“What’s this?” asks a young boy, his Simpsons face mask bunched under his nose. “Do you want to swap a story for a muffin?” I reply. I gesture towards my brown paper bag sign, propped on a recipe book holder. “I’ll come back later,” he says, running off to place his bet for how heavy the giant pumpkin is.
It was 6am when I arrived at the 32nd Street Farmers Market on a Saturday in October. Zeke’s Coffee truck pulled into the parking lot in the Waverly neighborhood with its headlights on, shining a light on the farmers unloading produce from the backs of their trucks. Workers from One Straw Farm laid out empty blue cartons on folding tables in rows of three, filling them with potatoes and string beans from black crates, dragged and scraped on the pavement still wet from last night’s rain. Carrying my camping chair and canvas bags filled with flower pots, wooden seeds, and Sharpies, I found Farm to Face, the falafel stand I worked at all summer. Except on this Saturday, I wasn’t there to swaddle falafel in collard greens; I was picking up the five dozen muffins I had baked in their kitchen the previous morning. These “Market Muffins,” made from zucchini, carrots, and walnuts from local farms, were for bartering: muffins for stories.
“I have a story about food!” says the boy with the Simpsons mask––a story about empanadas, to be specific. The line at DMV Empanadas is always so long, he says, but he waits in it every week while his mom works at Farmer Billy’s stand. I hand my new empanada friend two wooden, teardrop-shaped pendants. “On each pendant, draw a symbol or image that represents the story you shared.” He draws a black tent and a long line of stick figures, one of them labeled “Me.” “Plant one seed in this communal pot, and pick one of these seed packets for the other one.” He rummages in the woven basket and takes his pick amongst the various fruits, vegetables, and flowers I had drawn on the packets, and inscribed with a quote by the writer and activist adrienne maree brown: “What we pay attention to grows.” “Where do you want to plant this story?” I ask. He scurries away before I can show him the QR code that leads to the Padlet, where participants can post and see photos of each other’s Story Seeds.
He returns later that morning with another friend in hand, an older woman who I learn is a retired librarian. She shares a story about how they met at the market. She had lots of books to give away when she retired, and thought it was appropriate to give her books about pumpkins to Farmer Billy, the pumpkin man. Maybe he could give the books to his grandkids. Farmer Billy doesn’t have grandkids, but one of his workers does. So, this empanada-loving boy ended up with the pumpkin book. Now he and this retired librarian swap jokes every week. In her hand, she carries his Story Seed.
Photos redited to: Skye Fort