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Trying to Save Our Farmers Market (or How a Community Is Coming Together When the Rubber Hits the Road)

Posted Jan 25 2009 3:55pm

This may not look like much to you, but this parking lot (and many others around my new city of Dunwoody) is at the center of a flurry of "reply to all" emails sent this weekend among dozens of people in leadership positions from end to end of Dunwoody's 12-square miles.

The topic? Trying to save our farmers market. Yes, the one with Corinna and Melissa and Poppy the Goose and Cutie the Duck. That one. You see, the location where that market has been held the past few years will become unavailable this spring because of construction. Corinna, as market manager, has been trying to find a nearby location to which to relocate the market but has been getting tepid response. I told her that "supporting a farmers market" is on the Atlanta Regional Commission Green Community certification checklist, and since we are in official pursuit of that certification, and since I am chairing the Dunwoody Sustainability Commission citizen advisory board, I would bring it the attention of the city leaders with the hope that we could probably find a new spot.

I thought it would be easy. We have tons of unused space all over the city, with so much parking that you wouldn't believe it, with sidewalks that connect everywhere. The market already has a very loyal customer base, and frankly, it's just a group of tents for four hours one morning a week. How hard could this be?

Well, the first two days resulted in a sea of emails that went something like this:

1. Here are a bunch of potential locations.

2. Here are the problems with all those locations.

I drove around in the rain and took photos of the locations under consideration so that we could immediately rule out any that were too small (or that involved pesticide lawns, in my opinion) and so that we could more easily see the potential of the ones that seem to fit the bill.

This resulted in:

3. More emails about zoning ordinances and how farmers markets are not allowed.

At this point, I realized I was starting to do the "uphill climb." And for those of you who have known me awhile, you know I only do one uphill climb, and that's the one getting out of my neighborhood on foot or bike. When I start to meet the kind of resistance I was now meeting, I realize that the community may simply not be ready or may just not deem this issue important and it is time to walk away. So I sent an email that said:

"Gosh, could it really be this hard in Dunwoody to relocate a successful farmers market? How do so many other communities across the country do this? Have we come so far that something as simple as a farmers market is so complicated?"

I then asked if I should suggest to my farmer friends that they join the farmers market that is about to launch in a neighboring community (the one where Judy of the CSA lives). I ended with a completely honest thought: I'm not looking to waste anyone's time here. If farmers markets are too hard in Dunwoody, so be it.

When I went to bed last night, I was already thinking about the new way I would need to get my farm-fresh food this year. It would involve driving rather than bike riding, as I had been hoping, but it was still "doable." It would mean that my community had become a "local food desert," but I still had options. Besides, the 7-week, 35-hour farming course I'm taking starts next week so I'm anticipating that I will be able to increase my garden yields, so that will help. And I saw Farmer D and his adorable new shop the other morning (and check out his new show on the Mother Nature Network!) and we're talking about collaborating on rejuvenating a children's garden right here in Dunwoody, so that's good . . . . Focus on the positive, I told myself. Let the city go for now. . . All in due time. . . There are plenty of other good things here. . .

And then I woke up, and received emails from all ends of our city that the farmers market is something we want in this city, and that we will find a way to make it happen.

And you know what? It is clear to me that this farmers market is now ours, all of ours, and that the power we claim to have as an independent city is not just lip action. When the "rubber hits the road," like now with this farmers market, we truly have the ability to create a more sustainable city. And you know what? I think we will!

That wet and gray parking lot in the photo (and the ones in the sidebar today)? I can already smell the basil.
Nurturing sustainability close to home and around the world. (And other food for thought!)

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