Easton Farmers’ Market

What The Heck Am I Doing Here?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 19 Comments

The Bachmann Players. Click to enlarge

Is it okay if I’m a bit personal today?

You’ve probably read my blog before, but if this is your first time, you should know that I’m an expat. I was born, raised, and educated in the Netherlands. After a career in broadcasting, I moved to the United States at the end of 1999. To be honest, I never imagined that I would end up here.

As an anglophile, I could see myself living in the UK, and working for the BBC, which I did for a while. But had you suggested that I would move to the States at the age of 36 and start a new life, I would not have believed you. Now, in 2017, there are still times I can’t believe I live in this town in Pennsylvania called Easton. I have an American wife and an American daughter. I even became an American citizen.

THE HOME OF HISTORY

Easton, by the way, has an interesting history. It was one of the first three cities where the Declaration of Independence was read out loud for the very first time. Every year on Heritage Day, thousands of people flock to Centre Square to witness a reenactment of that declaration. I became part of an acting troupe called The Bachmann Players, dedicated to bringing colonial history back to life, mainly through theatrical productions in the historic Bachmann Publick House.

Easton also has the longest-running, continuously operating outdoor farmers’ market in the nation, now in its 265th season. As one of the announcers, my voice reaches most of downtown every other Saturday, as I continue a tradition that started in 1752. Organic produce, anyone?

Most days, I am very comfortable with my decision to leave Holland behind. I love my community, and they often give me the feeling that it’s mutual. On other days, I’m not so sure I made the right choice because I don’t know if I truly understand my fellow citizens.

WHERE AM I

I’m still trying to figure out the American psyche, if there is one. I live in a divided nation that calls itself a melting pot, but I don’t see a lot of melting going on. Being used to the Dutch multi-party parliamentary system where compromise and cooperation is the name of the game, I’m now absorbed by a world of Republicans and Democrats, where conflict and confrontation are the operative words.

Even though America likes to be known as “The Land of the Free,” and “The Defender of Democracy,” people in my neck of the woods don’t seem to give a damn. On one hand they enjoy parades with veterans, boy scouts, and Sousa marches, and they fly the flag every day of the week. In schools and council meetings, Americans faithfully recite the Pledge of Allegiance. But when it’s time to vote, most of them stay home. Some seem more motivated to get their morning cup of coffee, than make the short trip to the polling station. They’ll never miss a football game, but they think it’s okay to skip election day.

To give you an idea, turnout in my Borough in the 11/7 election was 16.88%. Out of 4,704 eligible voters, only 791 people voted. On social media some people called that “a great result.” I have to admit, it was an improvement over the May primaries where only 10.33% voted. Countywide, fewer than one out of four registered voters turned up. I’d say that’s pretty pathetic.

INSULAR MINDSET

People don’t seem to care about the things they take for granted. I’d love to take them on a no-expenses-paid trip to a number of totalitarian countries, to give them a sense of what life is like in a dictatorship. But according to the State Department, only 36% of Americans own a passport, and that makes things difficult.

This also means that 64% of Americans has never left the country. In 2012, the average American received about 12 days of vacation (but used only 10), so even if they’d feel inclined to travel, they wouldn’t get that far. In contrast, most Europeans receive between 25 and 30 days of vacation a year, and they use every single day. What does this mean? For one, I’m no longer surprised that most Americans aren’t able to find the Netherlands on the map, or any other exotic country for that matter. Just so you know, to certain Americans, Canada can seem pretty exotic.

WELL-ARMED

Another thing I fail to understand, is America’s love affair with guns. They call it the “gun culture,” as if the National Rifle Association is a cultural institution. To handle a weapon in Holland, you’re either part of law enforcement, or you’re in the military (and no one wants to be in the military anymore). In the United States, even the mentally ill can go to Walmart (thank you Donald), and get their hands on a firearm. They even come in pink for the girls.

Then we all act very surprised when a disturbed person shoots 20 children between 6 and 7 years old in Sandy Hook, another idiot kills twelve people in a movie theater in Aurora, yet another murders 58 in Vegas, and a Texas gunman kills 26 people attending a church service. No doubt they’re all part of the “well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State,” mentioned in the Second Amendment. Please send your thoughts and prayers, people. That will do the trick.

