It's a question I'm so familiar with. As markets begin to wind down and inevitably our last day comes to be, concerned customers and even vendors come to me and ask - with wide eyes - "but what will you do in the off-season?"
I try to kindly come up with something they'll understand without sounding haughty - or really, bitchy. I'm sure they have no idea that that question digs a bit more than most, because it comes with a sense of blissful ignorance at what a farmers market manager does, what vendors do and what it takes to create a seasonal wonderland of fresh flowers, produce and curated arts & crafts that could put Etsy to shame. It's not their fault nor am I upset with the average consumer. There's been nothing average about this particular year though so I thought I'd spend a blog post to elaborate about it.
A good friend of mine phrased her comment to me a bit differently than those above - just a few days ago. She said to me "Sarah you're like an athlete that just went through her competition season, it's time for you to show your body some recovery." Never had I heard it put to such terms what I've felt for most of my market manager life (I'm guessing a few of my market manger friends can relate here too.) Never did I deem myself worthy of being compared to a real, true athlete that competes in feats of strength to show their endurance, power and viability. I don't think she realized how much those words meant to me because what I'm used to hearing is "it must be so nice to get so much time off!"
The fact is, it's not time off and farmers markets don't simply appear every May or June and then conveniently go back into the box they came from to hibernate. They take months and months worth of planning, preparation and care. This year, especially, there is much to reflect on, report and discuss so that we can be ready with our armor for next year - hoping against hope that we don't have to make as many adjustments as we did to fight a global pandemic.
The social media must continue, so that we keep our momentum and our "fans" engaged even in the down time. Funding reports, year end financials, board meetings all continue month after month. Many connections that help us operate have to be sowed, watered and pruned during the winter months so that we have even stronger community relationships next year.
Then there's the holiday markets. Those extra dates that vendors demand and customers want - this year likely being the only events that are able to happen, but no pressure. When so many small businesses are struggling and bazaars & shows cancelled, it's down to the market manager to create the event that will help them survive the winter. All the work that goes into a regular market is then shrunken down into a time period of about 1/4 from what normal market planning consumes, and often is bigger and more robust than even regular season. Guerrilla marketing plans, urgent printing needs, and emails + facebook messages + phone calls + texts - upwards of 20-50 a day asking questions, needing answers. Health department demands and operational plans to be filed, volunteers to be secured and by god hand sanitizer to procure!
When I ran the final report for the Snohomish market, seeing the number that blew my mind - the one that beat last year by nearly $100K when so much hope was lost of even making it CLOSE to a goal, just deflated me. But in a good way. It finally drove home my friends words mentioned above, especially after this year, I think I'm finally feeling worthy of *surviving* the season as one would have survived a sprint race, a marathon, or hell, even a summit to Everest.
So yeah, even though I'm not working the 60+ hours I was during market season, there are still things to be done, tasks to accomplish and work to be completed. And that includes self-care so I am fit to survive another season. Not the chocolates and bubble baths that mainstream marketing would have you believe, but true mental and physical care. Being the proverbial punching bag week after week, fielding blasts and political outcry for just asking people to follow the damned rules - this fucking year has put a toll on my mental and physical well being so much so that I'm spending the first part of my "wild and free" schedule getting some much-needed medical attention. I'm going to see a chiropractor for the first time in several years - uneven ground, miles and miles of market day steps, and shivering in my tent have wrecked havoc on my already screwed up back.
So did front-loading all of my 5-6 workouts a week to only Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays even when it meant 2-a-days so that I could get my stress relief out. Yeah, I get it, I chose to go to the gym with the little free time that I had during market season because it was likely the only thing that kept me from punching real human beings. So now that I'm in the "off season" I'm enjoying a more regular schedule that's spread out as I see fit - maybe it will include 2-a-days but not stacked up against 12-14 hour market days.
You know those little things that add up on the to-do lis
t? Thank you cards, appointments, organization, email inboxes with stars and red flags as a constant reminder to "get back to?" I have thousands of those little things that have been thrown to the side as each minute of my week was consumed with all things market. I have coded folders and binders that literally have things stuffed inside just to get them off my growing disaster of a desk. Fall and winter organization leads to more efficient market season - as much as it can be tamed.
There's also those human things like "oh, I probably should buy some new underwear," and "Huh, those pants really don't fit anymore do they?" Finally sorting through the mystery piles in the garage - things strewn about upon my arrival home on Friday nights after what my husband and I called "market gauntlet" came to an end each week. I didn't bother taking care of them then - my sole focus was the fridge for my dose of food and often wine (in large quantities depending on the barrage of customer feedback that day.)
These things along with realizing that what I thought was only a year or two in between primary care physician visits was actually more like 3-4. Health screenings that are recommended every year are now on their 5-year update as I have and make time to schedule lab visits, ultrasounds and the like - ensuring a clean bill of health for another year. Truth be told it was finally running out of my prescription refills that finally rung home the lack of attention I've given to my physical health when even the doc wouldn't permit yet another extension/
And then there are the other things - the ones I feel guilty about constantly as I shift from passing out in a pile of dirt, sweat and tears at the end of each week's market gauntlet to the slow transition of claiming my life back. The days where I don't actually have to wake up at 5a so I get up at 6:30 or 7 instead. The nights where I realize that I have nowhere to be and nothing to prepare for the next day so I watch another episode of a favorite TV show and enjoy a glass of wine. The time that I can spend helping my senior dog recover from a major scare we shared this week - simply laying by her side in the middle of the day, caressing her big mane of fur and falling asleep at 3p on a random Wednesday.
The true self-care things that completely fall off the face of the Earth for about 6 months every summer. Like trying recipes and reinstating the crock pot. Taking the time to read articles instead of just flagging them for later. Cleaning out and organizing my closet - donating the clothing to so many in need vs. trying to spend the time to sell it and "make a buck." Mourning the loss of broken friendships, looking back at many points of trauma that happened during market season that I just simply had to put on the back burner because pausing for even a second would either admit defeat or crush me entirely.
Simply having hours of my life back to get back on track, connect and rest - just like the athlete does after her race, climb, or championship game.