With news this week that the Chilmark Flea Market wouldn’t after all be happening this summer, I felt a wave of gratitude for the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market folks. Not to mention the Oak Bluffs Open Market and all the farm stands and CSAs. Heck, I jumped for joy when I heard Chicken Alley was reopening.

Not that there’s anything wrong with an abundance of caution. I’m all for that. But I am also, like everyone else, scanning the horizon for normalcy.

Having been a small farmer on the Island for nine years and spent many years living directly across from the Ag Hall, the Fair was sine qua non for my Island normal. I fell in love with a handsome pair of white oxen my first summer, ate far too much Touchdown Tempura every summer after, and came to anticipate the opening of the hall on Thursday afternoons like a small child waiting for Christmas morning.

Now when I drive to the Ag Hall for the farmers’ market most Wednesdays and Saturdays, my pavlovian brain flashes memories at me: the LED lights swirling on the Ferris wheel, the heady aroma of fried dough, a billowing mound of wool as Andy the sheep shearer performs his daily demo, a pile of tiny piglets scrambling for their tired mom’s milk in the barn. As I loop around the animal barn, past stacked picnic tables and a row of tractors to get to the parking area in the field, I find it comforting to be in this familiar place.

Friendly chalkboard menus are posted at every booth. — Susie Middleton

I’m also relieved to see many of my old friends both behind the booths and in front of them. The market is so well organized in its new location: vendors are spaced far apart, ropes and spray-painted lines in the grass (as well as humans) let you know where to stand, and friendly chalkboard menus are posted at every booth. There’s a nice hand-washing station just across from the entrance. The whole experience is pleasant, though I recommend that you travel light, unlike me. Every time I go, I seem to have my camera, a notebook and pen, a tote bag, my phone, and my car keys with me. I wear my eyeglasses so that I can recognize people, and they tend to fog up with my facemask over my nose! I’m a bit of a wreck. You most definitely need to bring your mask (plus a credit card and/or a Venmo app on your phone), but maybe skip the rest.

As nostalgic as I tend to be, I’m also happy to see new faces. After all, young vendors like Salt Rock Chocolates, Stoney Hill Pizza, and the next generation of Allen Farm will hopefully carry the market forward into the future. All this excitement means that hot products (like the chocolates and pizza) sell out fast, so it’s important to know that you can and should order ahead on these vendors’ websites. Be sure to plan early in the week and order during the specified ordering window, and then you’ll be guaranteed to score the goods. (There is a complete list of market vendors on the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market website, with links to those with live websites or shopping sites.)

Every time I drive away from the market, another thought overwhelms me: We are so stinking lucky to have all this incredible food! One day I came home with fresh sea scallops from the F/V Martha Rose, spring onions, radishes and garlic scapes from Morning Glory Farm, Bluebird cheese from the Grey Barn and a box of Salt Rock chocolates. Another day, I bought my favorite Island Bee honey, Linda Alley’s new Chilmark Potluck Jam, some lovely lettuce from Lydia Fischer at the Garden Farm MV, a pint of mushrooms from MV Mycological, and a box of chocolates from Enchanted Chocolates. I wanted to get a brined chicken from Jefferson at The Larder but I don’t have Venmo yet.

And that’s not the half of it: There’s bread, pesto, oysters, clams, pie, cookies, sea salt, smoked bluefish, lemonade, prepared food, and many more vegetables…plus so many lovely flowers, soaps, woolen goods, and botanicals. Quite something.

Young venders will hopefully carry the market forward into the future. — Susie Middleton

Despite (or maybe because of) all these offerings – and the new protocols in place – I recommend you have some idea of what you want before you go. It will help you make decisions quickly when your turn comes.

I already mentioned that pre-ordering for pickup at the market is an option with some vendors (and a good idea for popular items). But even if a vendor isn’t offering pre-order for the market, or they’re not expressly posting what they’ll have at market, you can often find what they’re currently harvesting by checking out their online stores (new to most this year). You can preview a few of those lists and have a pretty good idea of what may be at the market when you arrive.

And if you can’t get to the market at all (not everyone is in the mood for mingling, even safe mingling, this summer), those online stores and safe pickup spots are gold. Did you know that you can pre-order Morning Glory Farm strawberries (while they last) for curbside pickup? Or order flowers and flower starts from Tea Lane Farm for Saturday morning pickup?

Ghost Island Farm is so busy filling online orders that they opted not to be at the farmers’ market at all this year. This week, Milkweed Farm opened its new farm stand on Quenames Road; online orders can be picked up there. They are also at the Wednesday market. North Tabor Farm is building a new farm stand building. I’ll keep you posted on that since I’ll be heading over there every Friday for my CSA pickup. The first one last week was awesome…baby squash, shiitakes, arugula, salad greens, beets, spring onions. And peas, which we also have (in abundance, without caution) in our own garden.

Yes, I am swimming in vegetables. Oh well, never too much of a good thing. That’s why I live on this Island.