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We must take root and grow or die where we stand*

Twenty years ago I was on a train heading from Alicedale, on the East Cape coast of the old country, to Johannesburg, for a final immigration visa interview.

Twenty years on I am at a farmers market in a little trailer park town in the borderlands of the northern Chihauhauan desert. I photograph my small market booth in the early morning sunlight dappled through cottonwoods.

While my main (volunteer) job at this market is to administer the four federal grants which help alleviate food insecurity in the community, by facilitating money for, and access to, fresh local food sources for households, women and children and seniors living below federal poverty levels, as well as supporting small family farms, I do tend a small booth of my own, on the side.

Keeping a foot in the farmers market vendor door, I offer things the garden has produced in excess of my needs and ability to process or preserve. This year’s Inchelium Red heirloom garlic harvest was over 28 lbs from 1 lb sown. Enough to share a little with the community. The pollinator attractors produce way more seeds than the birds and my seed bank need, so I package them up in little hand block printed envelopes. Food, medicine or planet healthworker plants are a new venture, represented today by Allium Tuberosum (Garlic Chives or Chinese Chives) seedlings. They proved popular. Most of those babes went to new homes today.


Because my attention is largely monopolized by market management tasks, I don't bring a lot of creative projects to offer for sale at market. I am trying to keep my booth simple. It isn’t easy. I am always making stuff. This week I added a few salvage wood mounted hooks to my display. One mermaid found a home really early in the day. Three layered, cotton, reversible masks are a sign of the times and yes, sold really well today (thank goodness)

The major innovation in recent weeks has been an evolving dried herbs, salts and spices range, leaning into the abundance of herbs and spices which the garden produces, marrying them with my love of world food flavours, kitchen alchemy and an adventurous palate.


The spice trade opened up the world, after all. If it wasn’t conquistadors in search of gold, it was merchants in search of spice, carving routes across oceans and continents. Salt and spice routes became the Silk Road, then the Hippie Trail and then, there it was, on cue: cross the ocean for a heart of gold. Go on. Do it. Spice up a life of quiet obscurity. Play that soundtrack.


Today I had my biggest variety of spices ever at market. The little, lovingly labeled bottles, which seemed such a good idea at home, turned out to be quite the management challenge. They quickly became unruly and really difficult to corral.

Though I haven’t aced the display yet, I did start the morning out with the bottles arranged prettily and logically (according to a librarian brain). My part time attention was no match, however, for shoppers and curious non-shoppers alike, who pick up and put down, pick up, put down.

By the time I came to photograph the table (only 30 minutes into market) the spice house was a mess.


In all my years of selling hand printed cloth, a common comment I would receive, in both the old and new county, was “But what would I use it for?” Today I heard this again in response to beautiful blends like Za’atar, Harissa, Berbere Spice. Usually prefaced by some version of “I’ve never heard of this”.


Sigh.


At least it makes a change from “You have an accent. Where are you from?”


And I sold out (again) of Chile Lime Salt. I’m not surprised. Every street food vendor a stone’s throw away in Mexico Antigua offers chili lime salt seasoning in some form of another, especially the fruit sellers. Chilled melon or mango slices dipped in chili lime salt are heavenly.


The new salt blends: garlic, ash and herb did reasonably. There was even a repeat customer for Harissa, Za’atar and Chile Lime Salt.


Recommended reading:


The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie. A wonderful, reverently irreverent rollicking tale by a master storyteller. My local library has it on audiobook. I listened to it while preparing some of this weeks spice offerings.


The Line Becomes A River by Francisco Cantu, also on audiobook through my public library. One of NPR’s 10 Best Book of 2018, this is a harrowing but always compassionate examination of the reality and the policies which have come to delineate the southern USA Border, written by a former Border Patrol Agent and Fullbright scholar.


*Title of this post is words written in the diary of Henry Hare Dugmore (1810-1896) missionary, writer and translator who migrated from England to South Africa in 1820.

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