Tuesday, November 9, 2010

More Than a Farmers' Market - A Community

I'm fairly sure I derive all
the sustenance I need for life
from my morning coffee
This past Saturday morning, I had the pleasure to spend a few hours at the Marion Square Farmers' Market in Downtown Charleston. Although I've been a resident in South Carolina's lowcountry for nearly 4 months and visiting the market has topped my To Do list, I've found convenient excuses (college football, weddings, vacation, etc) to not go.

Well by Saturday, my excuses had been fully depleted, so I poured up a cup of coffee and walked down to the market. While writing this column, I can honestly say I'm not sure what impressed me more, the array of wonderful locally grown produce, the proudly displayed crafts, the food vendors (check out this place below for delicious coffee and crawfish cheese grits), or the palpable sense of community.

Although I've had the pleasure in my life to peruse the handmade crafts and treats at markets in multiple states and on 3 continents, I was moved by the 100 booths set up in the shadows of the old Citadel more so than at all the others.

Nothing says southern cuisine like cheesy grits, crawfish,
and biscuits with red eye gravy.

My friend Sterling
& a cute puppy
Everywhere I looked, children ran about, dogs tugged at their owners’ leashes, grandparents mulled over the purchase of fresh caught fish, high school sweethearts shared homemade donuts and hot chocolate, and I could not help but stand back and absorb the moment to its fullest.  

After about an hour's worth of shuffling in and out of tents and among patrons & vendors, I found myself in the park’s center rotunda. Standing there chatting with friends, a man in his late 60's – by the looks of him – wearing a Vietnam Veteran’s baseball cap approached us. If the experience of growing up in an urban environment has taught me anything, it is to avoid these encounters, as he was likely a beggar and not a Vet. But today was different. Lightheartedness brought about by the market’s atmosphere and communal love consumed me, and so instead of avoiding him, we welcomed him into our circle.

We didn't speak of his service or of patriotism, and I could tell by his weathered face and saddened eyes that he was a man lost in this world but taking comfort in the camaraderie of the market. As my friends and I stood there with him and finished our breakfast, we listened to him speak of his children (clearly long grown up), his wife (recently passed away), and his love of Charleston and it's people.  Talk about perspective. Whether his story was story was true or not, he made me realize that despite the hardships that befall us in life, we can always find support in the communities we develop around us.  

Communities come in all sizes – large and small – and forms – intimate or purely social.  We have our immediate family, our co-workers, fellow worshipers, coffee shop acquaintances, customers, long-time friends or just our 'facebook' friends, and folks who are complete strangers with the exception of our shared interests.

And this is what I took away from the farmer's market Saturday: although I left empty handed, without a print to hang in my office, organic soaps to fill Christmas stockings, or local produce to cook up for this weekend’s progressive dinner in my building, I didn't leave empty hearted. I spent 4 hours mingling with people that had come together to celebrate our community and the simple pleasure of being around one another on a Saturday morning.

For both vendors and customers, the Marion Square farmers' market is more than locally grown food and handmade products. In a town that is already uniquely social, the market has created a greater sense of community. 

November is a month to celebrate the things for which we are thankful. Although I try to make my posts relevant to issues concerning sustainability and green construction, this post was my way of saying thanks to my community. Thank you for welcoming me so whole-heartedly. Sustainability may be a vehicle for a cleaner, healthier planet, but it is the people and communities that comprise Mother Earth that truly make her worth protecting. 

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