Support Your Local Farmers Market

Farmers Market


They show up every spring; they’re here through September or October; then they’re gone for the year. Nearly every town and city has one, and they are growing in popularity. I’m speaking, of course, about farmers markets, and, next to your own garden, they are one of the best sources of fresh fruits and vegetables you’ll find. In addition, you’ll find vendors that sell baked goods, meats, soaps, spices, eggs, and honey straight from the hive. Some even have live music provided by local talent.

Most farmers market vendors accept cash only as payment for their wares, but some will accept credit and debit cards. A few farmers markets are set up to accept food stamps and their equivalents — a wonderful way to provide good nutrition to lower income people.

But just as a movie theater needs butts in seats to survive, farmers markets need bodies in their booths to stay alive. So I encourage everyone to patronize their local farmers market. Yes, we should all plant our gardens and grow our own food. I encourage that; that’s what I’m all about. But a garden is merely a means to a goal — providing a consistent supply of fresh produce that hasn’t been tainted with potentially harmful chemicals. Farmers markets can be another means of helping you to reach that goal. Though you may have your own garden, your space for it is limited. As much as we may like to, we gardeners cannot grow everything. Furthermore, due to city ordinances, many of us cannot raise our own chickens or keep our own beehives. Farmers markets, with their wide array of fresh food offerings, can provide for us the items that we cannot produce for ourselves. And when you buy from a farmers market, you’re helping small family farm operations to stay in business.

So get yourself down to your local farmers market and avail yourself of all the wonderful fresh offerings. It’s good for you, good for your family, good for farmers, good for the economy, and good for America!

I’m The Garden Troubadour, and I approved this message!

Song of the Gardener

Singing in the Garden

Throughout history, people have written songs about their work. Coal miners have songs such as Dark As a Dungeon and Nine Pound Hammer. Railroad construction workers had songs like Drill Ye Tarriers. And, of course, lumberjacks, railroad engineers, and sailors have an abundance of songs about them and their work.

But what about us gardeners? Are their any songs for us? Well, not really. After all, coal mining, railroad building, lumberjacking, railroad engineering, and sailing are major industries that helped build this nation as well as many other nations. These professions also involved hard, dangerous, back breaking labor that on many occasions severely injured or killed the laborers. The feelings of horror, sadness, and despair generated by these tragic deaths and injuries has moved many a man and woman to put their feelings into poetry or song.

Since very few have ever been severely maimed or killed from gardening (aside from a drummer in the movie This is Spinal Tap), any feelings gardening may have generated probably haven’t been strong enough to produce a lot of memorable songs that have woven themselves into the fabric of our history. Still, that’s not to say that absolutely no songs about gardening exist whatsoever. They are out there; you just have to find them. Allow me to help.

One of the first ones that come to mind is The Garden Song by David Mallet.

Inch by inch
Row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and a hoe
And a piece of fertile ground
Inch by inch
Row by row
Someone bless these seeds I sow
Someone warm them from below
Til the rain comes tumbling down

For the unsuccessful gardeners, there is a parody called The Anti Garden Song by Eric Kilburn

Slug by slug
Weed by weed
My garden’s really got me teed
All the insects love to feed
On my tomato plants
Sunburned face
Skinned-up knees
My kitchen’s choked with zucchinis
I’m shopping at the A&P next time I get the chance


One of my personal favorites is Gardening by Dillon Bustin, from off of his Almanac album (sorry, no video for that one.).

