When I was a kid, I used to go to town with my Dad on Saturdays. We'd run errands (which usually involved going to the feed store and/or the hardware store), and we'd usually run into someone my Dad knew (Sonora was a small town). I seem to remember that these trips included a number of conversations with friends. Sonora, where I grew up, was still rural and largely agricultural (ranching and timber were the main resource-based economic activities)
Moving forward 35 years, Sonora has changed (as has Auburn, where my family now lives). Life seems much faster paced. I've talked to old-time farm families in both towns who no longer feel connected with the rest of the community. Trips to town don't seem to include nearly so many conversations. The folks they see in town don't share a common interest in farming.
By contrast, I consider myself extremely lucky. As a farmer, I spend every Saturday morning among a community of my peers. I also get to see many of my friends (who also happen to be customers in some cases). In many respects, our farmer's market community is closer to the farming towns of 50 or 75 years ago.
Author Bill McKibbon (Deep Economy) puts it this way (and I paraphrase) - the main difference between shopping at a supermarket and shopping at the farmer's market is that we generally have 10 conversations with other people at the farmer's market, compared to one (at most) in the supermarket. In other words, we're not anonymous at the farmer's market. I observe this every Saturday morning.
The other aspect of this, at least for me, is that we farmers offer our customers a direct connection with the countryside that still surrounds Auburn. Our customers have an interest in keeping this countryside open and intact because they get some (or all) of their food from it. We farmers have an interest in maintaining our connection with town because it's where we make our livelihood. Maybe this is what community really means!
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