The view from the other side of the booth

Body: 

Simplicity. The word conjures up a near-religious mantra for many of us. Either a goal in the distant future or a yearned-for ideal of the past, few rest content in the simplicity of the present.

Gratitude should be a defining characteristic because we have the privilege of living right now. Not only does one have the luxury of living as simply as they wish, we may pick and choose appropriate technologies to help us reach our goals.

Has there ever been such opportunity for the average person to pursue their dreams? For example, at the age of 40 I bought my first cell phone: a smartphone containing more computing power than was enjoyed by the entire Clinton White House. While such a device can be used for trivialities, it is a powerful tool for the entrepreneur.

Each of us has the ability to connect directly with consumers — I prefer to call them neighbors — entirely apart from the gatekeepers who formerly locked out the little guys.

As a new vendor for the Duluth Farmer’s Market, I recently took part in an optional Earth Day market. I chose to participate just nine days prior to the event and had nothing, not even a crop. Everything came together in a way that would have been unimaginable for all prior generations.

First, I sowed an indoor crop of microgreens: peas, radishes and sunflower shoots. My wife designed a market banner, business cards and labels. I ordered a case of compostable clamshells for a crop that had yet to germinate. I requested a box of my self-published books with little hope that they’d arrive on time. My wife ordered various supplies to produce prints of her original artwork.

Each of these necessities and more arrived just in time. My crop matured right when I needed it, hours before the event. We left the grow lights on for the last 48 hours straight. It was a real nail-biter.

Additionally, more and more of the populace is craving locally produced food, goods and entertainment. The ability to connect directly with customers/neighbors/potential friends is a constant source of support and encouragement.

Your ability as a consumer to connect with local growers and producers of countless good things has never been greater. The phrase “vote with your food dollars” is bandied about from time to time. While a useful concept, I encourage you to involve your heart in these small choices.

I’ll offer Paul McIntyre as a case in point. This 70-plus-year-old on a fixed income, the Duluth Art Institute’s volunteer of the year no less, boarded a bus to arrive at the market on 14th Avenue East and Third Street for the express purpose of sending some encouragement my way.

He dropped eight bucks at my booth, not much in the grand scheme of things, and I’ll never forget it. Paul picked up two clamshells of the only produce I had available: straight-up pea shoots and a “spring in your step mix.”

We only had time to talk for a few minutes, but his presence there on my first day meant the world to me. The encouragement to persevere in the face of strong headwinds was disproportionate to the exchange of dollar bills.

Your presence at the farmer’s market among the crowd to hear a favorite musician, see the art opening or whatever you are into in this community, matters in a deeper and more significant way than you’re likely to ever understand.

These are people who have reached breaking points and pushed past them, often weeping in the process, to get where they are today (however humble their situation might appear). You are supporting that person or family, with or without words and only a few dollars. Your regular presence encourages them to keep producing music, food, art, durable goods and even the words you are reading at this very moment.

Mr. McIntyre isn’t unique, extraordinary or charismatic. He’s just a simple man who cares. And so, be present in your community. By simply showing up, your neighbors are encouraged to produce more of what you love. Life becomes more interesting and our community becomes more resilient in the process.