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Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009 12:08 pm

My fond farewell to this year’s farmers’ marke

This past August, I came to Springfield, beginning my life as a college student at UIS. One of the first things my English class did was take a field trip to the Old Capitol Farmers’ Market. I was instantly enthralled by the abundance of fruits and vegetables and the sweet aromas of pastries and kettle corn. I was disappointed by not being able to return before it shut down for the rest of this year.

As October slipped into November, the tents and booths got packed away, lodged into storage collecting dust until next May. The hustle and bustle of early morning shoppers was replaced by the occasional car; the hum of conversation and laughter pushed to the inside of the buildings of Adams Street by the change in weather and the end of the market season.

But now, I have had time to reflect on my experience at the Farmers’ Market and what the Farmers’ Market with the Old Capitol on one side and the newer Capitol on the other embodies.

To be certain the food is fresh. The average apple at the supermarket travels 1,726 miles from where it was picked. At farmers’ markets, apples travel one-tenth that distance. Also, farmers’ markets help the local economy. For the average loaf of bread purchased at the supermarket, a wheat farmer makes about six cents, or the price of the wrapping. At farmers’ markets they make close to 90 cents on the dollar. Buying fresh food while at the same time helping people you know, what could be better?

But more important and more surprising to me, new to Springfield, is that the Old Capitol Farmers’ Market and perhaps farmers’ markets everywhere, are communities. Communities are more than networks based on geography, but are organizations of a common purpose. At the farmers’ market, people come and meander through the booths to see old friends and sellers, in addition to buying this and that. Commerce happens. Community happens. It is not mere happenstance that commerce and community come from the same Latin root word.

The Farmers’ Market in downtown Springfield is a genuine example of what sociologists call a third place. First places being the home, second places being the workplace, third places are those arenas of informal social interaction which people flock to, such as cafés, sports games and summer festivals. Buyers intermix with sellers and see familiar faces and acquaintances. Sellers come back each week trading jokes and gossip with regulars and newcomers. It is a community of buyers and sellers, a “third place” where individuals can bring timeworn themes of community to the 21st century marketplace.

One last hurrah before the new year is another Farmers’ Market, a holiday market highlighting holiday staples like turkey over raspberry jam. It is gearing up to be a continuation of an exceptional quality of this area. Being that this area actively pursues the informal get-togethers that suburban subdivisions and modern lifestyle centers struggle to form, let alone sustain.

So try to take time and check out the Holiday Farmers’ Market Saturday, Nov. 21, at the State Fairgrounds, and come next spring, as the warm breeze returns to the prairie, check out Old Capitol Farmers’ Market. Take friends or family members from out of town and let them see what most Springfieldians have already realized and what I realized, that something special is going on, something unique. See how long it takes before you and they begin to feel a part of the community that is embodied in the farmers’ market.

John Tienken of Clarendon Hills is a freshman at the University of Illinois at Springfield. He divides his time between writing, directing short films, playing squash and studying.
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