Today I have been reading a paper left over from a recent food and culture class which analyzes the virtues and roadblocks facing farmers’ markets. According to "Culture and the Politics of Alternative Food Networks"[i], farmers' markets are social gathering places which offer a wide assortment of communal experiences.
As I read this paper, my mind and emotions are crowded out by thoughts of the recent massacre of the innocents, the teachers, administrators, and caregivers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. I think of the families and friends left with only carnage and destruction.
For example, shoppers at farmers’ markets often seek out organics, sustainably grown produce, or sources for other local products. On the other hand, some support farmers' markets for political or economic reasons: they vote with their dollars in support of farmers, producers, and their local economy. While others frequent markets for purely social or nostalgic enjoyment. They browse or chat up local artisans; perhaps they sample a bit of local cuisine, listen to entertainment, or simply mingle with others.
This reconnection through our local foods gives us a sense of involvement, participation, and empowerment often missed in our daily lives. In terms of the bigger picture my paper observes, “Such openness makes it possible to imagine and apprehend connections beyond the local to a wider awareness of potential linkages and agencies that can be mobilized for progressive ends.”
My thoughts turn to the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School and my heart wants answers. Why? What do we do about the violence and death in our country―which now seems to be the new normal? Is that how we solve our problems? Do we build more fences and gates? Do we arm everyone old enough with their own weapon? Is that what is meant by our 'inalienable right'? Does that make us any safer? Really?
This rise in farmer’s markets has not been without controversy, the authors point out. Some argue that farmers’ markets are simply a form of elite entertainment, for those who can afford to pay more for organics and high end products. Some say that these small markets don't really help our local economy and they certainly don't influence national food issues. Perhaps this discussion is unnecessary and it is just a sign of our times―one already decided upon by lobbyists, special interest groups, and big industry.
Since I became involved in farmers’ markets over ten years ago, I have witnessed a groundswell of activity, interest, and support from Florida, to South Carolina, and now in Oregon. For those disconnected from their food supply, looking for a little re-assurance and a support group, farmers' markets offer that and much more. When I consider how the farmers’ market faction has moved from a mere fringe element to robust community forum, I have become a believer in the “grass roots” form of change. It is this same sense of community experienced at farmers' markets that I see happening in Newton, Connecticut while families and friends grieve openly.
As the media swoops down and besieges a traumatized town, I wonder, why can’t they be allowed to mourn away from public scrutiny? We share our most intimate details on social media and we weep openly, without regard to observers. Somehow, we find the strength to form the words muddled in the deep recesses of our hearts. We lean on each other to help make sense of the numbing web of information and choices.
When we can’t go any further, we know we must bend and change. The answers will come―and we will act―when we are ready.
[i] Parkins, W. and Craig, G. (2009). Culture and the Politics of Alternative Food Networks. University of Otago.