Oh my friends, it’s springtime again
Buds are swelling on every limb
The peepers do call; small birds do sing
And my thoughts return to gardening

Do you grow your own tomatoes? Then especially for you, there’s Home Grown Tomatoes by Guy Clark

Ain’t nothin’ in the world that I like better
Than bacon & lettuce & homegrown tomatoes
Up in the mornin’ out in the garden
Get you a ripe one don’t get a hard one
Plant ’em in the spring eat ’em in the summer
All winter with out ’em’s a culinary bummer
I forget all about the sweatin’ & diggin’
Every time I go out & pick me a big one

The above is a small sampling of songs about gardening. Since it’s only natural to hum, whistle, or sing while you work, why not learn a song or two about gardening that you can sing to while away the hours while you’re digging, planting, watering, and weeding? And if you don’t like the selection that’s out there, then I encourage you to get creative and write your own. Who knows — you may create a hit. Then you can use the royalties to pay for your seeds and supplies.


Do you have any favorite songs about gardening that you like to sing? Please share; I’d love to know about them.

The Precious Lifetime Gift of Music

You feed your children. You clothe your children. You wash them, dress them, protect them, read to them, and send them to school. All well, necessary, and commendable.

But do you sing to them?

Perhaps you misunderstood me. I did not ask if you turn on the radio, plug in your iPod, or throw on a CD. I’m talking about actually making musical sounds with your voice in the presence of your offspring.

Mother Sings to Baby

Growing up, I remember my mother and father singing all the time around the house. My father sang as he was getting ready for work in the morning; sang in the shower, and sometimes would just spontaneously break out into song whenever the mood struck him. My mother sang us to sleep, sang to comfort us, sang to make us laugh, and, like my father, sometimes sang for no good reason other than she just felt like it.

As I’m typing this, my mind is racing back in time. I can see and hear my father singing “Up, Up, and Away” while shaving in front of the mirror in the bathroom of the apartment where we lived in Chicago. I can see and hear my mother singing “Scarlet Ribbons” as my sister and I were getting ready for bed – again, in that same Chicago apartment. So many songs, so many wonderful memories. I could fill a book with them.

My parents sang many of the songs from their own childhoods, as well as some of the popular songs of the 1960’s and 70’s. My father sang Civil War tunes, Spike Jones songs (“Der Fuhrer’s Face”, “Behind Those Swinging Doors”), songs from movies (“More”, “The Shadow of Your Smile”) as well as classics such as “Daisy Belle”, “In My Merry Oldsmobile”, and “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.” My mother, who was blessed with a beautiful voice and sang with a band, would croon a lot of 40’s and 50’s songs such as “How Much is That Doggie in the Window”, “Oh Johnny”, and “If You Knew Susie”, to mention a few. She sang kid-friendly tunes like “The Mulberry Bush” and “Did You Ever See a Lassie?” and folk tunes like “Shenandoah” and “Buffalo Gals”. She sang novelty tunes such as “I’m a Lonely Little Petunia in An Onion Patch” and radio show theme songs such as “It Pays to Be Ignorant”. She even sang the Chiquita Banana commercial jingle.

Now I’m quite certain that my mom and dad did not wake up every morning and think, “What can I sing today that my son is going to remember all his life and years later can write about in a blog?” I have no doubt that both my folks were singing just to express their joy. But they didn’t realize that I was listening and remembering.

And what was the result of all this parental singing? Well, for starters, I have a brain as full of song as a cornucopia is of fruit. I have songs for every occasion that I can trot out at a moment’s notice without needing to have the words in front of me – a heaven-sent asset for any musical entertainer. When I sing some of these songs for senior citizens, I can see the light of recognition in their eyes and the joy on their faces as I, no doubt, stimulate a few memories of their own. I can sing “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I’m going to eat some worms” to children and watch the looks on their faces when I ask, “Who wants to eat a worm?”


I also have an appreciation for a wide variety of music. My cornucopia of song consists of country-western, bluegrass, rock ‘n’ roll, pop, movie tunes, Broadway show tunes, TV show theme songs, commercial jingles, folk, and even songs in foreign languages.

But most of all, I have a lifetime of cherished childhood memories that adds another facet to the love I feel for my mom and dad. All it takes is for someone to sing or hum a few bars of one of my folks’ songs, and I’m a carefree child once again.


