Sage Challenge Results: June 2024

Below you’ll find the responses to the Sage Challenge for June 2024.

Entries to the Challenges published previously are found in individual issues of the SouthWest Sage. Public access to the February 2023 to February 2024 issues of the newsletter are on the Sage News page. SWW Members have full access to the Newsletter Archives of issues published from 2004 to 2024.

Go to the Sage Challenge page for details about the current Challenge open to SWW members.


Short Story or Poem

Write a short story or a poem that takes place at a Farmer’s Market.
No more than 1000 words.

A Better Market
by Rosa Armijo-Pemble

All around the market square,
No one in pajamas or showing underwear.
Tomatoes fresh from the land,
No produce squeezed by an unwashed hand.
Lettuce, cucumbers, and more for sale,
Uncoated apples for the nose to smell.
A savory buffet with less pesticide,
The Farmer’s Market is worth the ride.

My Weekly Sabbath
by Cornelia Gamlem

Oh, how I miss the local Farmer’s Market that I used to visit weekly when I lived in Virginia. It was located five minutes from my house, and it became my weekly Sabbath.

It was in town every Thursday morning and since I worked from home, before that was a thing, the market was convenient; I had the luxury of taking 30 minutes almost every week to browse and buy fresh produce and more. I tried to plan my Thursdays around it.

Besides the opportunity to buy direct, I got to see summer friends, the vendors who brought their goods to market. I had a number of favorites who sold vegetables and fruit, but most of my money was left with Jose who came from nearby West Virginia. He had the best squash, peppers, string beans, tomatoes and berries. He told me one time that at the end of the market hours, he took any remaining tomatoes to local restaurants. I occasionally bought a case of bruised ones to make tomato sauce that I’d season with fresh herbs that I grew.

There were a number of vendors who came from Pennsylvania every week who had the best fresh fruit. Their apricots and peaches in the summer were almost as good as the fruit I could buy in northern California when I lived there. In the fall, it was apples and cider that came home with me.

Depending on my available time, I would stop by other vendors selling baked goods, or the one who sold a wide variety of homemade salsas. They always had interesting combinations.

However, the biggest find at this market were the vendors who sold fresh meat. I developed a friendship with Evelyn one year when I stopped to buy fresh eggs. She drove a truck down every week from West Virginia to sell meat and eggs from her son’s farm. I used to save my egg cartons for her over the winter. It was fun to chat with her each week as I reviewed her selections. In the spring of 2013, I received a solemn greeting from her and the sad news that her son had died in a car accident. She would be selling off inventory and not returning. My heart ached for her, and I missed her once she left.

Then there was Becky and her mom, Pam, who often accompanied her to market. Becky had the best beef. Her small tenderloin roasts and tri-tips were perfect for two people. The pulled pork made perfect barbeque sandwiches on a hot summer night. They knew my favorite cuts of meat and would hold them aside for me. I’d always buy extra so I could stock up my freezer for winter.

Jim Bourne of the 1690 Farm in Maryland turned into another good summer friend. He and his daughter, Hannah, farm on land that has been owned and farmed by their family since 1690.
He made the rounds every summer to get to ours and other markets in Virginia. After Evelyn left, I could always count on Jim for fresh eggs along with grass-fed beef, pork and lamb.

Jim was a kindred spirit in that he liked to write. During the winter he would email a weekly newsletter describing life on the farm—the chores and upkeep necessary to keep it going. After a few seasons, he began taking winter orders and making deliveries to locations near the Virginia markets where he’d sell in the summer. I’d often meet him after dark on a Thursday evening on the same street where the summer market was held to pick up an order. There was something almost clandestine about the encounter. Yet it meant I could get fresh meat all year long.

Getting away from the drudgery of sitting behind a computer and clients’ crises, I felt I had a connection to the earth and the food that nourished me when I visited the farmer’s market. It was interesting talking with a diverse group of people who talked about things I would have never thought of learning. This adventure grounded me every week and refreshed my outlook.

