Sep 3, 2010

Community

Recently while at a farmer's market I smiled at a woman passing by and asked "would you like to try a sample of goat cheese or our chocolate milk?

She turned her back on me. There was no way she hadn't heard me, it was clear that her response to me was deliberate.

I was unsettled by her response to a degree that took me by surprise and tried to discern the root of my reaction. As a mother of many I am adept at dealing with comments regarding very personal lifestyle decisions with what I hope is grace and humor. As a mother of a multitude of teen aged daughters and preschool aged sons I am accustomed to responses that range from bizarre to belligerent and as a midwife I am well practiced in letting the emotional responses of others slide off without bothering me. Yet there was no denying that this woman's slight did make an impact and I was at a loss in determining why.

Finally I realized that what was different about her response was not the response itself but the location at which the response took place. Farmer's markets are not just places of commerce. Markets have sprung up all across the country and I believe the driving force is not simply a desire for a way of buying groceries that are healthier for people and planet. I believe that markets exist because people are seeking a sense of community. When one lives in a town that is as large as Houston or Austin (or any of the many other cities across the fruited plain where markets have developed and thrive) one often loses a sense of 'neighbors' and 'neighborhood stores'. Mom and pop stores have been replaced by big box stores and the family doctor has been replaced by an internist, obstetrician, pediatrician, allergist, pulmonologist, ENT and chiropractor--all for the same family and "personal banker" has become nothing more than a marketing phrase. For those who have turned to markets for their weekly grocery shopping they also find a community. They can see the farmers every week, watch their children grow up, ask "how is Katie doing in New York?" Customers see each other as they chose which basket of tomatoes looks best and chat about recipes. For the farmer who often works long and crazy hours this community is vitally important. Customers become friends--often almost family. They are missed when they don't show up--at least to chat. I know for our family we have had customers who stop buying from us due to a change in diet but we still look forward to seeing them weekly to touch base with how the chapter in the book that they were writing in coming along and for others, seeing that tummy grow larger and larger to be replaced by--a baby! Overarching this development of community is a sense of caring, almost of commitment to participate in the community. When someone deliberately turns away at a farmers market it seems less a decision to not sample a given product--but more a decision to not participate in community.

I understand that there are many possible explanations for the actions of the woman with whom I had an almost-interaction. She may have been in a hurry, allergic to goat cheese or perhaps even deaf (though I do not believe so). The truth remains that the reason that it impacted me as it did was because it was so unexpected, a reminder of how the world acts outside of market and it felt like a violation of what market is created to do, something that is in some ways, holy. There is in the conscious participation of people to create community a sense of what we are created to do, to come together for the edification, the blessing of individuals. This is what we do each market day. It may be hard to see when market is hot and humid or even stormy, and when the person just in front of you in line got that last basket of tomatoes (or half pint of chocolate milk) but it is there, none-the-less, and can be seen when you look for it. There is also the opportunity to lift some one's spirits and carry their burden. I believe that we are all endowed by the Creator with not only the ability but the desire to give and to take in community and that when we chose to turn our backs on this and live in an insular world where we only interact to the degree necessary for our transaction to be completed that everyone loses something precious.

It doesn't have to be a farmer's market--as a Christian, obviously I believe that the same community thrives in church--or at least ought to.

But at any rate let me encourage you to seek community and to invest in it this week--and for the rest of your life. For the sake of all of us.

1 comment:

Terry said...

I have read this posting several times. I may read it one more time and revisit with yet another comment.

I think as you,market day is a day to converse. To catch up on things, see friends / vendors and keep the flow going.

Even though I am not a vendor I raise my own dairy goats and make cheese, yogurt, all our dairy products come from goat milk.

I enjoy going to the market when work allows and touching bases with the vendor who sells the goat cheese. I enjoy visiting with the vendor who has the tomatoes even though my husband plants a lovely organic veggie garden each year.

I may not purchase allot at the market but I get (and I hope give) nuggets of information, friendship and make the day more than what it was.

I too am at a loss of what to make of the woman you had the one sided (at least verbally) exchange with. Perhaps she just didn't hear.Perhaps she didn't know how to respond.

But don't take it personally because the event wasn't about you. It was about her.

Happy Saturday to you and yours.