The Farmer’s Market: Fresh and Friendly

by Jacquelyn Thayer

Hazel Mondim with her produce

When asked to identify her favorite things about farming, Hazel Mondim mentions two. “I get exercise I need and the taste of fresh, hand-picked vegetables – not the cardboard taste you get in grocery stores.”

Most who visit a farmer’s market agree with her on that second point. The produce available at a farmer’s market is typically fresher and more flavorful than what can be found in most stores.

Perhaps one of the most attractive aspects of farming and selling is the sense of community it fosters.

In addition to her homegrown vegetables, Mondim is selling goat cheese. She explains that it was made by a neighbor who raises goats. As he’s spending the morning milking, she is selling it for him. “We grow everything we sell,” she says, but is more than willing to assist a friend in need. Likewise, a friend of Mondim’s has spent the last three weeks assisting at the booth. Mondim demonstrates this friendly attitude further by excitedly introducing me to another vendor, Jeffrey Braune, who teaches agricultural education in inner-city San Antonio and sells produce as a side job. His message as a farmer and educator is that even in an urban setting, one can grow good produce, eat well, and even sell some of the produce in a farmer’s market. This is a close-knit world, one that is also strongly interested in its own perpetuation.

Produce from Jeffrey Braune’s booth

What shoppers don’t usually see, though, is the effort that goes into growing and tending the produce.

“In Texas,” Mondim remarks, “You can’t legally gamble, but you can plant.” South-central Texas weather makes a farmer’s job difficult. “The dry, the possibility of hail.”

Still, the agricultural life holds a certain appeal, especially for those who grew up in it. Mondim first learned the value of growing one’s own produce from her parents. “In the Depression, you grew everything,” she says. “I’m 70 years old, I’ve been involved since I was growing up.” She later passed down her own knowledge to her children. “As a divorced single mom of three, I had a garden that provided fresh produce for the kids.” Today, she says, her two sons are “very agriculturally-oriented because of the raising they had.”

Compared with her lifelong experience in farming, Mondim is a relative newcomer to the world of the farmer’s market. She has “been in farmer’s markets since the mid-‘80s,” she says, when Jim Hightower, who was then the agricultural commissioner of Texas, promoted a system of direct retail by farmers to consumers. This resulted in the establishment of weekly or bi-weekly farmer’s markets throughout the state, including the Seguin Farmers Market, which can be visited at 510 East Court St. in Seguin, Texas, every Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon.

Seguin Farmer’s Market seen from the street

Mondim grows her crops seasonally, with her May produce including a few varieties of squash, Swiss chard, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes and cucumbers, her fastest-selling items. She and her friend enthusiastically suggest recipes using the produce, including these two for pattypan squash:

**Wash off the squash and slice cross-wise. Dip slices first in a mixture of milk and egg, then in breadcrumbs. Fry slices in butter and olive oil, turning so that both sides are fried evenly.

Wash the squash and dice. Boil for a short time, just until squash is tender. Toss in butter or margarine and add onion, peppers, tomato, and garlic, to taste.**

Pattypan squash and zucchini at Hazel Mondim’s booth

Originally published on Beyond Barbecue, May 21, 2006

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