The Market
by Bonnie Hobbs

The sun broiled the asphalt between the vegetable stalls. Pets high-stepped like a college marching-band, looking for shady places to cool their paws. Two oaks shaded the borders of the market, but in the middle, sunshades popped up like mushrooms.

I’d not been to a Farmer’s Market for years, not even in Portland, where attendance was practically mandatory. But I’d come home to this little Eastern Oregon town for Mom, and this was a weekly ritual for her since she’d left the hospital.

We moved along slowly, Mom lifting and setting down her walker. She was out to find the ripest tomatoes. Though this was a bit early for them, to my way of thinking, she was not to be deterred. Mom headed for a particular stall like it was a beacon in this storm of humanity. I did my best to follow, smiling apologies as we pushed through. Tomatoes were piled in baskets, some large and round, some as small as rubies; onions, green and golden, nudged together. The place was a treasure mound.

The long-haired, bearded man staffing this vegetable delight turned toward us. He smiled. I swear those teeth threw off a light of their own. Mom got right to business choosing her veggies. I stood, struck by the lightning of that smile. I remembered it so well, even after fifteen years. He dampened the grin and cocked his head, frowning a little, as if wondering who I was.

“How can you be here?” The question fell from my mouth before I could think.

“Well, I live here. It is my home town. He smiled again. This time – less stunning. “This is from our farm.” He swept his arm across the baskets and crates and toward a woman, her hair beaded and braided, a baby in a carrier on her back, the baby laughing with a customer.

“But this—this is my town—you left. You said rural life was not for you—I was not for you. You fled this place.”

Well, yes. And you?” His smile twisted into what must pass for a caring interest.

“I recovered for a year, then did the same. I built a life far from here, wondering sometimes what had become of you, but—”

“Well, I built a life right here.” His voice softened and he lifted one hand toward me, as if in consolation.

I flinched away. “You have a farm? You sell vegetables here at this market, the one you used to make fun of, to scoff at all the time? Now you are one of the folks you despised!”

“Well, despised is a strong word.” His smirking, cynical smile crept over his mouth.

This bearded vegetable farmer was only a façade. The clean-shaven, crew-cut boy who ‘was going places,’ as he used to say, was still there, still ready to sneer at us all; the boy who had no pity for a girl who adored him; a girl from this small town; a girl who—now here he was, acting like he’d never run away, breaking hearts as he trampled through the corn he now sold, making a new path for himself, and only himself.

“A boy can change,” he said, ducking his head, nearly succeeding at looking sheepish.

Sheepish? The thought reminded me. “Oh, no. Don’t tell me you run sheep too.”

“We sure do!” He morphed instantly into the animated boy I had adored. “Beautiful creatures! Their wool is the finest—my wife dyes it and spins it into the most wonderful yarn. I’ve learned to weave, too.”

“Weave,” I said. The word fell like a stone; a stone like the one that had been my heart for years. “I used to weave,” I whispered. “I raised sheep for 4-H.”

He’d again grown oblivious to my pain, as he had all those years past. He shrugged and turned away, smiling at a customer, someone he must know well, laughing and selling himself.

Mom had made her choices, handing me the bag of veggies and turning her walker to make a path. “Mom,” I began, following in her wake. “So, I see the stroke hasn’t dulled your crafty way of rearranging the world, has it?”

She turned her head and spoke over her shoulder. “Not so much. Everything works in her.” She touched her temple. “It’s the rest of me that can’t catch up.”

“You knew he was here? You brought me here on purpose? But you know how torn I was by…”

“No use telling you he’d returned, dear. He came back while you were at college. You would’ve known that if you’d ever visited.” She huffed. “But then you had the law practice. No use stirring all that nonsense up.”

“Nonsense? He broke my heart, Mom!”

“Oh, don’t be melodramatic, dear. You have the child. You have your career. What’s broken looks to have mended, don’t you think?”