DEVELOPED NATION

Of course I could ramble on about the American healthcare system. It’s the most expensive and least efficient in the world. The American diet and sedentary lifestyle has become one of the leading causes of death. I could talk about the failing education system with overcrowded, underfunded schools, and uninvolved parents, where teachers have to buy supplies for their students. I could mention America’s tendency to treat symptoms but never the cause, as demonstrated by the highest incarceration rate in the world. The U.S. represents about 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but it houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners.

I could go on and on and on, and you would be wondering when I’d make the transition to talking about my work as a voice-over. That’s not going to happen today. Today is personal.

“Well, if you don’t like it, why don’t you go home?” some friendly folks on Facebook suggested. “We don’t need you.”

WHY I STAY

Here’s the thing: my little town of Easton (the Borough of Wilson, to be more exact), is my home.

It’s also the home of Porter’s Pub, Black & Blue, and Two Rivers Brewing. You’ll run into Earl Accordionist on your way to Mercantile Home to see Ron and Ken. At The Quadrant they’ll make you an amazing Righteous omelet, and when you’re done, you go up one floor to buy a used book. You can see a Broadway show at the 90-year old State Theatre, and go to an open mic night at Connexions Gallery. It’s a town where Mayor Sal Panto and State Representative Bob Freeman know who you are, and where you can run into Larry Holmes, whose left jab is still the best in boxing history.

Easton is the two-river town where the Lehigh and Delaware rivers come together. It’s where thousands of bacon lovers meet, and where Crayola crayons were created. Easton is the place where New Yorkers go when they’re tired of living in New York, and where you can find one of the best chocolateurs on the planet, a jovial Belgian who goes by the name of JP. In a few weeks, we’ll light the 106 foot (32 m) Peace Candle, said to be the largest non-wax Christmas candle in the country.

So, whenever I get a bit cynical about this new nation of mine; this land of unlimited opportunities, crazy dreams, and stunning natural beauty, I think of where I landed.

I think of my beautiful wife and daughter.

I think of Easton.

I think of the fact that I can do what I love, and I love what I do.

And I’m elated to be alive.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Giving My Work Away

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles 9 Comments
photo credit: Kevin Schlough

The author at the market

Followers of my Facebook page and personal profile were the first to know.

Since July of this year, I have been working for free.

Well, some of the time at least.

I am one of the few voice-overs that has been cultivating his announcer-voice as emcee at my local Farmers’ Market.

The town I live in –Easton, PA– is proud to have the longest continuously running outdoor Farmers’ Market in the entire U.S.A. It started back in 1752. To give you an idea, that’s two years after the death of the composer Johann Sebastian Bach!

In the U.S., Farmers’ Markets have exploded. In 1996 there were only 2,410. Today this number has almost quadrupled (source). These markets increase access to fresh food, they help preserve farmland and stimulate local economies.

Now, I’m pretty sure you didn’t come this blog to be lectured about the benefits of small-scale agriculture. Instead, let me tell you why I decided to surround myself with fruit, vegetables and other local produce, once or twice a week. After all, I could be using that time to grow my own business, instead of promoting someone else’s. Well, here’s one reason: it’s because I enjoy…

STAYING CLOSE TO HOME

In this day and age, it’s very tempting to start building worldwide networks with colleagues and clients on every continent. Technology gives us the illusion that they are just as close as the folks in our own backyard. In most cases, they’re only a few clicks away. But being connected doesn’t mean that there’s a true connection. If anything, our smart phone savvy society seems more disconnected than ever.

By focusing on things from afar, it’s easy to ignore what’s going on right under our nose. It’s like the business person who donates to feed African orphans but who forgets that there’s a local food bank. I’m not saying it’s one or the other. Think globally AND act locally. That’s what I mean.

It’s nice to have customers across the Atlantic, but your best clients might be fellow-members of your local business association. It’s worthwhile to get away from that computer monitor every once in a while and open the door of your studio. Find out what’s going on within a ten-mile radius of where you live. You’ll be surprised!

