The book explores weekend farmers markets before opening time.
Each weekend I ride my bicycle into the mountains near my Silicon Valley home. I start very early in the morning to avoid the traffic and the heat. During the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the local farmers market moved to a parking lot that I used as a shortcut. It was one of the few places where people would congregate.
I became interested in this pre-dawn activity, because there was no other activity around. My home office video conferencing camera was used to chronicle their work. My curiosity slowly became a project.
I usually arrive three hours before the opening. Standing in the parking lot under a street light, I wait for the first trucks. A business card helps to dissolve the suspicions. Those persons willing to provide contact information get copies of the better photos.
New diets make January’s weekends the busiest, followed by Mothers Day. Strawberries are individually arranged in baskets to always point in the direction of the customer. Oranges and onions, full of water, are the heaviest boxes to lift. The trucks for the vegetable stalls arrive first, the baked goods are usually last. These are things I didn’t know before.
Some mornings it’s so cold that I can only use my thumbs to operate the camera. I’ve been there in the rain and fog too. The weather doesn’t stop the activity.
It’s an immense amount of work done with blurring speed. Between 10 to 20 pounds of goods are unloaded, unboxed and placed on display every minute for 2-3 hours prior to the customers’ arrival. The vehicles are often loaded in the dark, and leave the California central valley farms just after midnight to make a four hour drive to the San Francisco metropolitan area. They start the return trip in the early afternoon to arrive home for dinner. I have seen the same teams on Saturdays and Sundays in different cities. They are there midweek too, especially in the summer.
Sometimes trucks deposit their goods and leave, apparently abandoning the merchandise. Half an hour later the tents arrive and the products are neatly displayed on collapsible tables. Larger vehicles also provide items for smaller ones destined for markets in nearby cities. The person behind the counter may have got out of bed after another team arranged the merchandise and texted them. It is often astonishing to see tons of goods unloaded and arranged in a couple hours by a few persons.
It is a small close community, with a mutual interest in the success of each market. Those behind the scenes broadly represent the cultural diversity of the Bay Area where I live. There is friendly competition and cooperation.
I started photography when I volunteered for my school yearbook in Jamaica. A family friend had a darkroom and was willing to let us use it to develop the photos we needed. In university I spent most of my scholarship’s money on film. After one-hour photo stores damaged my negatives, I started using contact sheets. I enjoyed it, but it was horrifically expensive for a young engineer on the island. I started taking black and white photos to save money. When I started my family, I had to stop. I patiently waited until the promise of digital photography’s super cheap cost per photo and acceptable quality came true.
Black and white accentuates the work done in the markets’ morning shadows. It is now an artistic choice. My bicycle awaits.