Hunger has always been a relentless motivator for human beings, right up there with the ubiquitous call of our thirst, and perhaps even love. So I should not have been surprised when a friend showed me our Tamworth Town Charter from October 14th, 1766, and the role that hunger played.
The document is four pages long, but early on, after a surveyor-like description of the 23,040 acres we all love as Tamworth, it gets right to the point: “…as soon as the said Town shall consist of Fifty Families, a Market may be opened and kept one or more Days in each Week, as may be thought most advantageous to the Inhabitants.” This was no rustic Hannafords, it was a farmers’ market. You had to farm, and it says so right in the document: “…every Grantee, his Heirs or Assigns shall plant and cultivate five Acres of Land within the Term of five Years for every fifty Acres contained in his or their Share…” Food came first in the Tamworth Town Charter, followed by the politics and particulars of running a small town in a land of “Rocks, Ponds, Mountains, and Rivers.”
Oh, what I would give to rise early on a Saturday morning and saddle-up for a slow ride off of Pease Hill, heading for that first market and the fifty families that then called Tamworth home. Riding toward the brightening sky, one hundred years before the Mason jar. Riding toward the unportioned raw reality of frontier food in a land defined mostly by winter. The vegetables might be ugly, but at least there would be plenty of parking for the horse.
We will never know what those first markets really looked like, but we know what it looks like in this century, and what it says about food and farming in the “Six Miles square” of Tamworth in 2016. We begin our tenth year in Tamworth of watching farmers and families rise early on a Saturday to go to market. Myself among them, I load-up rather than saddle-up a pickup truck in the darkness of an old dairy farm. Perhaps 250 mason jars on a busy summer Saturday, testing the leaf springs with dairy and maple syrup.
Rolling through the village at dawn, crossing the Swift River and gently rising to a crossroads and height of land, I arrive at the market. And this market, in this century, is courtesy of the Unitarian Universalist congregation, opening their fertile parking lot so 30 or more vendors might blossom here each Saturday from May through October. When the leaves have fallen and the chevrons of geese have passed, we head inside for Holiday Markets at the Brett School, and Deep Winter Markets at the Town House. Again, I wonder about those first fifty families, the markets they may have had when the kettles of hawks had long migrated and the pounding obstacle of snow came blowing down from the White Mountains.
But here in the parking lot the sun is rising, chairs and shaded tables made ready for market-goers to visit, eat, and listen to music. And now the current face of farming in Tamworth comes forth, one vendor at a time pulling into the parking lot, unloading their goods in the usual spot. From the Bearcamp Valley comes vegetables, honey, and eggs, from Chocorua comes sweet cider and beef. From Wonalancet comes lamb and hay, and bread still warm from the wood-fired hearth. From the heights of Cleveland Hill comes more meat and vegetables, and a rainbow of mushroom varieties roll in from Gardner Hill. And still more vegetables from the edge of the Hemenway Forest. From the village itself comes jams and jellies, sausage and cheese, baked goods, hard cider and mead, and pastured chicken and turkey.
Indeed, we have a market as called for all those years ago by King George the third and Governor Benning Wentworth, and their antique eyes would shine with incredulity at the sight of a thousand market-goers on an August Saturday in Tamworth.
Today, most people in Tamworth are not farmers. But many residents are celebrating the comeback of local food and farmers’ markets. They come to the market for the same compelling reasons those first fifty families did all those years ago. Our physical and metaphorical hungers come in many shades. We hunger for connection, for community, for love and acceptance. Two hundred and fifty years later, it truly is “most advantageous to the Inhabitants,” and they are us.