We are always told to not judge a book by its cover, but I guess that also works for farmers markets. Gateway 105 was a real test of my immediate judgement. When I first drove up to a small patch of green just past the Stokes VA Medical Center, I judged the scene for its size. Like sizing up a hotel buffet. Was this the Farmers Market I was supposed to visit? I thought I might be at the wrong place because it seemed too small. Perhaps eight white covered tents stood at attention in a nearly perfect circle, enclosing a handful of children rolling around on the grass and chasing each other.
I am ashamed to say that I didn’t have the highest hopes for what I would find in the tents. The scene looked bare. As I waited for Jackie to arrive, I stayed in my car and simply observed the scene before me. From my seat in the driveway, the first sound that wafted through my window was laughter. I soon noticed that the few people mingling around were not just visitors to the market, but fellow vendors. They just could not stay in their seats. Greetings, jokes, and gentle congratulations mixed in with constant chatter. I had stumbled upon a farmers market disguised as a neighborhood block party.
Block parties are formed to bring people together, share food, and tell stories. This place was no different. As we walked among the produce, stories revealed themselves. Each tent a new layer in the plot. The people at Gateway 105 are natural storytellers and strive to make personal connections with their customers. Learning about these individuals was not a difficult task. We just had to be willing to ask a few prompting questions and let the conversation fly.
One mother daughter duo made a contradicting pair. The mother was selling microwave potholders as well as tie-dyed shirts and old shirts transformed into shopping bags. I think if we stayed an extra ten minutes, Jackie might have been tempted to purchase at least five potholders. “They’re just so cute and practical!” The mother sat next to her daughter who runs Charissa’s Bakery. I thought it must be very hard to sit next to so much bakery and not be temped. Then I learned that the mother was gluten free and vegan. “No grain. No pain!” she proclaimed. The Chai spiced cookies that looked so tempting to me did not phase her. Self control at its best.
To the side of the information tent stood a woman adorned in a cream colored sunhat eyeing the green like a woman in charge of rowdy toddlers. Veronica started this market in July of 2011. By her stance and questioning look towards us, I imagined that she led with a gentle smile and a commanding wave of her finger. She had a way of telling you what she thought as if it were a kind of suggestion and not one to ignore. My suspicions were confirmed when we talked to her son who sat quietly with a pencil in his hand. When I asked him how long he’d been working here, he stated, “you mean how long have I been working here officially or how long have I been conscripted?” This was followed by a side-glance towards his mother.
Many of the people we encountered were on the border of their next venture. Veronica’s son, doodling behind the piles of peppers and heirloom tomatoes, is looking to get into technical illustration at the CIA. While he has really enjoyed watching how the market has grown over the years, building relationships with vendors and becoming a cemented part of the community, further art studies are calling his name. Perhaps his first project will be designing graphics for the market. I pegged him as giving back type, proud of where he was from.
A man in a button down shirt distracted the scene briefly as he called over to Super Queen, home of gourmet kettle corn, to reserve a bag of popcorn. “You got it man” was all the reply he needed. He was a regular. The young man at Super Queen quietly took his order and continued to clean the kettles and man the station. “The name’s Fred, you can call me Rico.” I could immediately tell that the tent was in good hands, even with its owner running around to all the tents handing out cards and screaming one-liners. She was a one man band in advertising.
Even though there were only eight tents, Jackie and I spent as much time at Gateway 105 Farmers Market as we have at any other. The charisma and character of the people were magnetic. We could not pull away. Our time at this peaceful patch of green, a stone’s thrown from a crazy intersection, reminded me of the beauty that farmers markets bring to communities.When like-minded individuals gather to promote a specific cause, the result fosters growth on a public and personal scale. Not only a social gathering place for people to catch up each week but a space to share and innovate, to generate a culture of hands on commitment. Whether you’re a booming art student or a vegan tie dye artist, treasures both edible and material can be found at Gateway 105 Farmers Market. You might be surprised by what you find, so turn the page and start on chapter one.