Farmers markets are ripe for romance

Couples share stories of courtship rooted in love for local food
Didi and Taylor Morris met over cheese at the Tucker Farmers Market. The bride is a fiber artist, and hand-felted her gown for their 2018 wedding. Courtesy of George Harris

Credit: George Harris

Credit: George Harris

Didi and Taylor Morris met over cheese at the Tucker Farmers Market. The bride is a fiber artist, and hand-felted her gown for their 2018 wedding. Courtesy of George Harris

In pre-pandemic times, I succumbed to the lure of local farmers markets on a weekly basis — sometimes, several times a week. The hard-working farmers, with their produce arranged to tempt and delight, and the prepared food vendors, with their seductive arrays of baked goods and jewel-bright jars of jams, tantalized, enticed and, ultimately, proved irresistible.

I’d also enjoy watching the other customers: families with children in hand; older couples walking purposefully with lists; people at the market for the social aspect, nibbling on a crepe, walking up to a table with their friends and wondering just how in the world you’d prepare something called “komatsuna.”

And, I’d look at the vendors, market managers and volunteers who created this weekly community, immersed in an environment that was ripe for romance to blossom.

Juan Guarin courted Casey Hood after meeting her when she was working as manager of the Decatur Farmers Market. Courtesy of Ramona Guarin

Credit: Ramona Guarin

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Credit: Ramona Guarin

From her perch in the information booth, Casey Hood, manager of the Decatur Farmers Market, part of Community Farmers Markets, helps shoppers navigate the vendors and keeps things flowing smoothly. Smiling at customers comes naturally for her.

But, one Wednesday evening, she found she had a little more to smile about when a friend of the market’s assistant manager stopped by. Watching Juan Guarin walk up to the booth, Hood said, she thought, “He’s really cute. Who is this guy?”

A month later, Guarin was back at the market. His friend wasn’t working that day, and Hood noticed that he was spending a lot of time chatting with her and shopping the market. “He’d go and buy peaches and come back and put them under our table. Then, he’d go and buy peas, and do the same thing. By the end of the evening, he’d pretty much bought from every vendor at the market, so he could keep coming back and talking to me.”

Guarin asked if she’d like to go dancing, and that was the start of their romance. It’s been three years, and they’re now engaged, with plans to be married this summer.

They still eat from the market, with Hood as the primary cook, creating dishes from what she’s found there. But, on Wednesday nights, when she gets home from a long day at the market, it’s Guarin who makes sure dinner is ready.

James Palleson and Lela Norras met working in the volunteer booth at Freedom Farmers Market in Atlanta’s Poncey-Highland neighborhood. Courtesy of James Palleson

Credit: James Palleson

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Credit: James Palleson

Over at Freedom Farmers Market, in Atlanta’s Poncey-Highland neighborhood, Assistant Manager Lela Norras shows up every Saturday around 7 a.m. to set up, then staffs the information booth. Her market day ends a little after noon. The constant activity is just what Norras was after when she started as a volunteer. An accountant by day, she had been looking for an opportunity to do something that was the opposite of desk work.

James Palleson is part of the volunteer crew. He needed to do some community service, and, as a chef, serving at a farmers market seemed like a good fit. “I started volunteering there in March, and slowly got to know Lela,” he said. “We had our first date in August, 2019. It started out very casually, and it was great that I made her laugh.”

“James is a chef at Jen Chan’s in Cabbagetown, and that was part of what interested me about him,” Norras said. “He introduced me to things at the market that I would never have experimented with, things like fennel, dandelion greens, black radishes and microgreens.”

On a Saturday morning in late January, they shopped between market duties, buying grapefruit and pastries for breakfast, and butternut squash and, yes, microgreens for dinner.

“We juggle very different work schedules,” Norras said. “We don’t get to cook together on a nightly basis, so we’re very excited that tonight we will.”

Didi and Taylor Morris’ story is one of fashion meets food. Didi is a fiber artist, who also makes historical costumes. At one time, she sold jewelry and items she made from wool felt at the Tucker Farmers Market. She and the vendors became friends and stayed connected through Facebook.

A fan of “The Lord of the Rings,” she decided to celebrate Bilbo Baggins’ birthday on Sept. 22, 2016, at the Tucker market. “I dressed in a costume I made myself,” she said, “and I went to the market thinking, ‘What would a hobbit eat on his birthday?’ It seemed that apples and cheese might be a good fit.”

She walked up to the booth selling artisan cheese. Taylor was manning the stall. After exchanging bad cheese puns, Didi enjoyed her sample, and walked away. She returned to the booth later, and offered to connect him with other vendors via Facebook. He told her he didn’t do Facebook, but gave her his phone number and suggested she text him. “It took me a few minutes to realize he’d just been really clever about getting my phone number,” she said.

Meanwhile, Taylor felt he’d just met a person whose unique way of dressing was very appealing. “It was obvious she had put a lot of thought into it, and our joking told me she had a good sense of humor,” he recalled.

Their first date led to courtship and an engagement, and, in 2018, they married — on Bilbo’s birthday. Didi made her own wedding gown out of wool that she felted. She worked right up until the last minute on her dress, leaving her no time to make a matching outfit for Taylor.

Now, they still enjoy cheese together, and they do their shopping at markets closer to their new home, including Freedom Farmers Market and the market at Grant Park.

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