I hope National Farmers Market Week was productive in your area. I hope your market received great support both from your community’s producers and its shoppers. I hope the media covered whatever event you hosted at your market. Good job everyone on spreading the news of our continued and expanding impacts.
Unfortunately, this was not the case for at least one market last weekend: the Charlottesville City Market, which was open for business on Saturday during the tragic events that happened two blocks away. Vendors and shoppers had courageously decided to show up, knowing the tense build-up over the past few days to the scheduled rally that afternoon. The market was attempting to do once again what it has done for many years: connect and comfort its citizens through the shared love of regional food and the championing of local creative output.
Instead, the name of its town is currently synonymous with riots and murder and the safety of its downtown with its lovely parks and pedestrian mall will be questioned, as it is likely to be threatened by more events like the ones that the world watched with horror last weekend.
I know this market. I have shopped there, gathered data there and discussed the hopes and dreams of its organizers and its vendors when there. It is like a great many of our markets across the country, located on underused weekend space, open to anyone and everyone, full of gorgeous produce and hand-crafted items proudly displayed by its makers. It is managed by the city and has been operating since the early 1970s, making it a “first wave” markets in my timeline of market eras.
This is what one regular market goer, William J. Antholis, Director and CEO of the Miller Center at UVA wrote about the market on this day:
My wife and I took our daughters for a walk around the protests, four blocks south (of their home), to the farmer’s market on the other side of the historic, pedestrian-only Downtown Mall. Immediately, we felt the sense of danger as fully armed white supremacist protestors walked dangerously close to counter-protestors. Taunts were already being hurled in both directions.
When we arrived at the market, we were surprised to find it eerily quiet. The market is usually packed on a Saturday morning. Row after row of beautiful heirloom tomatoes sat undisturbed, in a rainbow array of colors. Bread stands and coffee stands and local artisans had plenty of product, and not enough customers.
Stacy Miller, Farmers Market Coalition’s former Executive Director, has lived in Charlottesville for six years and is among the vendors at Charlottesville
City Market. Nervous about the potential for violence (and anticipating a slow
sales day, she said), she withdrew her participation several days before.
Several other vendors shared messages of solidarity and commitment to be there ‘come hell or high water’ on our public Facebook group. One said, specifically, “We won’t stand down for these terrorists! They come to our town uninvited and unwanted!… We will stand our grounds, with our fellow vendors and friends, against fascism, against xenophobia, against oppression!” While I certainly shared the sentiment, and I made sure to visit the market early to do my own shopping and wish good luck to those still setting up, I was eager to get back home, readying for other plans later that day. A helicopter (which may have been the same one crashing later that day) was already circling loudly overhead and would become my background noise nearly all day, as we barricaded into our little apartment. Thankfully, my husband was not working at the hospital that day, and we updated each other from various media sources, texts, and Twitter as things escalated, with photos of Nazis “indiscriminately” beating black youths in a parking garage. As my son napped (and, presumably, dreamed) 20 feet away, we quietly watched jerky, just-taken videos and photos of the black Charger with Ohio plates plowing through people on the downtown mall four blocks away, at an intersection I walked almost daily.”
When I read those quotes, I have to confess I had a little PTSD from my days of organizing New Orleans’ markets during hurricane seasons. As a matter of fact, on the Saturday before the landfall of Katrina our market manager, Tatum Evans was off so I was in charge of the day. The newscasters had told us on Thursday that the storm was to veer to Florida and any impact in the city would be negligible, so at that point, most locals stopped watching hour by hour updates.
Of course, since I was managing a market, I continued to monitor the weather and noticed the size of the storm and the lack of major movement eastward. I called vendors on Friday and told them they had the option of staying home, with no rent penalties for missing the day. Still, most showed up and as the day wore on, the tension in and around the market was palpable and the small number of shoppers also obvious. Stories of lines forming for gas and of panic rising around the city began to weigh on me and on our Executive Director Richard McCarthy who was calling me every half hour. Finally at 10:30, I closed the market.
I tell you that because as a result of that and other tense mornings in New Orleans, I felt the market’s anxiety in Charlottesville all the way down here in Louisiana, and I am sure many of you did too.
The use of public space for a public market is a heavy responsibility. Not only does one have to manage tender young businesses and seasoned ones side by side, but also shoulder the responsbility of managing risks of slip and falls, theft, disagreements, weather, dog bites and more crop up constantly.
And this last weekend, we saw once again that even when all of that is managed well, the danger around a market can still overwhelm its good intentions and positive vibe. (Update from C-ville market folks: The market was finally forced to close early because of the nearing clashes and the helicopters circling right overhead, making it impossible to communicate.)
I don’t really have a lesson to impart here. I just wanted to send my admiration to the Charlottesville City Market, to its manager Justin and to the entire team at the market, to its hard working vendors and its loyal shoppers and tell them that to me, YOU are Charlottesville. You are what I think about even as your city’s name is plastered across every news site and linked forever to a very, very bad day in American history.
I know that your market will once again become the center of health, wealth and good civic engagement. As a matter of fact, you will become that as early as next Saturday.
People will gather and hug and probably shed some tears in your lot. They will ask vendors how they are and vendors will ask that of their shoppers. Shoppers will tell vendors they hope they remain committed to coming to their downtown market and vendors will ask the same of their shoppers. The very best of what we do with farmers markets will become evident to everyone in Charlottesville over the next few weeks and months. Media will come to show “normal” activity returning and the market will know to embrace that opportunity and use it to encourage people to leave their homes and connect once again on Saturday mornings.
I know this because it is what happened to us during those months of darkness in 2005-2010.
And I know I was changed because of the love and care that the market community showed everyone here. I believe that markets do something that few other entities or ideas do in modern America: they build and keep community across age, background, political divides and socioeconomic status. I am proud to be part of that.
So let’s send out some good community energy to our friends in Charlottesville; I guarantee they’ll appreciate it.