> Farmers market on steroids January 12 2010

We know markets. We've sweltered on blacktops. We've unloaded folding metal tables from the back of our pickup truck. We've even strapped our glass observation bee hive in the passenger seat, only to alarm the drive-through staff handing us a six-'o-clock biscuit.

We also know that AmericasMart, home of the Atlanta International Gift and Home Furnishings Market, will be different.

First of all, today we couldn't just pull up, let down the tailgate, unload and drive away. Secondly, we didn't know what kind of people would be there.

At farmers markets, you get the feeling that everybody is on the same team. While there is competition, you can count on your fellow vendors to watch your back, or even watch your table for a bathroom break.

Imagine our relief, after driving four hours from our Franklin, Tenn., home to find the same sort of folks in downtown Atlanta. While AmericasMart shows are slick, international in reach, high-end and high-dollar, we felt the same in-it-together vibe today from other vendors as we set up our booth.

It started with the woman in the parking deck. We drove around, not even picky about where we found a spot as long as we found one, when a woman said, "Hey, follow me! I'm leaving, and I'm parked right across from the entrance." She wasn't exaggerating, and we were able to unload our "hive table," raw honey, graphics and smoker (what kind of beekeeper leaves home without a smoker, even if it's just a prop?) and literally turn around and walk inside.

It didn't stop there. Our sales contact, Betty Evans, greeted us soon after we found our spot and pointed out where everything was. A neighboring exhibitor who has been to AmericasMart before helped us out with our booth. We observed other vendors unloading boxes, setting up displays, laughing and drinking coffee ... just like at a farmers market.

Of course, this isn't a farmers market. This is "the world's largest collection of product," according to the 658-page event directory. We are in the Gourmet section of the market, where exhibitors sell unique chocolates, coffees and candies alongside new angles on grits, cheese straws and hot sauces.

Still, among this global selection of products, we feel the vibe of a farmers market. We feel comaraderie, the fatigue of hard work and planning, and the anticipation of not knowing what to expect.

The doors don't open for buyers until Friday, and we haven't fine-tuned our hive table yet, but we're looking forward to opening day. We don't have our glass observation hive on this trip, so no big thrills for anyone riding MARTA each morning, but we still hope people will be curious about our honey and what makes it special.