I took a breath. “What I think is that while I’m here to help ‘the rest of you’ recover, we’ll find someone else to take you to the Farmer’s Market. It no longer has the appeal it once did.” I fumed, feeling eighteen again, shooting daggered looks at her back.

She chuckled, muttering something about ‘ripping off the band-aid’ always being the best way.

By the time we found the car, I had worked it all through, discarding fantasies like I did poor testimony at trials. By the time I had Mom wrangled into her seat and the walker into the trunk, I actually felt twenty pounds lighter and could even manage a smile.

The Road Market
By Heidi Marshall

I drove slowly to avoid the potholes in this unfamiliar dirt road in northern New Mexico. I had taken a wrong turn on my way back to our camping grounds near Chama, after paying a visit to relatives in Questa. My old Bronco truck barely stirred the dust, but attracted a couple of dogs to lope alongside, barking their brains off and spraying saliva into the air. I pressed the accelerator. The truck bounced over a couple of potholes, and I hit my head on the hard roof. That shook a memory loose: the dozen ears of corn my husband had asked me to buy on the way back. He was barbecuing tonight. And corn he must have.

Where to buy them? I could see houses half hidden behind cottonwood trees, but nothing that resembled a store, much less an open one. It was Sunday after all. A couple of barefoot kids appeared, craning their necks, probably to see what the dogs’ racket was about. I reined my Bronco and asked one of them where I could find a store, and if there was a way to Chama from here. He turned his thumb in the direction I was going. “Up the road a ways.”

I smiled a thank you, gave him my last candy bar and kept going. The dogs, apparently bored of chasing a barely moving prey, stayed behind.

A small sign decorated with red chile ristras informed me that a “Real Farmer’s Market” was open near the crossroads ahead.

The next sign, this one with an arrow pointing to a stall by a surprisingly busy crossroads, let me know that I had arrived. Under the shade of a large cottonwood tree, the stall seemed to extend into the deeper shade under the tree. Containers near the entrance overflowed with produce made pale with road dust. Ears of corn enveloped in their shaggy green leaves filled a large basket, and that was all I needed to see. I grabbed a canvas bag to hold my purchase, got out and stepped under the shade. I counted a baker’s dozen –might as well, the corn being real farmer grown; then looked for someone I could pay for it. Nobody in sight. I walked to the small entrance and called for the owner, but nobody answered. The smell of fresh herbs, mingled with garlic, cumin and chile enticed me to go farther in. I stepped under a forest of fragrant chile ristras hanging from a low ceiling built of interwoven branches. I took a red ristra and a green one down from their hooks and draped them over one arm.

Still in my fragrance-induced zombie state, I kept going into the depths of the market. Was the road stall really this big? I came to another zone full of mouth-watering smells. Peaches, apples, plums. I selected a few of each, looked for an empty box or a bag to put them in, and bumped into a cart that had rolled silently to my side. I looked for the helpful person who had sent it. Not a soul in sight. That was weird. I felt a small shiver send tendrils down my spine. But then I caught a whiff of another wonderful smell. I pushed the loaded cart. As if needing no help, it slid easily ahead at my touch. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Lavender! Bunches tied with strings formed an alluring bouquet inside a wicker basket. I picked up the whole thing, basket and all, and added it to the cart.

I heard a mewling sound and saw a white kitten with grey, wavy markings vaguely resembling oriental script step in front of the cart. I shooed him away, but he sat down and looked up at me with huge green eyes, translucent, luminous. I fell into its gaze. The kitten crawled up the cart and settled in the basket of lavender, its mesmerizing eyes following my every move.
Enough of this ghosty place! I shook my head to break the spell, quickly turned the cart around and sprinted toward the entrance. I left money on the counter and rushed out to the welcome sight of my Bronco. I placed my purchases on the seat, cat included, and took off, the spinning wheels throwing a cloud of dust that made the real farmer’s market disappear.
In my rear view mirror, through a veil of dissipating dust, I saw a white cat looking up at a boy by her side.

I could swear I saw the boy give the cat a thumb’s up.

I named the kitten Haiku.

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