Every second weekend, my husband, daughter, and I shove our big canvas bags into the boot and climb into our tank-like, bronze 4x4 for a trip to a farmer’s market.
Sometimes it’s only 25 minutes away. Other times, it’s an hour.
It’s become our fun, family weekend ritual.
We know we’re on the right track when we see signs marked “Farmer’s market on today” on the roundabout and by the side of the road.
Our mouths water as the drift of fresh coffee, paella, and sausage sizzle wafts tantalizingly up our noses. Our eyes go wild at the sight of rustic, handmade bread, crispy croissants, and farm-fresh fruits and veggies.
I love speaking to stallholders. My husband always smiles and wanders off to wait patiently. Meeting the growers and makers, discovering how they do things, and why — well, these turn me on. It makes my food even more scrumptious to know how much effort and love has gone into it.
I have so much respect for them. As writers, we have much in common — and we can learn so much from them. Here are 4 traits we can learn from the passionate, dedicated, resilient stallholders at farmer’s markets:
1. Consistency: Turn up no matter what
In Australia, many markets open at 8 am on Saturdays and Sundays. Stallholders need to be there earlier to set up. Often they travel more than 1 hour away to be there.
One of my to-buy items are eggs: farm-fresh, true free-range eggs are much better value and so much more delicious than store-bought eggs.
I always like to double-check my eggs are free-range. A stall owner surprised me a few months ago with his reply:
“Yes. We aren’t a chicken farm, we’re a farm with chickens on it”.
He told me he leaves home at 4 am to be at the market. Rain or shine, he turns up as planned. No matter how he feels. This is the life of a farmer. This is the dedication of a farmer’s market stallholder, whether they are a farmer, a ceramicist, or a baker.
As writers, it can be tempting not to show up. Writing is bloody hard.
Self-doubt paralyzes us. Rejection leaves our self-worth battered and bruised. Writer’s block screws with our minds.
Yet like the champions at farmer’s markets, we too need to show up. If we don’t show up, our writing will rot like unpicked apples. If we don’t show up, our readers won’t get to enjoy the pleasure of juicy, sweet, crisp writing.
If we don’t show up, we’re stealing from our readers — and doing an injustice to ourselves and the messages inside us.
Ways to show up and write (even when you don’t feel like it)
- Build habits: don’t rely on whimsical willpower
- Know your why: your how will happen when you have a strong why
- Do hard things: no one ever gets good at anything without a struggle
- Be realistic: don’t expect every article to go viral
- Less is more: do a little more often, rather than a lot in one go
2. Presentation: Make it easy for your reader
First impressions count.
Our eyes are instantly attracted to the gorgeous strips of gingerbread from the table of Oh! So Good Foods. Our hands instinctively reach out for owner Simone’s refreshing green peppermint and pina colada pruffles under the glass cake stand.
Her arrangement is simple yet functional. She leaves a plate at the front of her table for sampling. Simone is clever. She knows that the longer people stay, the more likely they are to buy.
Simone smiles and chats to her customers. She tells us how she and her husband have left their jobs to make raw food products. Slowly they have broken into specialist cafes and markets. Locals like us know them and go out of our way to find their table.
Layout also matters in writing. Our headlines need to catch attention, of course. Yet, like Simone’s friendly customer service, first impressions are only the start. We need to continue enticing our reader.
We need to understand that our visitors skim read. So we need to format our writing to make it easy and enjoyable for them to receive the message we want to give them.
How to entice with your layout
- Headline: choose clarity over cleverness
- No waste: make every line count to keep your reader moving
- Structure: make it logical
- Subheadings: break up text and show structure
- Bullet points: for lists
- Paragraphs: keep them short to avoid an offputting wall of text
- Simple words: don’t slow down your reader
3. Authenticity: Show us who you are
“Did you grow this?” I once asked a fruit and veggie stallholder.
“Yes. Customers don’t like it if we don’t.”