But there’s another advantage to love all things local.

UPROOTED

Sunny, the Easton Farmers' Market mascot

Farmers’ Market mascot Sunny

If you’ve recently moved to a new town, state or country, you know how traumatic that can be. Gone are the trusted, old connections that took years to build. The neighbors you liked so much are no longer there, and for a while you feel like a stranger among the locals.

Finding your way in unfamiliar territory can be exciting, but it takes up a lot of energy and it can be stressful. It also takes a toll on the family and on your job. As you’re settling into a new environment, you suddenly realize how much you took for granted!

Trees can only branch out when they’re firmly planted. Their roots need to be strong enough to bear the weight. Having a solid base benefits your business. Stability increases your ability to develop and grow as a person and as a solopreneur.

To me, Easton represents stability, and at the heart of Easton, there’s a vibrant market place that’s…

CREATING COMMUNITY

The secret to the continued success of our market does not lie in fresh produce alone. One of the things the Farmers’ Market does, is bring people together. It’s like emceeing a biweekly block party for the whole city where you’ll find people of all ages, different walks of life, sexual orientation, religious and political persuasion et cetera.

There’s live music from local bands, activities for kids, food demos by chefs from restaurants in our town and other special events that can bring thousands of people to our city. And when that happens, almost every downtown business benefits.

Farmers’ Market vendors are fellow-entrepreneurs with an interesting business model. They don’t compete against one another. Instead, they grow together.

Bakers in the region use Farmers’ Market peaches in their pastries. The smoothie seller and corner creamery use fruit from nearby orchards. Cheese and mushrooms from local farms end up on subs and pizzas. Easton restaurants shop at the market for quality meats and vegetables. Everybody wins because everybody is…

MAKING CONNECTIONS

If anything, the market is about connection and interaction. Buying vegetables at some superstore is an anonymous undertaking. You can fill up your cart without ever talking to someone. At the market, I know the people who plow the fields, sow the seeds and milk their cows, and they know me too. We keep each other posted on major and minor events in our lives, and we do it all outside of Facebook. What a concept!

This is not an every-person-for-him-or-herself type of community where only the fittest can survive. When Tomblers Bakery, one of the vendors at our market, burned to the ground in July of 2011, the community came together and raised funds for them to rebuild and restart. Would you ever find that kind of solidarity in a strip mall?

There’s something else I want to tell you about.

STAYING SHARP

Tomblers Bakery

When I’m at the market, I watch how people do business. I try to find out why people buy and why some sellers attract more customers than others. I watch and learn. It’s much more interesting and realistic than a textbook on sales and marketing, I promise you that.

As a voice-over professional who spends most of his time in splendid isolation, I thoroughly enjoy being outdoors, surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd. It’s freeing to have no script and it’s fun to see people respond to what I say. The rest of the week, I’m stuck in a dark box reading someone else’s text and I have no clue how people react to my narration.

VOLUNTEERING

I’ll give you one last reason why I enjoy promoting local produce, music and more: It feels good to be involved in my community.

If you’ve read my article Work for FREE for Charity?, you know that I’m not in favor of giving my work away to random charities, simply because they are dedicated to important causes. That doesn’t mean that I’m against volunteering.

Unlike some major charitable organizations that spend millions of dollars on PR and advertising, the Easton Market is as low-budget as it gets. It relies heavily on volunteers to keep it running. It’s for the people, by the people. That’s its strength and its beauty.

Even though I don’t get a penny for the five hours I spend at the market as announcer, it is a most enriching experience.

Last Saturday, as I was packing up, one of the vegetable vendors asked me: “Paul, is there anything you could use? As you can see, we have plenty of produce left. Most of it will go to the food bank, but if you need anything, help yourself! It’s the least we can do to say thank you.”

How awesome is that?

That’s yet another reason why I love being vocal and local!

What’s yours?

Paul Strikwerda @nethervoice

photo credit top photo: Kevin Schlough; other pictures: nethervoice

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