Travel Writing Strategies: Part One – The Farmer’s Market

You know how much I love travel writing, and lately I’ve been working on two essays from my time in Portugal last January. One is polished and ready to go. Yay! Because I’m on a roll, and taking a mental break from all the debauchery in my novel, I thought I’d spend some time talking about travel writing strategies, and how we don’t have to travel to the end of the world in order to write a great travel essay. Between May and October, my little town hosts a Farmer’s Market every Wednesday, and guess who’s going today. Moi. These pics are from last year. Shhh!

The Mums and The Rooster are headed to my casa for lunch and a little time on a local trail. Afterward, we’ll storm the market. I know, I know, they get a lot of crap as the trendy thing to do, and have been earmarked as Yuppie fun. Forget all that nonsense. When you think about it, Farmer’s Markets are mini-festivals. While I’m out there, getting my next organic, free-range, home-spun, artisan dyed, burlap fashion statement, I’m going to employ a few travel writing strategies. If we keep our eyes open, we might come away with a great tale.

Here are 5 things I’ll be looking for, and the travel writing strategies I’m going to try to employ. Now you have plenty of reasons to stop resisting the Farmer’s Market and go have an adventure. Seriously.


The Vendors

Have you ever tried rocotillos? How about face cream made with bee’s wax? Soap made with rosemary and tea tree oil? At the Farmer’s Market you will find this kind of stuff and more. Plus, the people who grow it, make it, and LOVE it will be there to guide you through the process. They’ll enthusiastically tell you the best way to polish your newly purchased treasure, how to soak that pound of mung beans, and how to keep those fresh cut flowers looking fabulous for days on end. People who have booths at the Farmer’s Market are a trove of enthusiasm and information. When writing about these characters you can key into the culture by describing what they’re wearing, how they’re speaking, and what types of exchanges they have with you. What are they selling? Did they make it? Are there several booths with similar things for sale?


Want to hear some old tunes you’d thought you’d forgotten about or maybe something you’ve never heard? The local talent will likely be on hand strumming up some golden oldies. Patsy Cline? Check. Hank? Check. Spin Doctors? Yeah, we’ve got them too. Many Farmer’s Markets I’ve been to offer local musicians stage time for free, and that means great exposure for the band, and an opportunity to hear something new and great (most of the time) for the attendees. This is fab fodder because the exchange taking place between the musicians and the audience is non-commercial, meaning there are no expectations. People, and what gets them onto the dance floor, can create dynamic travel writing. What are they playing? Does everyone/anyone/no one sing along? Are some hits more popular than others? Which ones and why? Don’t forget to check out those 1950s dance hall moves by Granny!


Street food

In my case this includes, but is not limited to, Kettle Korn. I don’t know about you but I love that stuff. I also love its many varieties: Caramel, sour cream, white cheddar, and seasonal offerings like Chili Lime. Sampling different confections, sweet or savory, from the many food stalls is like taking a culinary trip around the world – all from main street. If your travel writing focus is about keeping it local, there will inevitably be a food vendor dishing up a local favorite. What is it? And is it really local, or just popular? Why? This is also a great time to check in with the five senses and savor each sensation. They’ll offer up some dynamic details just waiting to be written.

Community involvement

If you’ve ever wanted to start a neighborhood beach clean-up, a community bike ride for a local cause, or learn about volunteer opportunities in your area, there are people to talk to at the Farmer’s Market. Also, by buying at a Farmer’s Market you are supporting your neighbors and community. Most of the goods for sale are from less than a 100 miles from where you stand – which is great for the environment, and who doesn’t want to see the local community thrive? If you want to know what’s important to a town or region, and some of the factors that drive the culture, this is one place you can find it. You will see organizations and causes that define who these people are and what they care most about. If this is your turf, are these ideas a true representation? Why or why not? Do you fit this mold, or not? How can you talk about this in context of the place?


Cultural Exchange

All the people, food, products, and ideas that are housed at the farmer’s market may appear to be local, (remember that food vendor question above?) but they are a cultural exchange. The Farmer’s Market in my current hometown puts me in touch with a family run tamale business from Mexico, a restaurant owner from Turkey, and a Thai family selling noodles. I also get to see crafters working on handmade artisan goods that originated in places all over the world. There are woven baskets from village women in Africa, hand-spun wool, beaded jewelry, and local honey from fields less than ten minutes from my front door. Everyone attends in the spirit of commerce, sharing their wares and stories, and participating fully in making a community connection. So how did these people and ideas get here? Have I already traveled to the birthplace of tamales? How are they different both here and there? Also, who’s buying? What do they look/sound/act like?

See how different the local farmer’s market looks when you approach it from a curious traveling perspective? I’m off with my notebook and pencil. If you need me, I’ll be on Main Street, making off with a fistful of honey sticks.