Early risers jump the gun at the Farmers' Market

Opening at eight o'clock, the new Seaport Farmers' Market will open far too late for these "beyond early" risers.

Christina Blenkhorn is talking to Phil Davis like everything is 100 percent normal.

And that's even though it's 6:23am, still dark, and Davis---awake since 5am---is perusing packages of Fox Hill Cheese House's hot jalapeno gouda, to which, he says, deadpan, he is addicted.

The Halifax Farmers' Market doesn't officially open for another 37 minutes on this Saturday dawn and some vendors still practice a bleary-eyed stumble to their tables. But Davis is already Blenkhorn's fourth customer of the day. She arrives at 5:45am to set up and greet the market regulars she calls---with obvious delight---"the beyond-early risers."

They have their reasons, believe me, the beyond-early risers. And it's nothing to do with insomnia or insanity or just finishing a World of Warcraft all-nighter.

Phil Davis likes that it's not so crowded at half-past six, so he can buy his spicy cheese unmolested and unshoved.

Darryl Bruce agrees. He's a latecomer compared to Davis; he typically arrives at 6:45am when the market is just past the time for easy cat-swinging. But it's still empty enough for Bruce, who has impaired mobility and needs the extra room to grocery shop comfortably.

"I like space," says Bruce. "And I like that I can talk to the vendors because they aren't so busy."

It's the same for Phil Davis. "It's a very social atmosphere," he says of his early marketing.

Ford Doolittle is eyeing bacon-wrapped scallops at Mike's Fish Shop at 6:37am. He gives his head a firm shake after considering the prospect of arriving after the market is, you know, actually technically open.

"It isn't nearly as much fun. So if you can get up early enough, this is the time to be here." But his advice comes with a caution: "You don't want to be rude, standing there while the vendor is trying to get unloaded. Some of the vendors really aren't ready."

Ted Hutten is one.

And it's not that he likes to sleep in. Hutten has been selling at the market---and getting up Saturdays around 2:30am---for 25 years. He arrives from Kentville at his stall at 4:30am, but won't sell a sliver of daikon until 7am. He spends the interim two-and-a-half hours setting up, drinking coffee and invoicing restaurants.

There was a time when Hutten opened before 7am. "We used to do a lot of vegetables at six," he says. "And then at 5:30. It got to the point where I was showing up at 4:30 and there were three or four people in the driveway, waiting."

Maureen Legg, whose Little Dorset Farm stall is across from Hutten's, also won't sell before 7am.

At 6:42am, she and two others are hidden behind containers of meat, stacked on the coolers. Three people are already lined up on the civilian side. In September, Legg put up a sign at her stall indicating that she would not serve customers before 7am. Why? I ask. "Because!" she laughs, poking her head between the containers. "I'm busy!"

Jane Mason-Browne has stopped, at 6:53am, in the middle of set-up. She likes to prepare her table slowly, with tea breaks.

She sells greeting cards and says her earliest customer arrives at 7am most Saturdays, though the bulk of her sales happen between 9:30 and 10:30am. Mason-Browne says she wouldn't mind the market opening later. "It would make me a more normal person."

Mason-Browne may get her wish. The new Seaport Farmers' Market, which is set to replace the current labyrinthine Halifax Farmers' Market in late spring 2010, is scheduled not to open until 8am.

Darryl Bruce calls it "a nightmare."

Ford Doolittle: "Detrimental."

"For many people, seven o'clock is not early," Doolittle adds. "And probably for many farm people, seven o'clock is not early. Eight o'clock is very...city."

"Where's my psychiatrist?" says a pokerfaced Phil Davis. "I could sleep in until six. I haven't done that for decades."

Even vendor Ted Hutten who cracks the whip on pre-7am shoppers, says 8am is way too late. There are practical reasons, he says. "Some people are coming early because they have businesses they need to be at."

But a bigger concern is that it's going to make the market crowded from the moment it opens.

"There are people who are more introverted, or perhaps sane," Hutten says, "who want to come and talk to the vendors. Sometimes, when it's so busy, the relationship between the vendor and the consumer is lost."

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