If there’s anything that can get me out of the house on a 95-degree day, it’s a Farmers’ Market.
During my 10-day trip to Nashville last summer, I didn’t particularly need any fresh produce or groceries. When you’re traveling, cooking is rarely an option, so it’s hard to get excited about fresh tomatoes and squash. But I love the colors and smells of Farmers’ Markets, thanks in part to my Mom, who used to take us kids on Saturdays down to the depot by the railroad tracks in my hometown, where local merchants would come together to sell their produce, crafts and treats.
I specifically remember begging Mom to buy us some of the hot, fresh-made donuts sprinkled with sugar sold by one particular vendor. So when I came to the Nashville Farmers’ Market, I was determined to find some.
Big City Farmers’ Market
Nashville’s Farmers’ Market has been a cultural staple for the city since it opened in the town square in the early 1800s. It’s had several different homes in different locations, but in 1995 the market was revamped and included as part of development of the Bicentennial State Park Mall development.
It was chugging along smoothly until a devastating flood hit in May 2010, causing major damage. It has mostly recovered since then, though some parts of the market are still recuperating.
All in all, the market covers 16 acres of land and is a primary urban spot for farmers, merchants and artisans to gather to sell their goods. The market also includes an indoor dining area with several eateries, as well as a weekend flea market, which I unfortunately did not see.
I suppose if you live here, you have no choice but to get used to the heat quickly. If you can’t change it, why let it bother you?
On the day I visited, it was hot. A kind of hot I’ve never known before — an unrelenting, Southern hot. The shade under the awning of the Farmers’ Market provided some relief, but even the dash from the car to the market was a bit hellish. I thought I’d been toughened by dozens of brutal Midwestern winters, but this was suffering on a whole new level.
My friend Lynea, who lives in Nashville and was the main reason behind my visit, warned me about the weather, but it’s not something you can prepare yourself for. The vendors behind the rows of booths didn’t seem to be too bothered, and were friendly and talkative to anyone who passed by. I suppose if you live here, you have no choice but to get used to the heat quickly. If you can’t change it, why let it bother you?
It didn’t take us too long to find those sugary donuts I mentioned — my nose was drawn to them instinctively. An older couple was frying them up fresh, and serving them hot with either a dash of sugar or a drizzle of chocolate. Unable to resist, I bought a bag and shared them with Lynea’s son Henry, a toddler whose appreciation for sweets matched my own.
Of course, there was a lot more on offer at the market than just donuts. Tables overflowed with ripe fruit and vegetables. Some vendors had their goods piled in baskets on top of crates, a sort of haphazard display not entirely out of sync with the Farmer’s Market aesthetic. I loved it — the atmosphere, the friendliness, the relaxed pace of the shoppers stopping at every booth just to browse.
I snapped a couple photos, chatted up a vendor, munched on a few more donuts. I started to forget about the heat.
Well, I forgot about the heat momentarily, until Lynea, Henry and I walked in the intense afternoon sun over to Bicentennial Park to witness something I could never have guessed was still taking place in any major city: old-time baseball in the park.
It turns out that the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball, created in 2012, feels that the old-school style of “base ball” (not “baseball — that’s the modern version) is something worth reviving.
When we reached the park, there they were: dozens of players — bless their hearts — dressed in heavy-looking, old-timey (and hot) uniforms, standing around, or even running around in the mean heat. But these players adopt more than just the look of yesteryear. They also play the game a little differently, preferring the rules and equipment of baseball as it was played in the 1860s.
And what’s the point of this, exactly? Besides appealing to vintage culturists, the association has other aims, which they explain on their website:
“We provide cultural enrichment and education programs and activities to youth and adults that emphasize honor, team play, respectful conduct and community pride. Our goal is to exemplify to youth and adults alike the values that are lacking in modern-day athletic programs, and encourage a sense of belonging regardless of race, gender, religious conviction or physical ability.”
The list of differences between modern baseball and “base ball,” is somewhat staggering, and often gets as detailed as the stitching on the ball and the size of the bat. Also, these players don’t even use gloves to catch — ouch. The umpire is called the “arbiter.” And don’t even thinking about spitting or cursing.
This is civil, respectful, fair baseball at its best, and a wonderful thing to watch while relaxing under the shade of a tree.
If you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, check out this season’s schedule. The teams play Saturdays and Sundays at noon and 2:30 p.m.
Nashville Farmer’s Market
900 Rosa L. Parks Blvd.
Nashville, TN 37208
Open every day – merchant hours vary
Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball
P.O. Box 41866
Nashville, TN 37204