It’s before dawn on market day at the Sunnyfield Township Farmers’ Union. The vendors are arriving, setting up their stalls as the sun rises. (“Market Day.”) Customers arrive, and we meet the main vendors of the market, who are all known by what they sell: Curds (the cheesemaker and teller of tall tales), Peaches, Honey, Candles, Chicken, and Amish Jams.
Marsha, a new vendor, arrives late. Peaches and Honey, who both have crushes on Dale, the market’s most-eligible-bachelor-farmer, take a sudden interest in Marsha when they learn that she is an old friend of Dale’s. Marsha is at the market selling Dale’s produce, as well as her own baked goods and homemade marshmallows. Peaches and Honey fill Marsha in on the rules of the market (who gets the best spots, who is allowed to sell what) – rules laid down by Mr. Buffalo, who runs the market with The Board.
The vendors snap to attention as their pickiest customer pokes through their wares. Marsha impresses everyone when she manages to charm the customer by rhapsodizing about her homemade marshmallows (“Marshmallows are Magic”.)
Market day is in full swing when Mr. Buffalo arrives with his cronies – Mr. Sourdough, Mr. Mushroom, and tiny Mr. Pork, who announces the Buffalo’s every move like a town crier. Mr. Buffalo informs Marsha that she’s being kicked out of the market – vendors are only allowed to sell what they’ve made themselves, and everybody knows “You Can’t Make A Marshmallow.” Buffalo and his boys sing in barbershop harmony as they send Marsha rolling offstage on her bakery cart.
Curds takes the stage to tell the tale of how the first farmers markets began, and how in the last twenty years, more and more markets have popped up all over the country. He tell us how this market started off with high hopes, but has lately been suffering under a cloud of low morale, thanks to Mr. Buffalo and the board.
Back at Dale’s place, DoGood Farms, Marsha steams as she tells Dale how she was run out of the market. Dale, level headed and good hearted, thinks they can get it all sorted out: Marsha will submit an application to be a vendor on her own, instead of selling for DoGood Farms. Dale advises her that if she follows the rules, no matter how crazy they might be, she’ll win the day, like an “Upstanding Citizen” always does.
Curds reappears with the tale of how he once was the personal cheesemaker to the Queen of England. True story.
It’s market day again: the vendors arrive before dawn, sleepy and cranky. (“Sleep When I’m Dead.”) Mr. Buffalo and his boys are inspecting the market when an overcaffeinated Marsha arrives, enthusiastically dragging a wagon full of her wares, along with her thousand-page market application. She admits she may have gone a tiny bit overboard (“That’ll Do.”) Mr. Buffalo and the board are unimpressed but agree to give her an answer the following week.
Meanwhile, the vendors are fielding questions from a particularly irritating flock of customers. Finally, Candles, Honey and Peaches have had enough, and launch into a dance-on-tables, telling-it-like-it-is number (“What I Got”) where they have their say.
Curds is back. Did he ever tell you about the time he saved the circus with his astounding cheesemaking skills? True story.
At the smokehouse, the Board bickers over what to do about Marsha (while gobbling down all the samples.) Mr. Buffalo overrules them all – he doesn’t take any back-talk, especially not from a woman. Marsha is out. (“Shut It Down.”) Mr. Pork announces the decision at the market – Marsha’s application is rejected because “there just plum ain’t enough space.”
Marsha sits, dejected. Richard, a market regular, tries to cheer her up with an offer of a homemade breakfast. Marsha realizes why he seems so familiar – his face is all over town on billboards advertising “Richardson’s Mufflers and Suds” where you can get your car looked at, have a brew and do a load of laundry.
Marsha, who is not in the best mood, brushes Richard off – he can’t waltz in and just fix everything. Richard points out that both of them get judged on appearances – you shouldn’t reject something until you’ve given it a taste. (“Sweet Onion Jam.”)
It turns out that the Board has suspended Dale for trying to help Marsha. Dale and the assembled vendors vent all their frustrations with the market to Richard – on top of all the Board’s shenanigans, the parking lot where the Market is held isn’t the best place to be in the sweltering summer heat. Richard proposes relocating the market to the park he happens to own. He has a vision for what the market means to the community, and what it could become (“A Place to Be”).
A place where all the folks can go
Someplace shaded from the sun
A gentle breeze among the trees
A place for us, and everyone.
A place you bring the things you’ve grown
And share them in good company.
You’ll be fed, and you’ll be known.
A place to live
A place to be.
Everyone joins in the song as we end Act One.
As Act Two opens, Peaches and Honey face the sad realization that they might never see Dale again. His smile always made Market Day seem like a holiday – and now it’s like “Somebody Cancelled Christmas.”
The vendors have arrived at the stockyard where Mr. Buffalo and the Board are meeting. Richard pitches his idea to the Board – that the market should move to Richardson Park. Mr. Buffalo is inclined to accept the offer (Mr. Pork: “The Buffalo is inclined!”) until Richard adds one condition: that Marsha be accepted into the market as a vendor. For Mr. Buffalo, that’s a deal-breaker. Tempers flare on both sides: they decide to settle the matter with an old-fashioned farmers’ rumble. If the vendors win, the market moves to Richardson Park. If the Board wins, all the rebel vendors are out of the market.
The women clear out while the men get down to business: a competitive clogging match. Amish Jams, of course, allows that he cannot participate.
The Board takes their turn first. They’re good. The vendors’ team – Richard, Dale, Chicken and Curds – hold their own. The two sides duel and one by one, the cloggers can go no longer. Curds and Mr. Sourdough are the first two to drop out, Chicken against Mr. Pork, Dale faces off against Mr. Mushroom, and finally only Richard and Mr. Buffalo are left dancing. Mr. Pork intervenes to trip up Richard, and this injustice arouses the ire of Amish Jams, who leaps to his feet and out-clogs everyone. It is only when the other board members gang up on Amish Jams that he is finally defeated.
Mr. Buffalo declares victory. “There’s the door. Get on out it.”
Curds returns to spin the story of how he got into a cheesemaking contest with the Devil himself (“Cheese In Half An Hour.”)
At Richardson’s Mufflers and Suds, the vendors reconvene. Now that they are out of the market, what will they do? A woman who has been quietly doing her laundry in the background suddenly makes herself known: it’s String Bean, a vendor who had left the market years ago when the Buffalo Boys had taken over. She reminds the vendors of why they are farmers in the first place.
“I feel it rising back up inside me – the need to plant, children! To till and to weed! Because you all have a chance to do something I never did when I was all alone, because there are enough of you to really make a difference. Go directly to the market. Start your own market. You can’t let the Buffalo stop you.”
She leads them in song (“Produce to the People”) as they vow to start their own market.
Meanwhile, back at the old market, Mr. Buffalo and the board have seen their business slow down to a trickle (“The Buffalo.”) They hear that the vendors are opening their own market. They are sure the vendors will come crawling back any day now… right? Right?
With Richard at her side, Marsha is obsessively checking and re-checking her to-do lists: opening day for the new market is underway. Mr. Pork, Sourdough, and Mushroom arrive, seeking to join the market, and Mr. Buffalo enters, enraged at the loss of his vendors. When all of the vendors stand together, the Buffalo is defeated once and for all. Victory!
Holding hands, Marsha and Richard welcome everyone to the new market.
We’re bringing produce to the people
All across this great great land.
We will bring it to the market
We will pass it hand to hand
We will welcome every vendor
Oh be they great or small
We’re bringing produce to the people
There’ll be string beans for us all.