By Natalie Pax, Phase II Fellow
“We can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbors. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously. “ –Grace Lee Boggs
The essence of a farmers market is the cultivation of community. While it may be a place where economic transactions occur, it is also a place for connection—to a local economy, nourishing food, and each other. Despite the very different nature of farmers markets this year as a result of Covid-19, I firmly believe that markets are essential places for folks in the community to access fresh, local products and connect with fellow community members in a safe and socially distanced way.
Both the Waynesboro and North Augusta Farmers Markets have offered me a glimpse into the communities that I have come to be a part of during my time as a Phase II Fellow placed with Project GROWS. The interactions with vendors, customers, and the random passerby during the markets illuminate the power of connection and community, especially at a time when many feel distant and isolated.
For example, Aidan, the face behind Philosopher’s Tea, offers herbs, dried flowers, loose-leaf dried teas, and freshly brewed teas at every market. He is full of insightful knowledge about all kinds of plants and herbs and is always willing to share the ways in which plants are medicine, nourishing the body and soul. He always offers me a cup of tea at the end of the market day (if there is any left!) and recently, I was lucky enough to try a cup of his goldenrod and honey iced tea. In case you were not aware, goldenrod is a beautiful yellow flower with allergy soothing qualities.
We recently started a fresh food donation program at the markets where both customers and vendors can donate market produce. After the market, I take the produce to local food pantries and shelters. Despite a shorter market season this year with fewer in-person shopping days, we have already helped donate over 285 pounds of produce to local food distribution sites in both Waynesboro and Augusta County.
Then, there is Fred, a man who often stops by the market in Waynesboro. He works for the city doing landscaping, and has turned several abandoned plots of grass throughout the city into garden spaces this year. He’s donated peppers, melons, and summer squash to our food donation program, and I am so thrilled that he is using land within the city to grow food that is going to places where it will nourish community members who need it.
In addition to the many great interactions with customers and vendors at the markets this season, I am beyond grateful for our wonderful and dedicated volunteers who have helped make the markets successful this year - especially in light of all the Covid-19 changes. Diane Hawkins from the Staunton-Augusta Health Department and Jerry Kelly have consistently attended every Waynesboro Farmers Market and the energy and time that they have devoted on Saturday mornings has really helped make the market wonderful this year. They constantly remind me that even the small act of giving some of your time and energy can have reverberating effects and it does not go unseen or unfelt. Jerry often brings his guitar to the market to strum some tunes as the customers enter the pavilion area, and Diane issues market vouchers to WIC (Women, Infant, and Children) clients, as well as assisting them in answering questions and helping them to shop with vendors. I have endless gratitude for these amazing volunteers!
Despite the immense challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, I am grateful to be contributing to an effort that creates a space for community at the local level. It is through the interactions of vendors, customers, volunteers, and the occasional passerby that connection and magic truly happen. It’s important now more than ever to cultivate and nurture the spaces for community.