By Kelsey Maki
Photography by Jenna Noel
A similar scene might play out each week in homes across Central Texas as vendors come together for the various farmers markets in our area. Along with freshly plucked produce, quality meats and cheeses, and handmade wares, many will bring along a little something extra to the market: their children.
Noemi Alvarez (16) has worked on her family’s Bikkurim Farm since she first began collecting eggs at age three. “The market’s something that I’ve been brought up in, and I like being here,” she says. “You have conversations with people that you don’t know, but you love the same things. And teaching people to be healthy is such a wonderful thing.” “A lot of people don’t know how good food tastes,” adds Laminick Cartwright (10) of Loncito’s Lamb. “You can’t find the good food that’s at the market at a grocery store.”
Caterer and market aficionado, Madeline Pizzo, has observed Austin’s market kids for quite a while and noticed they seem more centered and grounded. “Even as little kids, they have a greater sense of themselves…of maturity and respect,” she notes. “They know where their food comes from, and they have a good idea about all the hard work that goes into it.”
Indeed, a seemingly innate food ethic appears early and remains a commonality among market kids. “Sometimes we get sad because people don’t know what to do with, like, Swiss chard or spinach, and we have to give them recipes,” says Noemi. “It reminds us…I don’t know how to explain it…it just shows us how grateful we are to live on a farm and know what to do with those things.”
Recent college graduate, and one of the more seasoned market “kids,” Patrick Fitzsimons of Thunder Heart Bison knows that with greater eco-awareness comes greater responsibility. “If you pick something up in the grocery store and read the label it will say what’s in there. But you can’t talk to the person who made the thing,” says Fitzsimons. “Here, you can talk to the person and they are entirely accountable for their product. It’s just another layer of caring.”
He takes his responsibility a step further by encouraging customers to see the connections between the animal, the land and the product they are consuming. “In my booth I have pictures of the bison grazing on the grass right next to the samples of the jerky,” he says. “People are like…I don’t want to see that, I don’t want to think about the thing I’m eating. They just want to block it out. I’m trying to break down those barriers.”
Viewing food differently and breaking down barriers aren’t the only big ideas growing within the market kids. Several have flexed their entrepreneurial muscles to start their own product lines, and even more have “someday” aspirations.
Jasmine Ringger (17) of Ringger Family Farm runs a particularly successful joint venture with her brother Gideon (14): producing and selling goat’s milk soap along with their family’s eggs. “I started about a year ago, making soap by hand,” says Jasmine. She admits running her own business can be challenging at times, but “you learn life lessons, telling people about your products and working with people. That’s really important.”
Ringger brothers Boaz (11) and Eli (15) would like to expand the meat goat business, and Jasmine wants to extend her product line to include lotions and shampoos. Older sister Serenity (19) has her eye on growing fruit trees. “It’d be hard work,” she says. “But hard work never hurt anybody.”
Boaz is emphatic about how much he learns at the market. “I learn more working at the markets than I do in school! Math, giving change, selling things…things like that.” And Laminick concurs, “You learn more math when you are working because you have to know it.”
Pizzo notes, however, that what these kids are learning, and emulating, extends well beyond beneficial entrepreneurial, communication and math skills. “They’re part of the next generation of kids and young adults that knows there’s a cycle, and that we’re all a part if it,” she says.
“With farmer kids, you have a connection,” says Noemi, “because we all have to do the same things. A lot of my other friends ask what do I do with this? But with market kids, we know. It’s like a giant family almost.”
For a full listing of farmers markets click here.