If you need a tour guide at the Hope Street Farmers Market, the best people to call are Jill Moles and Suzanne McLouth. They’ll meet you at the duck eggs and take you from booth to booth, introducing you to farmers, cheesemakers, bakers, herbalists, baristas, gardeners, antique dealers, painters, printers and even people who make preppy dog collars and gluten-free dog treats. Jill and Suzanne, former East Siders who now live in Oak Hill, have been meeting at the market on a regular basis for a few years. It’s a highlight of their week. “It’s a godsend,” says Suzanne. “It’s local,” says Jill. “That’s important.”
If you don’t stop by the market at least once this season, you are missing out on an opportunity to experience life as it should be: unhurried and fun. The market is open from 9am to 1pm, every Saturday and from 3 to 6pm on Wednesdays in Lippitt Park on Hope at the end of Blackstone. Just look for the cars – sensible and fuel-efficient – and the shoppers carrying unfashionable canvas tote bags. No plastic here, my friends. Even cut flowers are wrapped in paper.
I try to go as often as possible. What makes it amazing, besides the food, is that you run into amazing people, like Jill and Suzanne, who, on this particular morning, are graciously showing me around the grounds and sharing how good it feels to eat vegetables, fruit, bread and other food that is free of pesticides and other nasty chemicals. “I’m very careful about my food,” says Suzanne. “If I don’t know where it comes from, I don’t want it.”
My first stop is Poorboy Sharpening. No, I am not craving a sloppy roast beef sandwich on a submarine bun. I’m dropping off a Sheffield carving knife inherited from my mother-in-law to get it sharpened after decades of neglect. I hand it over, handle first, to the craftsmen, with a promise to return after my tour.
Jill is on the hunt for a cucumber plant. Sadly, the lettuce in her vegetable garden is “all done.” It started to bolt, which means, she says, that it has turned bitter. She is also buying Hakurei turnips, a bulbous veggie unknown to me. “They taste like a mix between turnips and radishes,” she says. “You can put them in salads, or snack on them like carrots.”
Suzanne grew up in the country in western New York. Her father was a doctor. A lot of his patients were farmers. She says she has great appreciation for people who work the soil. She remembers women who planted Victory Gardens during World War II to feed their families. “We’re going back to that,” she says. “Vegetable gardens are popping up everywhere.” She takes me to the Harvest Kitchen table, where a man is selling pickled cucumbers. The organization helps young people straighten out their lives. They learn how to cook, and some go on to become chefs.
“Holy moly,” says Suzanne, as she strolls onward. She is thrilled to see a box of squash from Skydog Farm, where produce is hydroponically grown. “Oh boy, this is a treat,” she says, and plops down $5. “I was not expecting this today.” Jill is enticed by a bunch of Swiss chard, so delicate it looks like a wedding bouquet. “I sauté them in olive oil,” she says. “You don’t have to add salt or anything. They’re good by themselves.”
Duck eggs and apples delight, and then we wander to another booth to consult with a master gardener, who is giving away seeds: coreopsis, poppy, daisy, larkspur, phlox and more. Suzanne talks about her milkweed; Jill inquires about why a zucchini plant fails to produce fruit. (Lack of pollinators.) I pocket two packages of nasturtium.
Along the way, we accept the offerings: feta from Narragansett Creamery, chipotle-flavored sauerkraut from Lost Art Cultured Foods, sweet applesauce from Harvest Farm and Pina Colada granola from Beautiful Day, a Providence nonprofit that helps refugees by teaching them how to make granola. Jill works with one of the sellers, Maitham, who is from Iraq. The conversation turns to how advanced Scandinavian countries are when it comes to the environment. “See what happens at the market – we talk,” says Suzanne.
Two hours whiz by. Jill buys a Yacht Club soda for her son, Nathan. Root beer, his favorite. We all promise to exchange plants from our gardens another day. I pick up the knife, like new. Now I can slice my apple.