With a folded camp chair that served as a pole, I pushed up hard at the heavily bulging pockets of rain above our heads that threatened to collapse the tent. All that water spilled up and over the side into the already deep puddles we were standing in. Maybe the storm would move on, I thought. But after an hour of steady downpour, hot, weary, grumpy and defeated, we conceded to the rain gods at Thursday’s Gloucester farmer’s market and packed it in.
That morning, we had harvested in a 90+ degree steam bath, the heat enough to make you feel a little ill. T-shirts and headbands dripped with sweat. Tempers wore thin. Merciful clouds moved in and tempered the sun’s heat, but did nothing for the humidity and only made us worry about the approaching storm we knew was coming. When would it hit? was the question.
When thunderstorms threaten, as they always do when the humidity climbs, we farmers look over our shoulders at the sky and keep an ear cocked to the weather. We’ve been lucky, as this summer’s worst storms have passed us by. It is a mixed blessing. We so desperately need rain, depending heavily this year on our irrigation system. We worry about the wells drying up. We worry about the violence of a summer microburst that can take out the entire garden. Despite all our best engineering and planning, we remain at the mercy of the weather.
As we prepared for the market, the field-washed arugula and lettuce, chard and bok choy were packed on ice in coolers. Buckets of flower bouquets and stacked baskets of peppers, eggplant, string beans, summer squash and potatoes, all were packed like a puzzle into the truck along with the other accoutrements of a market…Tent, check…tables, check…signs, check…baskets, buckets, chairs, ice, all check. The truck fits barely a driver and passenger with all the stuff. We were on the road by 12:50 p.m.
Market begins at 3 p.m. It’s a 40 minute drive to Gloucester down Rte. 133, giving us just about an hour-and-a-half to get our stand ready. Setting up takes all of that time, and in Gloucester, it’s a cheerful, festive scene of about 30+ vendors. Cars back up to numbered stakes, and soon, a tent city, actually more of a tent “Main Street,” goes rapidly up with the help of an army of friendly market volunteers and vendors carefully arrange their wares into attractive displays.
We got one good hour of market time as we warily eyed the impenetrable cloud-wall looming over the harbor. During that one, wonderful hour, the market bustled with its usual vibrant energy — people buying, selling, munching on croissants, peach and rasberry pastries, fresh fruit, and organic pizza, and admiring the gorgeous vegetables and tempting wares spread before them.
When the rain came, all that bustle suddenly evaporated. In a matter of minutes, all that remained were a handful of intrepid shoppers under umbrellas. We stayed under our tent until a streak of lightening followed almost immediately by a boom of thunder, sent us scurrying to the relative shelter of the truck. As many vendors slipped away, we stayed, trading commentary with like-minded vendors from the shelter of dripping tents optimistic the storm might pass quickly enough to salvage the rest of the day. We slipped out from the shelter of our tents in lulls between gusts for social visits and considered our options. As more people packed up tents and wares, we stuck it out, reluctant to waste any of the fresh vegetables we’d picked that morning, thinking that our veggies wouldn’t suffer so much from rain, and we farmers certainly don’t melt. But by 5:30, market manager Niki Bogan called it off. “Pack it in people! I’m only charging half price.”
Paddling through puddles we took down the tent, and packed the bags, boxes, baskets, coolers, and paraphernalia back into the truck. Soaked, hot and bothered, fog coating the windows of the humid truck, we blasted the air conditioner all the way home. We thought about how lucky we are that this is the first time we’ve had to pack it in early since we started doing the markets. In farming, you take your lumps along with the good times, and hope for better weather next week.