This piece was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Our Jackson Home: The Magazine.
It’s dark as Aaron Witmer trudges out to his food truck at 3:30 on Saturday morning. Stars twinkle overhead and moonlight throws shadows as he unlocks the door and climbs into the back. With careful precision, he measures out flour, oil, eggs, and other ingredients and dumps them into the stainless steel mixer resting on the floor.
At the flip of a switch, it comes to life and beats the disparate ingredients together into cohesive dough—the first donut dough of the day. Satisfied, he places it in the proofer to rise, climbs into the driver’s seat, and rumbles down the road from Rutherford, Tennessee, to the West Tennessee Farmers’ Market in Jackson.
Each Saturday during the summer and fall, Witmer and his team make between 700 and 1,000 donuts that are eagerly devoured by market goers. He’s been in the business for four years ever since he needed some extra income for his family and got the idea for the donuts from some friends.
He’s had several helpers through the years, but right now Margie Horst, her sister Laura, and Dorcas Woder work with him. They make the forty-five-minute drive from Rutherford, too, and Margie said the 4:30 a.m. wake up call each week requires “real strong coffee” for her to endure.
They each have set jobs once they meet at the market and find their places in the tiny food truck kitchen with an ease that reflects a familiar routine. Between the counters and the mixer, there’s an aisle only about eighteen inches wide. Learning to weave in and out around each other but work quickly was one of the biggest challenges they had adjusting to the job, Margie said.
Witmer typically stations himself outside selling the donuts to customers. Margie’s job is to mix the dough. She measures and dumps, measures and dumps, rhythmically into the mixer. When she turns it on, the thwacking of the beaters dominates the small space, and flour intermittently flies out, dusting her apron and sticking in the mesh of her tights.
Laura cuts the dough after it is mixed and has risen. Her plastic gloves crinkle as she twists a tin can and presses out circles, then carefully works with each circle to form a donut.
Then it’s Margie’s turn to take each donut and fry it in the hot, popping oil. She has the hottest job out of all of them, especially as the summer months intensify. As the morning wanes, so does her energy. Beads of sweat burst onto her creamy complexion, and she wipes her face often with her periwinkle dress sleeve.
This, she asserts, is the worst part of the job. Since she bends over the oil so much, her dress permanently smells like it. At home, she sequesters it in a closet reserved for old clothes and dreads dragging it out each Saturday because it means smelling the old grease that’s been quarantined for a week.
They take turns draping the donuts in glaze and making sure there are enough finished ones within easy reach of the back window for Witmer. Lines form quickly for the finished products; they’re the only truck where people are queued up as early as 8 a.m.
The four-person team behind one of the most popular farmers’ market treats has more in common than their donut expertise. They’re all Mennonites, a conservative Christian sect. Mennonites are Anabaptists, and what sets them apart from other Christians is their belief in the virtue of social separatism.
Their lives are oriented around simple, disciplined routines because they believe eliminating clutter and distractions from the outside world will draw them closer to God.
For example, Witmer said they drastically minimize the technology they use, and they intentionally live on less than they earn so they can give money to others in need. Everyone wears simple, modest clothing—shirts and suspenders for guys, long modest dresses and white caps for girls.
No one goes to school past eighth grade because then it’s time to help work and keep up with the household chores full time.
Steady faithfulness to this simple way of life is good for the soul, said Witmer. Both he and Margie spoke with relaxed, easy smiles and light in their eyes about the love for God Mennonite life had fostered in their hearts.
“It’s a way of life,” Witmer said. “If we live the way God wants us to, He blesses us. He draws us closer to Him. If we live a little simpler, we have more to give.”
Margie echoed him.
“You can be ever so good, but no matter how good you are, a person still needs the Lord,” she said.
Witmer and Margie, it seems, have found two recipes for success. One that helps them earn the extra cash they need each week and one that has led to a life of rich contemplation and inner peace.
The discipline of routine is one of life’s under-appreciated graces because it forges faithfulness. Faithfulness keeps your hands pressed to the work before you no matter how hot and greasy the tiny food truck kitchen gets.
It’s never easy, but in any area of life the fruits of faithful discipline are always beautiful and worth holding out for—like a piping hot donut dripping with glaze that melts in your mouth at first bite.
The Donut Truck sets up every Saturday morning at the West Tennessee Farmers’ Market located at 91 New Market Street in downtown Jackson.