Snack and Relax


by Jenni Pertuset
photo by Carole Topalian

Every Sunday I navigate the farmer’s market, dashing about for the week’s food with a 3-year-old by my side.

I love the market I frequent, with its two-story-tall purple, orange and red flags, its low hum of conversation, its cold-weather smell of wood smoke, coffee, and grilled sausages. I value the fresh food and the friendships I’ve developed buying directly from the people who produce it.

And I enjoy being there with my daughter, who has her own favorite farmers and foods. But keeping the girl from dashing toward traffic, or from snatching half a wheel of cheese (again) can leave me feeling frazzled.

Other parents don’t seem as harried. Their families adopt a leisurely pace, even on a chilly day. Some pause near buskers to enjoy lunch. Lingering around the fire pit or lounging on a curb over crepes or soup, they tap toes to old-time music. Once they’ve eaten, kids bob and bounce to the music or ask to be picked up, giving their parents an excuse to dance.

I wanted to adopt this more relaxed approach, and still get what I came for—good food from good people. So I asked moms more easygoing than I how they navigate a farmers market with their children.

Leah Adams’s two kids have a few years on my daughter, but her advice applies to children of almost any age: “Buy a big piece of fruit, or something nibbly right at the beginning.” It’s the farmer’s market equivalent of the grocery store maxim “don’t shop hungry,” with the added advantage that it engages the hands of curious little ones.

When Sharlet Driggs’s son was in the grabbing stage, she carried him in a backpack. It put him eye to eye with vendors, rather than their wares, and they noticed and interacted with him. One gave him two ripe nectarines, “I can remember his eating them two-fisted and the juice dripping all over the backpack, my shirt, and my hair! I had to do some washing up at home but he was so delighted it made me laugh, and I’ve always remembered it.”

Bringing a small child up to adult height enables the kinds of conversations for kids that we as parents seek at the market, and a carrier frees up the hands for making purchases—or carrying the remaining half of that apple we bought when we arrived.

Opting for a stroller works well for families of some young children, especially those who’d rather not add a child’s weight to the load of produce. Sarah O’Brien and her husband Matt Stern manage the juggling routine by splitting duties: She cares for the kids, he handles the haul. That became much easier once they starting using a cart for their purchases.

Theirs is a hook-and-go, which looks like it could tote your golf clubs except for its row of hooks for hanging shopping bags. The carts are eye-catching, and I’ve found strolling one around the market offers many opportunities for conversation.

Interacting with people while we shop is important to me. Beyond physically managing the market, I also hope to engage my daughter in it, teaching her about seasons and farmers and community.

Just making the market a routine helps us make these connections. We see what changes over the course of a year, and get to know farmers. Other parents also help their children cultivate relationships. Driggs encourages her son to connect with farmers by suggesting questions he can ask about the produce and Adams offers spending money to her daughter and son to help them engage.

The sense of community felt at a market develops along with relationships—both with vendors and other shoppers. For market regulars, familiar faces aren’t just behind the tables. Some families like to meet up with friends, but even without planning an encounter, acquaintances tend to bump into each other.

Lora Shinn shops her neighborhood market every Sunday with her 2-year-old son snoozing in his stroller while her 8-year-old daughter plays violin for market-goers. “We see everyone from our local librarian to long lost friends down there. Unfortunately, this means I always have to brush my hair beforehand.”

Of all the reasons families shop the farmer’s market, the food itself—local, seasonal, fresh—is paramount. Tasting samples delights most kids and gives them a chance to try produce at its peak. Vicki Pettiross says of her family, “We pretty much eat our way around the market.”

However they get around the market, each of the families who inspired me shared Melanie Kling’s philosophy for appreciating it: “Make it an outing, not just an errand.”

Jenni Pertuset might have rolled over your toes with her cart at the Ballard Farmer’s Market.

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