
First off, we’ll tell you about Majel Wells, market master. Although using this male title is technically inaccurate, the feminine alternative “market mistress” sounds, well, like a different job description entirely. And Wells seems to have mastered the art/science of marketing.
As I ask some questions, a old farmer steps up, hands her a plastic bag of popcorn and asks bluntly, “How would you market this?”
Without hesitation, Wells says, “This is too much – bag about half the amount. And what’s it called?”
“Shaman Blue. I already got it all bagged like that.”
“Write the name on it with marker, and sell it for six dollars.”
He nods and walks off. Yep, that name made me interested in buying the popcorn.
“The market hired me to do business,” Wells says, “but I feel like I’m being paid to learn, and I’ve really embraced the idea of eating naturally.”
Natural and local are hallmarks of any farmer’s market. However, I’ve noticed some huge tomatoes at one of the booths, and I’m skeptical that they could be locally grown. At this time of year, that can’t be natural, right? Wells assures me otherwise.
“They’re from a great big hothouse. I’ve been there. It’s just full of tomato vines, and you can reach in from the windows and pick.”
Next up, in the next booth, we find Aimee Wyeth – little one suspended in a Snugli, olders on trying to be a big helper. Wyeth makes preserves using fruit from her own trees, from the neighbors, from folks her mom works for. She asks us if we have any fruit trees. We ask her if she’s any relation to the famous painter. She not only knows who we mean – she is!
“My husband has a cousin who did some genealogy research,” Wyeth explains. “He’s an artist too. He’s good, but he’ll probably never be as famous as Andrew. Anyway, my husband knows exactly what the family connection is.”
We are not a single bit skeptical of this. No one who knows the significance of THE Wyeths would fib about a connection. Plus she’s got such a perky farmhousey table, she could never fall under a cloud of suspicion.
Aaron Warner, well, he could and does. Warner’s T-shirt informs potential customers that his Yellow House Honey is World Famous. Of course, I’m skeptical, so I ask him what support he has for the claim.
“I’ve had a number of international students as customers over the years, “ Warner tells me. “From …”
Before he can tick off a list, a woman wanting a blueberry bush interrupts. Warner gives her instructions for planting. “You need to mulch it. I like pine needles, but use whatever you have. Don’t pay for mulch. That’s crazy. It’s critical to water the first season. And this is sulfur; work this in the soil to get the right pH balance. Come back in a couple of weeks. I’ll give you another application.”
This certainly makes us think Warner knows what he’s doing; however, the labels on his honey arouse new skepticism. They say: This product is home produced and processed, and the production area has not been inspected by the local or state department of health. Can this simple disclaimer really be enough to allow the honey to be sold openly rather than under the counter, or as a furtive transaction in an abandoned lot? Warner says it is, and then he digresses to how some states require a botulism warning on honey.
“I will stop selling if they make me put that on the label. More kids die choking on cigarette butts than on botulism from honey! And why would anybody be giving honey to a kid under a year old in the first place?! They’re still on breast milk!”
More customers come up, so Warner lays aside his pet peeve. The market’s featured musician is taking a break, and he’s in the shade, so he looks like a perfect interview source. However, guitarist/singer Joe Wright seems to be a man of few words. Some of my questions are longer than his answers. But then he could just be saving his voice for singing.
He has a nice singing voice – clear with just enough of a rasp to make the lyrics of the folk-country style music he’s playing sound convincing. Wright got the gig at this inaugural market of 2014 because he “played last year.” His day job is “a coal miner.” You might say he’s a “one-man band” who was “taught on the streets” although the fact that his dad was a band director in Sullivan for 30 some years might have something to do with his interest in music. What he likes about the market is “seeing people” and his usual playlist is “hours and hours” long.
“The playlist is shorter here because you can’t have any cussing,” Wright says. I ask what other venues he plays in. “I play a little guitar at church,” he tells me.
I feel doubtful that Wright has any cuss-intensive songs on his playlist, but I don’t challenge him. He has to get back to playing his G-rated numbers. At this point, the issue of all W initial names is recognized. So, here’s the new plan. More visits with a focus on a different letter each time. Like Sesame Street. Sure to be a hit, right?