They say that “little pitchers have big ears.” Well, with what do we want to fill those ears? Electronic Pablum to make them crazy? Or songs from our hearts that we sing to express joy and that will make them smile and laugh and give them wonderful childhood memories?

So by all means, sing to your children. And for heaven’s sake, don’t worry about whether or not you have a good voice. I promise you, your children won’t care. Sing rock ‘n’ roll songs. Sing silly songs. Sing anything as long as it makes you happy. You’ll be strengthening the ties that bind and giving your children a precious gift that they’ll carry with them all their lives.

Music is the food of love. So serve generous helpings.

Gathering Songs for Your Musical Bouquet


That was the lesson from my previous post. If you’re a musical entertainer and you want to distinguish yourself from all the other musical entertainers out there, you won’t do it by singing the same number one hit songs on Top 40 radio that everyone else is singing or the same tunes that everyone has downloaded to their iPod. If you waddle like a goose, honk like a goose, and poop like a goose, then rest assured that no one will ever mistake you for an eagle.

You become an eagle when you soar above the crowd, do your own thing, and sing your own songs. No, you don’t have to write your own material, although that’s certainly one way to distinguish yourself. But how about singing some songs that haven’t been done to death?

“Okay,” you say, “I see your point, and I’m willing to sing some out of the ordinary tunes. But how do I start collecting this material?


Ears BrainShovel

Lesson number two – LISTEN, REMEMBER, DIG!

Listen — your two ears are an excellent collection tool for good music. Perhaps you hear a band play a song that makes you feel good. Maybe you’re flipping through TV channels or radio stations and you hear something that brings back a childhood memory. If you like them, why not learn them and sing them yourself? Someone else might like them too, and you might even gain a fan.

Remember — your brain is your personal library for storing all these songs that your ears collect, and it’s been around longer than YouTube or iTunes. In fact, I’ll bet you have lots of songs stored in there already. Did your mother and father sing, play records, or play the radio when you were growing up? I’ll bet you remember some of those songs. I’ll wager that a few of them bring a smile to your face because they bring back fond childhood memories. What about your grandparents, aunts, and uncles? Did they ever sing when they were around you? Do you remember any of their songs? Why not add one of these to your repertoire? To this day, I still remember some of the songs my parents used to sing, and I’ve incorporated some of these into my act.

Dig — good old fashioned legwork. Good music is like gold or precious stones. It’s rarely found at the surface. You have to dig for it. So visit your local library. Search for songs on the internet. You’ll be amazed at all of the wonderful songs that are out there. Have a favorite singer or musician? I’ll bet that individual was influenced by someone else. Why not try listening to some of your favorite’s favorites? If someone you admire likes someone else’s music, you may very well like it too.

Once you build your storehouse of songs, after a while, you’ll find that you won’t have to work so hard to find them. They’ll start coming to you. You’ll find them in all sorts of places, even when you’re not looking for them. And you don’t have to confine yourself to one particular genre. I, myself, enjoy a wide variety of musical styles. When I perform, I may start out with a 70’s country-western tune, follow it up with a 60’s bubblegum rock tune, and then throw in something from a Warner Brothers cartoon for good measure.

Now that you’ve found them, practice them. Sing them every chance you get – in the shower, in the car, at work (okay, maybe not at work.) Find the chords or figure them out on your own, and start playing them. Make them your own. Then start performing them.

As an added bonus, why not find unique ways to combine them? I once did a two-song set that I called “Sap and Corn.” For the “sap” portion, I played “Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro. You can’t get more sappy than that! Then for the “corn” portion, I sang “I Lobster and Never Flounder” by Pinkard and Bowden. Listen to the song yourself and you’ll see what I mean about corn.

I can’t promise that Listen-Remember-Dig will make you a rich and famous singing superstar. But honing your own unique style may just bring you a following. At the very least, you’ll be remembered. You’ll also have a whole lot more fun than you will being lost out in a whole crowd of Meghan Trainor clones.