You see, I can get fruits and veggies from the big grocery chains — in Melbourne, these are Coles and Woolworths. They often send us catalogs with stories of the hardworking Aussie farmers they “support”.
They know we want to support local. Yet they screw them in so many ways: through low pricing, through forcing them to grow limited varieties, through rejecting imperfection.
All that has conditioned us, the consumer to think the prices charged by farmers are too high — when they still charge too little.
We know only 5 varieties of apples well — what the shops decide to sell us. And we think imperfection is not worth paying for — when it’s natural and nutritious.
It’s why I love farmer’s markets. We get to support local farmers directly. They get 100% of the profits. They charge more than the big stores — but far less than worth it for the stresses and sacrifices of running a farm.
Writers face the same challenges.
There aren’t many unwritten topics. Personal development. Success. Writing. Relationships. None of these are new.
Much of the content is recycled.
So what makes us read about the same topic over and over again?
How to splash color into the sea of grey
- Personal stories: no one else has experienced life like you
- Authentic expressions: let us hear your voice
- Description: how does it look, feel, sound, smell, and taste to you
- Perspective: we want to know your angle and how you arrived there
4. Vulnerability: Be courageous
My mate Garon sells croissants at markets — he prefers people to come up and look than decide from afar. At least if they come closer, he can have a chat with them (and mesmerize them into buying croissants with his gorgeous green eyes! Haha).
But knowing that, I still can’t help what I do at markets: I’ll quickly scan to see who I want to visit, from a distance. Then I make a beeline for the stall for a closer look, already knowing what I want to buy.
Why do I do that?
I don’t want to visit every stall. Sometimes I don’t have time. And it’s confronting to stand in front of a stall owner’s passion and pride — looking, touching, pondering — then deciding not to buy and walking away.
I feel like I’m saying “No thanks, I don’t like your stuff enough to buy it”.
When really, I’d love to buy everything. But of course, with a limited amount of money, I need to prioritize.
I’d rather figure it out from afar than embarrass the stallholder or feel guilty for walking away empty-handed.
Stallholders leave themselves naked. At the mercy of passersby. Their hearts, souls, and sweat encapsulated in the products they offer.
These growers and artisans share a particular quality with writers:
We could all write the same old tips about good morning routines. Eating healthy. Exercising. And writing.
But after many years as a writer, I’ve finally realized that the writers who break away from the crowd are the ones who show vulnerability. It’s a f*cking tough thing to do.
It’s like having a big red sign on your back that says “Throw eggs at me”.
But vulnerability makes our messages stick in the mind of our reader. Because vulnerability is about being human. And Professor Mathew Lieberman discovered human connection is as important to our survival as food and water.
Vulnerability is about sharing our struggles to write.
It’s about admitting to relationships we knew were wrong but pursued anyway.
It’s about confiding what we said to our kids when we lost our shit.
It’s about sighing with regret that we let the bullies be bullies.
What makes vulnerability so powerful are the stories.
The feelings we never forget.
The deep human connection.
How to be vulnerable in writing
- Share a few secrets you’ve buried in your journal — or deep inside your heart
- Know that vulnerability builds creativity, strength, and deep connection with others
- Focus on how sharing your vulnerability will help someone else — and may bring you much-needed relief
- Start by showing your writing to either: 1/ people who love you; or 2/ strangers
Summary: Want to improve your writing? Visit a farmer’s market
You can get your food easily from the big grocery chains. Or you could visit a farmer’s market with its smells, sounds, and hustle — and precious direct contact with the people who make and grow.
As I’ve found, the two experiences are vastly different. Just as it’s vastly different to read the same old topic with bland tips and generic writing.
To continually improve our writing, let’s take away 4 tips from stallholders at farmer’s markets:
- Consistency: show up no matter what
- Presentation: make it easy for your reader
- Authenticity: show who you are
- Vulnerability: be courageous