Every Saturday morning farmers and other vendors gather at a church parking lot in Brainerd to peddle their vegetables and glass creations to a public as much interested in personal dealings as with any sort of bargain.
The Brainerd farmers’ market, in its third year, invites customers of the corporate grocery industry to think in new terms. Being outside, a farmers’ market invites a visitor to think less about his hurry, and about visiting, chatting and considering something new.
Caroline Johnson of Cloudcrest cattle farm in Rossville, Ga., leans over into a cooler to show what’s inside. She has pork chops, ground beach, holiday hams and sausage. She holds up a packaged series of links — baconage, “which is like sausage and bacon ground together in a link. It’s really good.” The farmer’s daughter, 17, is the eldest of four students, and the last at home. She’s at Chatt State.
For market coordinator Kathleen Russell, a former math teacher, farmers markets center on human relationships.
“They are not only an outlet for farmers growing locally — and of course there’s all those issues around the wisdom of spending your money on food that is grown locally, plus getting to know the farmers and knowing exactly how that food was grown — that has become important,” Mrs. Russell says. “But markets also build community. People come, they stay. In summer we have a little bit more going on than now, in the way of things for the kids, cooking demos. To me, we’re doing all the things that we know to promote the markets that way.”
How to farmers markets build community? I wonder.
“I would say they serve as a similar purpose to community squares in Europe and South America, those public areas where people congregate,” Mrs. Russell replies. “They come there just for the purpose of congretating. *** It’s where people have a chance to get together and actually come together and talk for a little bit. It happens in grocery stores, but there have been studies showing that the conversations are more frequent and last longer when people are in an outdoor venue like a farmers’market.”
One of the dozen vendors Saturday is Allen Harris of Glass Cannon studios. His display of shot glasses, vases, oil lamps, pendants and ornaments is a benefit for himself he wants to share with others during the Saturday 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Brainerd winter schedule. “It’s kinda therapy for me, to do glass,” says the insurance company sales manager. “This gets me away from having to herd cats.”
Another booth is run by Bill and Becky Ensinger, who run a goat farm in Dayton, Tenn., and produce the most wonderful goat milk soap bars we use in the Tulis family toilette.
Kirk Sanford, who runs a photo processing business and resides on Missionary Ridge, has just bought jelly, lettuce and arugula from the stand of Brooke Brown, who runs Brown Dirt Farm in Dunlap, Tenn. Why does he shop here? “It’s local, and I like to support local farms, and it’s fresh because it’s local,” Mr. Sanford says. “I have five kids, and two children and my wife are vegetarians, and they like local and nothing with chemicals on it.”
Fruits of a decentralized economic order
A story in the Chattanooga Times Free Press says the 14 farmers markets in the area serve many consumers. But one farmer, Thomas O’Neal, suggests there should be fewer of them and that the ones left over be more heavily promoted to draw bigger crowds, to make his trips down from Signal Mountain worthwhile.
Sales at markets are too little to support a farm, says the Main Street farmers market manager Padgett Arnold. In 2011 the market had 28 local food producers, with 20 showing up regularly.
Farmers markets are part of a local response to cultural changes that I described in the story of local sculptor Cessna Decosimo and other texts about the drive toward political and economic centralization — and its reversal, devolution or decentralization. The reversal is sought by Christians. It is sought by non-Christians who who desire the much of the fruit of Christendom. Christianity is a life system and life view, and is as comprehensive as that of Islam, paganism, Roman Catholicism or modernism. Its fruit is best for man, and most glorifying to God.
David Korten, writing at a website that interests itself in local economy without the Christianity, sees a beautiful fruit that includes farmers markets. “The seeds of living economies have already been planted and are taking root in countless communities throughout the world,” Mr. Korten says.
Some have been around for a long time. They include land trusts, local organic farms and farmer’s markets, enterprises producing and marketing innovative environmental services and products, community supported agriculture initiatives, local restaurants specializing in locally grown organic produce, community banks, local currencies, buy local campaigns, fair traded coffee, worker buyouts of factories whose owners are moving production abroad, family businesses that take pride in community service, employee and community owned businesses, production networks of small producers taking on large projects, recycling business, independent book stores that serve as community learning centers, independent media, community sustainability indicators, green business directories, independent business alliances and much more. ‡
Most Christians are not interested in some of the favorable developments in Mr. Korten’s list. But some seem to be important aspects of a public and social outworking of Christian sanctification and Christian decentralization.
“Carey O’Neil, “Buying locally boosts economy[;] But farmers face roadblocks on way to market access,” Chattanooga Times Free Press, Oct. 2, 2011
‡ Living Economies Forum website. The quote is from a 2001 paper.