Come As You Are

By Kathleen Sams | March 5th, 2024

Finding community at the farmers market

A little girl and her father buying from a vendor at a farmers market. Image by Monkey Business Images

A farmers market offers more than produce, crafts, and other such products for sale. Kathleen Sams shares the added value provided in markets everywhere.

The dress code at the farmers market is casual. Men and women arrive in running tights and fleece caps. A brother and sister with their dad wear puffy coats over pajamas. The only touch of glamour comes from a young girl who carries a shiny gold purse.

I used to spend Saturday mornings at home, reading and making notes in my journal. But today, I stand under a tent in a church parking lot, ready to answer questions. To provide directions for shoppers who wake early to support small businesses and local farmers.

From 9 a.m., when the market opens with the clang of a cow bell, until noon, when the closing bell rings, I say hello to the people who walk alone or in pairs, pushing strollers, drinking coffee, tugging leashes. They carry baskets or canvas bags printed with words: Public Radio Nerd. The New Yorker.

I listen as a vendor tells a customer that the best olives come from Spain. A man who sells eggs says his chickens eat bugs as they roam, free, in the pasture. The farmers market offers beeswax candles and Brunswick stew. Mushrooms and microgreens. Kombucha and kale. Individuals who receive SNAP benefits can exchange EBT funds for tokens to purchase fresh produce and meat.

But as the sun rises high in the winter sky, I realize that many people come for something other than food.

“Even if I buy only a loaf of bread, just seeing the children and the dogs makes the trip worth it,” a woman tells me as I press a button to count the shoppers who gather in groups to talk. They chat with the vendors, asking questions about their products. They pause as they pass the welcome table where I stand.

Thank you for doing this. Thank you for being here, they say.

I am a volunteer at the weekly Farmers Market @ St. Stephen’s. My role is to greet guests and provide assistance as needed. To take the phone number of a woman who lost an earring. To help a vendor find her missing keys.

I am not a farmer. I don’t make the honey, bake the bread, or knit the alpaca socks that are for sale. But I can offer a kind word and a smile. And I cherish the smiles I receive in return.

“In daily life, when you see someone smile, the mirror neurons in your brain for smiling fire as well,” Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross wrote in their book, Your Brain on Art. “Mirror neurons help you to bridge the gap between self and other in order to build empathy, understanding, and to create shared human experiences.”

As I watch adults pull wagons of small children eating apples and empanadas, I think of a scene in Greta Gerwig’s 2017 film Lady Bird. A nun notes the care and affection that Lady Bird uses to describe her hometown in an essay. “I guess I pay attention,” the teenager says, and the nun asks her, “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing – love and attention?”

And I realize that the farmers market is a place where people pay attention to each other. They greet each other and make eye contact. They ask about pets and babies and the man who makes soup.

Stories of conflict fill the daily news. The United States is facing a “public health crisis of loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection.”

But on Saturday mornings, in a church parking lot and fellowship hall, everyone is welcome to gather, to be present, to be part of a community. You don’t need to be a member of the church—or any faith group—to attend the farmers market. Just showing up in a sweatshirt or an old sweater is enough. And that is the reason I keep coming back.

Kathleen Sams is a reader, writer, and nonprofit development professional who lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her two children. Her writing has appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and in Nine Lives: A Life in 10 Minutes Anthology.

Read more contributions from Boomer readers in our From the Reader department.

Have some childhood memories or other stories or essays you’d like to share with our baby boomer audience? View our writers’ guidelines and e-mail our editor at with the subject line “‘From Our Readers’ inquiry.”

Boomer Brain Games ad - jumble, boggle, puzzles, trivia

More from Boomer

The Games People Play

By Gail Bobrowitz | July 9, 2024

My Happy Place in Redondo Beach

By Karen Czuleger Strgacich | July 2, 2024

Vive Les Etats-Unis!

By Barbara Tulli | June 25, 2024