Loyalty is a word that comes to mind when I think local. So is tradition and commitment. The simple act of nurturing something until it contributes to a meal and a moment in time is beautiful. And doing it with a sense of humor only makes life more fruitful…see what I did there?
Meet Charlie, Doris and Nancy Foster of Fosters Farm. They’ve been farming for the better part of their lives and have been regular vendors at the Abingdon Market for quite some time. Always greeting me with a smile, Doris is the first one I usually see on Saturday mornings. She’s the social butterfly, and she finally gave in to having her picture taken [shown below]. I wasn’t lying about her smile.
Knowing how many hours of work a day goes into growing the green beans and squash I’ll have for dinner tonight has helped me treat meals more reverently. Those few moments where you eat and drink and pause from your busy life are difficult to do, but they make a huge impact on your mind.
At their table, among other things, you can find green beans, cabbage, squash, assorted greens, zucchini, watermelon, and pumpkins later on in the season. Charlie and I looked at photos taken over the past couple of years, and had a grand old time talking about his years in farming…
“Sarah: How long have you been a farmer?
Charlie: Probably 40 years.
S: How did you get started in it?
C: Well it was just a, I guess it was a way of life. When we growed up, we didn’t have no grocery stores so we had to raise our own stuff…To me now, more than anything, it’s like a hobby. I just love doing it. If I don’t like doing it, at my age, I wouldn’t be out in that hot sun all day.
S: That is true. Is it a family business as well?
C: Well, now it’s just me and my two sisters. The rest of them just, they went off and done their own thing, ya know. ‘Course I’ve worked probably about 40 years. Started this as a hobby, and been doing it ever since. Not ‘cause I have to do it, ya know.
S: Is it relaxing?
C: Well yeah, in a way. But like I said, if you don’t enjoy doing it, you wouldn’t be out there. You couldn’t pay somebody, to take them out there. Now you’ll find a few, most likely, after about 2 days they wouldn’t come back.
S: I worked one summer at a blueberry farm, and I was out there picking every day and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I loved the boss I worked for, but it was, uh, it was very difficult. Got a tan that summer.
C: Now see, you take now. 4 or 5 days, I mean that sun will shine down almighty. What I do, I go out at 6 o’clock in the morning and I work ‘till about 12 or 1 o’clock. Then I quit ‘till about 6 o’clock in the evening, go back out. If it wasn’t real hot I’d stay out there some days 8, 9, 10 hours a day.
S: Wow. Is this a silly question? What’s your favorite thing to grow, or what’s your favorite thing to eat, like, the most rewarding?
C: Well, to me now I haven’t got a favorite food or nothing like that, but in the last 4 or 5 years I’ve been raising pumpkins and watermelon to see if I can get the biggest one. So, uh, see right here, this one right here weighed over a hundred pounds.
S: Oh my gosh.
C: That’s one I had last year.
S: That’s incredible. Oh my gosh, that would feed me for a week.
C: It took two of us to get it up off the ground because it was so big, not because it was all that heavy. When you got all the way down on the ground and reached your arms around it, you couldn’t hardly get back up. ‘Cause sometimes you’d get down and it’s just hard to bring yourself around it and bring it up. This right here is my sister. Somebody [photographers] come out in the garden about 7 or 8 years ago, out of Roanoke, and she was picking that squash and all that stuff. What they done, they came down to the garden about 10 o’clock in the morning, and they were down out till about 12 o’clock taking all them pictures. They had to be perfect. Then in the evening on Tuesday, they came up here and we were selling on Tuesday. And a cook came in here, and the cook bought some stuff and he took it back to the restaurant, so that goes to show you that it’s picked fresh. Came to the market, cook came and got it and took it to the restaurant and an hour later somebody sitting there eating it. So, it just goes to show you how fresh it is.
One time I grown some tomatoes, but they weren’t the type that they put in grocery stores…they got a long life. You know, you put them in the grocery store and they’ll stay in there for a month before they go bad. And this guy came in one day and he says, he said, “These ain’t local tomatoes.” And I asked him, I said, “What’s a local tomato?”. And he said, “Grown in this area.” And I said, “I grown them in this area.” So, it had to be local, ya know. But it was the type of tomato, that, you know, he figured it had to be grown somewhere else because…
S: It had a longer life?
C: Yeah. And like I said, I was about 7 or 8 years old and Daddy made me get out in that garden…So, I guess I’ve been doing it ever since. Like I said, I just enjoy doing it. I’m getting close to 80 now…gonna have to start hiding up on that porch in my rocking chair.
S: Not yet! There’s something about the community and how tight-knit the local community is, especially shopping local and supporting local businesses and things like that. So, what does the idea of local mean to you?
C: What makes me feel really good about it is to have people come in here and they see us and they really appreciate it that you’re doing that stuff, so they can get it fresh and that makes me feel good. We have the same customers for 25 years and regardless, they come to me first, and if there’s something I don’t have then they’ll go to someone else. I guess it was in the blood.”
Go say hello to Charlie and his sisters next time you’re at the market! Thanks for reading, y’all.