Can You Play Some Simon and Garfunkel?

As a musician and entertainer, I’ve honed my act over many years, learning new songs and developing my own personal style. When I get offstage, I want people to remember that they were listening to Mark Lyons – warts, offbeat songs, bad jokes, and all.

And then, somewhere along the way, it happens. Somebody asks me, “Do you know any Simon and Garfunkel songs?” Or, “Do you play any Beatles tunes?”

No. I do not.

Okay, that’s only partially true. I actually do know a few Beatles songs and I could probably fake my way through a Simon and Garfunkel tune.  It’s just that I choose not to.

“What,” you say, “how dare you!” How can you not want to play any of those wonderful tunes by two of the world’s greatest bands/musical duos!? You must be some sort of – communist, socialist, fascist, Philistine – choose your epitaph.

No. I’m none of those. I’m just me, playing the music that resonates with me.

Undaunted, you try again. “But why won’t you play them,” you ask. “Everybody sings them, everybody knows them and everyone loves them.”


I don’t want to do what everybody else does and I don’t want to sing what everybody else sings. Yes, the Beatles were a dynamite band with wonderful songs. The same can also be said about Simon and Garfunkel. Lots of musicians and bands sing their songs. So one more guy with a guitar singing their songs is not about to make the audience look up – or remember you after the show is over.

So no, I don’t play any Simon and Garfunkel and I don’t play any Beatles. If you want to hear Simon and Garfunkel or the Beatles, there are plenty of other singers who will be happy to accommodate you. But if you want to hear something different, then stick around. You might be pleasantly surprised — or nauseatingly disgusted. But either way, you will remember me.

Get out your notebook and a pen and write this down.


That’s lesson number one in how to be an effective entertainer. If you do the things that everyone else is doing and sing the same songs by the same artists that everyone else is singing, then you’ll be just like everyone else. Answer me this. Why should I hire you as an entertainer? What makes you different? What do you have to offer that I can’t get anywhere else?

My friends, there is a whole world of good music out there that you won’t find on Top 40 radio, classic rock stations, or even satellite radio. You won’t find it at Wal-Mart, Target, or your local music store (do those still exist?). So how do you go about finding these songs?

I’ll discuss that in the next blog post.

Where Do You Find the Motivation?

It was Friday morning, June 27th, 2014, and I was getting ready to hit the road for a wonderful weekend at that year’s Indiana Fiddlers Gathering in Battle Ground, Indiana. I was looking forward to a weekend of great music, late night jamming, and active participation – I would be leading their Children’s Concert and teaching a workshop.

As I was packing the last few remaining items into my car, the phone rang. It was my friend Debb calling to say hi. As we chatted, I mentioned to her that in a few minutes, I would be Indiana-bound.

“Where do you find the motivation,” she asked me.

Hmmm. I never really thought that going to a folk festival was something I had to be motivated to do. But I suppose there has to be something that compels me to hit the road and drive for 3-4 hours to spend the weekend on a former battlefield in a small town in central northern Indiana. I was in a hurry to be on my way, so I didn’t really have time to give her a very good answer. But I’ve had a couple of months to ponder that question, so Debb, if you’re reading this, I’ll tell you exactly where I find the motivation.

I’m motivated by hearing the music I love in a beautiful outdoor setting. There’s just something special about listening to string band, bluegrass, Celtic, and other forms of traditional folk music in an open grassy area surrounded by trees.

DSCN7517 DSCN7497 DSCN7503

I’m motivated by the welcoming smiles, greetings and hugs from people who are glad to see me. When I’m at Fiddlers Gathering, I’m truly “back home again in Indiana.”

I’m motivated by the smiles and laughter of the families for which I perform.

I’m motivated by jamming into the wee hours of the morning with people who like the same kind of music I do. Here in the Chicago suburbs, there aren’t too many people who enjoy, much less listen to the music I love. But they are present in abundance at the Indiana Fiddlers Gathering.

