Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Bag Ladies (and Gentlemen) of St Louis

Yesterday I attended the Homegrown Urban Country Fair in St Louis—celebrating local food, wholesome food, Farm Aid, and, apparently, oxymorons.

Excepting the part where I had to get up at 2 am (after going to bed at 1 am) in order to get there in time to set up, and the part where it was in the low 40s in St Louis at dawn and we had to wait around in the shade for a couple hours before the customers started showing up—rendering an ordinarily simple task like making change a challenge in dexterity, it was a fun day. The sun, shy in the morning, finally made its full appearance in the afternoon and the temperature obediently rose into the more congenial (and less congealing) 60s. The crowd was boisterous, and we were just the right distance from the amplifiers to enjoy the live music without having it disrupt customer conversations.

The fair was an amplification of the Tower Grove Farmers' Market, which is a regular feature of Saturday mornings in St Louis during the growing season, and Sandhill Farm was invited as part of the expanded vendor list. While you might reasonably question whether food grown 175 miles away still qualifies as "local," at least we were in state. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the main coordinator (the self-styled Homegrown Shepherdess), Cornelia, is based out of Massachusetts! It was a day of contrasts.

As an
intentional community committed to sustainability—especially when it comes to food—Sandhill participates in many weekend festivals during the harvest season (next weekend we'll be in Keosauqua IA for the Fall Scenic Drive Festival, and the one after that in Hannibal MO for Historic Folklife Festival). For economic, as well as sustainability reasons, we mostly stick close to home and driving to St Louis for a half-day event was a stretch. However, I made the most of it, delivering two buckets of organic sorghum to Black Bear Bakery, giving a ride down to a farm organizer named Severin (also from Massachusetts, oddly enough) who was tabling at the fair, and giving a ride back to Jon, who will be visiting nearby Dancing Rabbit for a week. (Given how little sleep I'd had the night before, it was a godsend that Jon was with me on the return. The fair adrenaline had worn off by 4 pm and I gratefully turned the wheel over to him for most of the drive north.)

While it's true that sustainability was one of the themes of yesterday's fair and you'd expect the crowd to have a greener, above-average crunchy granola flavor to them than those who typically attend your plain old vanilla fall festival, something happened yesterday that I didn't expect to see in my lifetime: not a single person asked for a bag for their purchases. I was blown away. It figure it was the equivalent of walking along a mile of highway and not finding a single aluminum can.

I've been doing fairs for more than 30 years (which translates roughly to 100 events), and that has never occurred before. In fact, we are so used to the request that we stockpile all the plastic bags that inevitably accompany our mainstream purchases during the year just so that we'll be able to reuse them during the fall fair season. Yesterday I had a large supply of recycled plastic tote sacks on hand, and I didn't use a single one of them. True, two people accepted an empty cardboard box to hold their booty, but nobody wanted plastic. I think there's hope.

• • •
I have one more story about the fair. We were given the option to have our booth fee waived if we committed to giving a public talk during the event, and I jumped right on it. Cornelia asked me to talk about intentional community for 15-20 minutes, which is something I can more or less do in my sleep. As it turned out, my turn at the mic followed a discourse on vermiculture. While the "crowd" for my talk (encouraged by public announcements and a ring of straw bales placed suggestively around the stage) barely outnumbered the media recording it, I'm pleased to say that I easily outdrew the worm lecture.

That said, it's an open question who got upstaged by whom. Later in the day, Cornelia came by with a tape recorder and cameraman, hoping to get interviews of interesting people. Having appreciated my talk, she approached our booth and made her request (I graciously agreed, of course), and was just about to get started when she suddenly realized that her crew needed to dash off for another opportunity—a worm race.

Adding insult to injury, the race was apparently sufficiently distracting that she never did make it back for that interview. Sigh. Such is the ephemeral quality of fame.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How in the world do you race worms- I probably would have gone to that also.