I walk onto the grounds of Kelowna’s Farmers Market after leaving my car in a shady spot at Orchard Park shopping centre and jaywalking across Dilworth Avenue. Unless you count Granville Island Market, I’ve never been to a farmers market, and I don’t fully know what to expect. The day is warm, although smoke from forest fires burning to the North are fuzzing Kelowna’s horizon with haze. There are air quality warnings, but I’m not smelling smoke, my throat feels fine, and I think the haze may even work to my advantage as it reduces the sun’s glare from the photos I intend to take.
Walking in, I pass a rack full of locked bicycles. One has the rider’s helmet snapped onto the bike lock chain, and I think fond thoughts about living in a city where it is safe to leave your helmet with your bike. This, I think, would not have happened at Granville Island.
Two women stand talking under the shade cast by a maple tree. I pass them and head toward the bright red tent with a bold-font banner advertising HENNA! on the side. Inside the tent, a woman who looks right for the part paints the hand of a young girl in a pink ballcap and pink shades. I snap a quick picture, and my attention is immediately diverted to the teenage juggler performing for a group of spell-struck children. As I watch, one of the girls steps forward and drops a coin into his hat.
“Thank you,” says the juggler without breaking stride. He switches from balls to pins, and another child asks, “How did you get so good at that?”
“A lot of practice,” says the juggler, then stops temporarily as his young audience is pulled away.
Women keep walking my way with breath-taking bouquets of flowers, and one young boy passes by with a snow cone almost as large as his face. He is maybe eight years old, but he is wearing a brightly coloured cap advertising a bike racing company, his shades are balanced on the brim of his hat, and the hands clutching the cone are covered in racing gloves. I know I have just seen the coolest person at this market.
“Is it okay if I take his picture?” I ask the woman accompanying him, and promise, “I won’t get his face in the shot.”
“Hold your snow cone out,” she instructs, and as he complies I think, this wouldn’t have happened at Granville Island, either.
At the Kelowna Farmers Market, you will find all the booths you might expect, but there will be surprises, too. As I walk among the aisles, I find flowers, jam, tea, candles, fruit and vegetables, honey, soap, Kombucha, falafel, alcohol, traditional baking and many booths selling jewelry.
I walk the perimeter of the market first, so it is early on when I discover the first surprise of the day. Nestled between more traditional tables is Stan Pope and his ukuleles. I watch as he helps a young family.
“There’s an instrument for everyone,” I hear him say, and then the inexpert chimes of a child playing music.
“I’m surprised to find you here,” I tell him, when the family moves on.
“I’m usually the only one,” he agrees. In answer to my question, he tells me he makes all the instruments he sells.
“How long does it take to build a ukulele?” I ask, and he shrugs.
“In the winter I make all the parts, and then when we sell out I just make more.”
After Stan, I make my first mistake of the day. I say yes when offered a sample of mint chocolate sauce, and discover that this may be the most delicious food on the planet. Fortunately, the jar of chocolate mint sauce I purchase is small enough to fit into the pocket of my shorts. Carrying it doesn’t prevent photography.
Of the artisans displaying at the market, my favourite is the booth of solar lamps made from canning jars and filled with sand and beach artifacts. I think of myself as a creative person, but I never would have dreamed that design up.
I walk, with iron willpower, past the delicious smells of sugar and spice and grease emanating from the row of food vendors. In a far corner, I meet Ingrid, whose giant basket of garlic halts me in my tracks.
“I need to take a picture of that,” I say.
“I usually bring more,” Ingrid says. “But it doesn’t sell as well at this market as it does in Vernon.”
“Oh,” I say, “I’m going to the Vernon market tomorrow.” Ingrid tells me she will be there, as well, and I admire the pottery and jewellery she has created before promising to see her in Vernon.
A few stalls down from Ingrid is the chicken man, who is actually a very attractive twenty-something I overhear telling someone he is sold out.
“You’re sold out? How long did that take?”
As a matter of fact, he still has frozen free-range chickens for sale, but the twenty dozen eggs he’d brought were gone by 9am. I am two hours too late to get in on that action. I turn from chicken man and across the lane get another pleasant surprise. My sister, owner/operator of Sugar Free Please, has a booth. She is accompanied by Emily, who was close friends of my now 21-year old daughter when they both attended Peter Greer Elementary School. The booth is positively thronged with people.
“We are almost sold out,” June tells me when she finally has a second for a hug.
“That’s great!” I say, then let her continue the sale she is finishing with an older gentleman.
“Have a good holiday,” I hear her tell him as I continue making my way.
I comment to one woman – selling pillows – that she looks hot, and we agree she is rapidly losing her shade. I comment to another vendor – Luke – that his are the biggest scones I’ve ever seen.
“I don’t skimp in the kitchen,” he says.
I overhear patrons who apparently are not first timers. “Twelve dollars,” the young woman says to the man at her side, “So that is the same price as last year.”
I weave my way through children in strollers and their parents, families in hats and tank tops and sunglasses. Emerging from the buzz of voices around me I hear a child call out to another.
“Want to play Jenga?”
As I listen there is a clatter as a giant sized Jenga game crashes to the cement.
I stop to photograph the bright colours of stacked carrots and radishes and beets just as another woman does the same.
“It’s just beautiful, isn’t it?” The woman says.
“You get the award for best presentation,” I tell the vendor.
“We’ve been waiting to get that award!” she says, and laughs.
I am almost out the gates when one last booth catches my eye. The plain tent and its handwritten signs are not the fanciest of the day, but it grabs me, nonetheless, with the advertisement of authentic Syrian food and the photos this man and his daughter have displayed of home.
“Would you like to try real Syrian food?” the man asks me.
“Sure. What is it?”
“Falafel with humus and tannini.” He dishes some up into a muffin cup. I eat it, and it is grainy but good.
“Do you want to buy?”
“What are those?” I ask, pointing to the deserts at the side. “I’ll take one of those.”
As he dishes up my baklava, and I fish through my wallet for three dollars, he tells me he has lived in Kelowna for two years and he loves the beauty here.
I want to ask him more. I want to know about his life in Syria. I want to know how he escaped, and did his family escape, and what I can do to help other than paying for this desert I didn’t really need to eat this early in my day. I want to know how he feels about the destruction of his country – which is a stupid question – and I want to know that Canadians are being kind to him and his family as they start over. I want him to know someone cares. He has sad eyes, though, and I can’t bring myself to ask. His daughter sits behind him on a stool typing on her phone looking bored as I say good bye.
“Good luck to you,” I say, and hope he knows I am referring to more than the sales he will make that morning.
I head back out, past the teen who is still juggling, and this time when I jaywalk across Dilworth, a cluster of lawbreakers join me. We wait for the break in traffic then go our separate ways. I depress the unlock button on my key fob and crank the A/C. I have a smile on my face, and chocolate sauce in my cup holder, and a story fumbling through my mind. What more could I possibly need?