A Death in the Farmers Market Family

//A Death in the Farmers Market Family

A Death in the Farmers Market Family

Jimmy Hogge on his boat, early morning January 17, 2012.

 

When it comes down to it, there are basically two different kinds of folks who sell at farmers markets.

The first are the farmers and vendors who arrive each week and silently set up their booth or stall, keeping quietly to themselves.  As soon as market is over, they quickly break down their tent, load up the truck, and drive out of market without a waive or a goodbye.  This sequence is repeated month after month, year after year.  For all intents and purposes, this first type of vendor often remains a stranger to his fellow farmers.

The second type of vendor is the one for whom market each week is like a mini family reunion, a chance to briefly socialize and catch up on the week’s events, an opportunity to take a breath from the hard work of production, and say hello.  Amongst this second group there is a genuine sense of community and affection, a brother and sisterhood of mutual respect and consideration.  It’s a sort of weekly acknowledgement of the toil and sacrifice that goes into getting all that food to farmers market in the first place, not to mention the four hour circus of sales, the blur of customers, and the general farmers market mayhem that ensues.

I’ve always felt a deep kinship with this second group of farmers.  I have an almost ritualistic moment each weekend where I make sure that all my agricultural peers have arrived safely that morning, watching for late arrivals out of the corner of my eye.  We’re very much like a tribe, or an extended family; we’re able to discuss subjects that are totally foreign to other people, the esoterica of tractor repairs, the nuance of health department regulations, and long-haired WOOFers who come and go in the night.  It’s a quirky family, full of odd characters, but like most other families, we have to live with the one we’ve got.

Early morning diesel on the Rappahannock River.

Because of the emotion tied into these farmers market friendships, it’s especially painful when a fellow producer passes away, as happened with Jimmy Hogge of Buster’s Seafood on March 5th.  Jimmy was very much one of our own; a commercial fisherman and true direct marketer, who personally caught and hand processed everything he sold, trucking it himself to farmers market each week.  Folks, you don’t get much closer to your food than that, unless you renew your fishing license, and go buy yourself a boat.

Over the past few years, I felt a real admiration for this old waterman, and would visit with him and his wife Paige at market whenever I had the chance.  They always brought a magnificent display of freshly caught fish, oysters and crabs, and were a perfect addition to our “producers only” regional farmers markets.  Hardly a month passed without them making some small improvement, whether a more attractive ice display, a more efficient truck, or, as was recently unveiled, a new logo and sign.  Despite Jimmy being 68 years old, he and Paige were always trying to improve.

As a free-range livestock farmer, I’m not able to get away from dry land very often.  So, when Jimmy agreed to take me out on the water on an expedition to harvest fresh oysters, I immediately set the date.  On January 17th, my friend Garrett and I went out on the open water with Jimmy, and spent the morning watching him work, scooping up fresh, fat oysters off the bottom of the Rappahannock River with a large steel claw that dragged behind the boat.  Enjoying a few of those plump oysters at 7 o’clock in the morning is a memory I won’t soon forget.

Preparing the oyster claw, with January rain on the horizon.

Afterwards, Jimmy showed us several of his fishing awards, as well as paintings of his boats over the years, before inviting me back to go rock fishing and crabbing later that season.  I promised him I would.  Driving back home, I was already looking forward to it.  Sadly, that day will never come.

Most of my fellow vendors at farmers markets are so much more than just people I happen to see each week, or politely acknowledge.  They are like brothers and sisters, the kind of people who stay with you through the hard times, and are the first to celebrate life’s little triumphs with you.  These local producers are amongst the finest people anywhere to be found, resilient and reliable, with boundless energy and a deep commitment to growing the best food possible.

Jimmy Hogge certainly fit this description, and he will be deeply missed.  In another life, I could have seen myself as his apprentice, learning the secrets of the oyster beds, the seasonal running of the rock fish, and the finest ways to trick a crab into a pot.  I would have loved to gone out onto the water with him one more time.  For me, he’ll always remain a part of my extended family.

The oyster harvest.

By | 2012-04-02T05:35:13+00:00 March 8th, 2012|Farm|9 Comments

About the Author:

Forrest Pritchard is a full-time sustainable farmer and New York Times bestselling author, holding a BA in English and a BS in Geology from William & Mary. Smith Meadows, his farm, was one of the first “grass finished” operations in the country, and has sold at leading farmers’ markets in Washington DC for nearly two decades. Pritchard’s first two books received starred reviews from The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and NPR, and his latest book is set to debut in 2018.

9 Comments

  1. Stacey March 9, 2012 at 7:04 am - Reply

    A very nice piece, Forrest. Sad to hear of Jimmy’s passing, but glad you shared it with us. I look forward to getting back to market and catching up with everyone.

  2. Claude March 10, 2012 at 7:23 am - Reply

    This is a great story that is truley from the hart.I only knew Jimmy for a brief time,But was a very nice guy and am I sad to hear of him passing.I sure hope Busters can continue on,Everyone would be sure to miss them at market.Keep your chin up Paige,Were here to help you if you need.

  3. shelly March 10, 2012 at 10:53 am - Reply

    You said it exactly the way I feel about our Farmers’ Market. Thanks for sharing. Is it okay if I share with others via our Mkt. newsletter? Sorry to hear about Jimmy.

    • Forrest Pritchard March 10, 2012 at 3:22 pm

      Thanks Shelly. Of course, feel free to pass it on. Best, Forrest Pritchard

  4. Roland's Farm March 10, 2012 at 5:39 pm - Reply

    We’ve just read your wonderful tribute to your good friend. Very nice!
    Jean and Francis

  5. Brett Cottrell March 12, 2012 at 9:35 am - Reply

    Thank you for writing this. My wife and I were shocked and saddened to learn the news yesterday. We loved having him in our community, learing about fish and fishing from him and his smiling, salty drawl. Last night my wife and I were going to make a chicken dinner, but instead we made rockfish chowder withsome of Jimmy’s fish we had in the freezer. We ate quietly and gave thanks to Jimmy for being a part of our lives.

  6. Ellen March 12, 2012 at 10:25 am - Reply

    Thank you for the tribute. I am a regular customer of Jimmy and Paige’s fishstand. They are always so kind to us, and even though we’re part of the blur of the farmers market customers, they always take time to talk with us about our week and about the fish. When we first started visiting the market, we weren’t sure if we could afford the rockfish filets. So, Jimmy happily sold us the top part of the fish that contained the spine and taught us how to cook an easy, very affordable meal. At the market yesterday, in place of the Jimmy and Paige’s stand, flowers sat on a table along with a sign that shared the news of Jimmy’s death. I wept. Though we’re not part of the kinship of farmers that you describe in your post, we feel very lucky to know the farmers and fishermen who bring food to our table.

  7. Jackie March 13, 2012 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    What a beautiful remembrance. Thank you for sharing it, along with the great photos from your day on the water.
    I got to know Jimmy while working next to him and Paige at the Courthouse Market and will really miss him. As a part-time market employee, I’ve seen a bit of those market friendships. My condolences to you and all of Jimmy’s market family.

  8. Sandra March 14, 2012 at 5:09 am - Reply

    Thank you for a beautiful remembrance and for sharing a part of that with those of us who love the FARMERS at the farmer’s markets and appreciate knowing more about who they are. After all, this is a critical relationship for all of us–knowing who the people are that provide our sustenance.

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