Saturday morning dawned clear and pleasant, a lovely day to do something outside. I dragged my husband out of bed early to experience the local farmer’s market. He was more enthusiastic than I anticipated, likely due to the two large cups of coffee that had been delivered to him hot and strong while he sat in bed.
On arrival to the marketplace, we wandered like lost sheep through the multiple vendors. As neophytes to the experience, we were overwhelmed by a sea of color and choices. Even this early in the season, the stands provided a bounty beyond expectation. Upon the tables were spread multiple varieties of leafy greens, onions, beans, and herbs in overflowing piles. It took us over an hour just to decide on a course of action, which was the proposed menu for the next few days as well as the list of fresh edibles to build the entrees.
Farmer’s markets are not uncommon in the west, but you will not find one in Kemmerer, Wyoming. The growing season there seldom goes beyond about 30 days, which is the average of frost-free days in the area, and the main reason that the primary farming that goes on around Kemmerer is of livestock. Livestock farming can be moderately successful barring any “unusual” circumstances of weather or disease or market fluctuation which are all too common. The ever-burdened timeworn look of the Kemmerer rancher is deeply chiseled into my memory. These men and women, truly Jacks and Jills-of-all-trades, were the backbone of every aspect of their operation from before sun-up until well after sun-down every day of the year. I didn’t know of a rancher who rested (unless under anesthesia) and vacations were all but unheard of. They poured their very soul into the ranch – it wasn’t just a place or an occupation, it was their life.
I worked with the Kemmerer ranchers for over 13 years and I truly miss these denizens of the range. They would come into the office briefly, usually under great difficulty of time or disposition, to manage paperwork and accounts. Sometimes (rarely) they would stay for a bit and discuss matters other than concerns with business. Most often they would meander in, pay a bill, grumble a little about the weather or costs or changes, notice that their cow dog was now ¼ mile down the road, and hasten off leaving but a puff of range dust where they once stood.
One particularly poignant memory is the good-bye from a rancher who was not only a community fixture, but also someone who was more of a “regular” in our office.
“So, what do you think you’ll do when you leave this place?” He softly questioned while sharing a gentle hug.
“I was thinking about doing some writing.”
“Well, don’t you forget about us, OK?”
Saturday I looked into the eyes of the market farmer and didn’t see the red from the western dust and sun, or the wrinkles from worry, or the hunched shoulders from years on the back of a horse. I saw a robust man with a round-cheeked smile and thought of how I hoped his years on the farm were showing in the glow on his face. He helped me remember, so I said a prayer for all farmers that this year would bring them something to smile about.