At Large in Ballard: Farm Stand
By Peggy Sturdivant
My favorite farm stand visitors so far have been the Queen Anne couple killing time in the neighborhood because they were having their cat washed in Ballard. But we’ll come back to them later.
Like many others I’ve been giving away pounds of tomatoes this year, delighted whenever someone is pleased to be a recipient of my Sweet Millions, Sugar Lumps and Sungolds. (I am still hoarding my Purple Cherokees, Ivory Princes and Green Zebras).
Perhaps it was the scale that I found at a garage sale that reminded me of childhood, or the sight of shoppers still paying $5.00 for a pint of cherry tomatoes at the Farmer’s Market. As though it was in my blood I just had to set up an honor system stand on the front sidewalk and get those beautiful red orbs out of the backyard and into the public eye.
You see, I was a child vegetable vendor. My grandfather made a pushcart out of a frame mounted on bicycle wheels. My grandparents and mother did all the prep work, picking and washing the vegetables. Then my sister and I would set off with change in a muffin tin and a bell that we rang to summon customers. “Vegetables. Fresh vegetables.” We were the Campground Cruiser.
There are still residents living in the enclave of 19th century gingerbread cottages back east that remember us as children, weighing tomatoes and bagging lettuce. Sometimes a grandmotherly type would give us an extra dime.
The scale looks exactly the same. We’ve been charting our tomato harvest so I’ve been weighing paper bags of fruit for friends, rather like the old days. I considered putting a big bowl of tomatoes out in the front of the house but knew it could end badly, like it did with the candy dish that one Halloween.
Besides I am the daughter of an economist. Placing a monetary value on an object or product actually increases demand, besides I didn’t want to give my tomatoes to strangers. I wanted to sell them. “Farm stand!” I announced to Martin as he reluctantly handed over a wooden stepstool from his workshop.
I filled half-pint containers leftover from my blueberry buying binge and put prices on recycled envelopes, stuck a Christmas candy tin beneath the ladder’s feet. Does anything try to shout “small town” so much as an honor system for payment?
What I soon learned is that potential customers wanted to talk. To tell about how they used to buy roadside raspberries this way or their favorite tomato recipe. A little girl from across the street told me about her cat. Another woman didn’t have any money with her. Could she drop off a dollar the next day? (She did). Only once or twice did the tomatoes depart stealthily; dollar bills deposited into the tin.
But my favorite visitors were the couple who seemed very apologetic about having their cat washed. “It’s the first time,” the gentleman said, clearly not wanting me to think they were the kind of owners that wouldn’t launder their own animal.
“We had the furnace open for cleaning,” he explained, “And the cat crawled up through the ducts.”
“She was coated in black,” his wife added. “Even in her mouth, probably her lungs.”
“So we’re spending the day in Ballard until it’s time to pick her up down on 24th.”
“What a lovely neighborhood,” the woman said. “Such friendly people and so much to look at.”
What could I do but show them the tomato jungle. Jealous that anything else was getting attention my own cat jumped out the window to join us. Marion from up the alley drove by waving. “That’s where I get my rhubarb,” I told my new friends. Then I pointed to Mary Lou’s backyard. “That’s where I have clothesline privileges, and where I get my cooking apples.” I’ve always believed that pretending that we live in a small town helps make it closer to being one.
I insisted on giving them a half-pint of my Sugar Lumps, their car was parked fairly nearby.
The following day it was overcast and the first day of school. I didn’t set up the stand but looked out anyway when a car pulled up in front. It wasn’t someone looking for fruit. It appeared to be a driver who had stopped to smoke crack.
Perhaps I always look at Ballard too naïvely, projecting an ever rosy light. But I couldn’t help but think there wouldn’t have been a drug stop in front of my house if the tomatoes had been out. Having a farm stand makes everything seem better: the streets, the cats. Everything cleaner.
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