The tomatoes have finally come in.
They’re spread out all over the old wooden tables at the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market. Piled up in crates behind the tables. Clustered in bags beneath the tables. There are the Better Boys and Big Beefs; the Romas and Cherokee Purples; the Brandywine Pinks and Mr. Stripeys.
But everybody is looking for the German Johnsons.
By 7 a.m., this place is filled with people. There are the older men who wear Carolina Farm Credit caps and tan Members Only jackets to cover their overalls. They bring their wives, the older women who wear plastic Food Lion bags filled with cucumbers and squash around their wrists. By 10 a.m., the young couples who wear baby slings come. The crowd changes, but everyone leans over those old tomato tables the same way, and it’s the same motion every time: fingertips grip the crown like the machine at a carnival — insert a quarter, and a metal claw picks the prize. The men and the women and the young couples dig dollar bills out of their pockets, and they move on. There are 82 more tables to get to.
Each ten-foot table is filled with something: tomatoes, of course, but also cucumbers and lettuce and ‘silver queen’ corn and white potatoes spilling from wooden peck-and-bushel baskets. Blackberries and scuppernongs and peaches and piles of pole beans and green beans and snap beans and string beans, depending on what you call them. Cantaloupes and watermelons. There are herb plants speared with plastic picks and identified by scrawled Sharpie lettering on yellowing index cards: basil ($3) and rosemary ($3) and lemon verbena ($4) and butterfly bush ($5).
Tables hold jars of chow-chow and half-pound cakes and homemade buttermilk pies with Saran Wrap stretched across the top like slick skin. There are eggs and meat and breads and muffins. And there are plenty of flowers.
At the end of an aisle, four of those 10-foot tables hold galvanized buckets that hold lisianthus and irises and Shasta daisies and red geraniums. The flower vendor has been here since 1973; her mother is 86, and she’s here, too, tying stalks of dried hydrangeas. The mother sits in a tall chair and has her feet planted on a red-slatted footstool. She touches the forearm of everyone who stops to talk, and she offers advice to a customer who’s buying a tall cut-flower arrangement for a centerpiece. “Are you sitting down at the table to eat?” she asks. “Then let’s cut these shorter.” She reaches for a pair of pink Fiskars cutters and lets the severed stems fall to the floor.
The floor is remarkably clean, and everyone in this building keeps his space neat and tidy. Behind most of the tables are large Igloo coolers that transported the tomatoes and the corn and the cantaloupes, the pies and breads, the cheeses and the bacon and the eggs and the flowers this morning from farms in Gibsonville and McLeansville and Reidsville and Madison. Half-eaten biscuits from Biscuitville, still loosely wrapped in yellow wax paper, sit on top of nearly everyone’s coolers. Beneath one table, two quarts of blackberries sit, squirreled away for later.
On another table, a vendor keeps money in a worn Tampa Nugget cigar box. She covers the box in a pink towel and smooths a plastic bag over top of it, a homemade security system. Nobody bothers it. She opens and closes the box 40 times in an hour, trading change for all those tomatoes — the Better Boys, the Big Beefs, the Brandywine Pinks, and the one everyone wants, the German Johnsons — that she hauled to market today. She works hard, and by the end of the day, you hope that her table is empty. You hope that her box is full.
This is summertime in North Carolina.
June is our season of abundance, when the days are the longest, the earth yields its full capacity, and tables all across this state are filled with everything anyone could ever want.