I’m motivated by high-tailing it out of town for a few days and getting away from the daily grind.

I’m motivated by the joy of sharing my musical skill and knowledge with the people who come to my workshops.

It’s for all of these reasons that I’ve been motivated to attend the Indiana Fiddlers Gathering for the last twelve years and why I’ll continue to attend as long as I’m able.

Presenting – The Garden Troubadour!

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mark Lyons, a.k.a. The Garden Troubadour. I’d like to welcome you to my blog. For the next… oh, let’s say five years (that’s as good a length of time as any), I will be sharing my thoughts on a regular basis (i.e. whenever I can think of something to say) about three subjects dear to my heart – gardening, cheesemaking, and music, with occasional forays into anything else I feel a need to turn into bits and bytes and launch into the cyber-ether. My reason for blogging is to share the joy I feel for the aforementioned topics and to provide tips, information, and useful advice that readers can use in their own gardens, kitchens, and musical performances.

Me with Sue and Judy's Gardenmark-lyons-gardening-coachMe with Huge Zucchini

Gardening is something I’ve happily enjoyed ever since I was, pardon the cliché, “knee-high to a grasshopper.” My parents had a vegetable garden on the south side of our home in Arlington Heights, and every summer, my sister Susan and I would help my parents plant tomato plants. My folks would always allow Susan and me to “sharecrop” a section of the garden for our own use, and we would eagerly plant corn, carrots, onions, and even flowers. My favorite flower was the four o’clock. I loved the way the buds would always open around 4:00 in the afternoon (hence, the name), and I even tried my hand at cross-pollinating them. I was always thrilled when I collected the seeds at the end of the season; little did I know that the flowers would have produced seeds without my help. But that doesn’t tarnish the wonderful memories one iota.
fouroclock flower

Music – ahh, I could write volumes about the wide variety of music I enjoy and my second pastime as a musician and entertainer. But that would turn this into a bloated, voluminous soliloquy as well as leaving no material remaining for future blogs. So I’ll just present the executive summary and say that my tastes in music are wide and varied. I enjoy country-western; bluegrass; western swing; folk; 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s pop; 40’s and 50’s big band jazz; 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s rock ‘n’ roll; and Hawaiian. I also have a special love of novelty tunes, because they fit my dry and warped sense of humor. As a musician and entertainer, I perform at folk festivals, private parties, farmers markets, nursery schools, open mics, and miscellaneous places, sometimes with my singing partner Jean and sometimes solo. I play guitar, ukulele, jews-harp, kazoo, and I even have a washboard (I prefer the Stradivarius model.). It’s my fond ambition to someday be first washboard chair in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.


Cheesemaking is a fairly new love of mine. I first developed an interest in cheesemaking while on a two-week vacation in Vermont in mid-July, 2005. I visited some of the farms that were open to the public, and while browsing through the gift shop at Sugarbush Farms in Woodstock, Vermont, I came upon a book entitled Home Cheesemaking, by Rikki Carroll. As my eyes fell on the cover and my fingers touched the spine, a spell came over me and a voice seemed to whisper, “Wouldn’t this be fun to try?” Next thing I knew, my hands were one book heavier and my wallet was a few dollars lighter. When I got home, I ordered the 30 Minute Mozzarella Kit from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company and made my first batch of mozzarella. I’d love to be able to say that it was a smashing success that was enjoyed by one and all, but I’d be lying through my pearly whites. Let’s just say there was lots of room for improvement. But improve I did, and since then, I have made more (and better) batches of mozzarella, marscapone, quark, frommage blanc, manchego, feta, and several others. Last January, I made my first block of parmesan, which I aged for ten months, and shared with my family at Thanksgiving. I’m proud to say it was a hit!


I’ll wrap this up by mentioning that this is my first blog and my first time blogging. I sincerely hope that you’ll find my content interesting and exciting and will continue to stay tuned for more exciting episodes of The Garden Troubadour!