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.
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…
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…
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.
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.
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!
Paul Strikwerda @nethervoice
photo credit top photo: Kevin Schlough; other pictures: nethervoice
Ralph Hass says
I love being vocal and local too, Paul!
I have seen our city of Kelowna, British Columbia grow by leaps and bounds since moving here as a youngster in 1972. With a fresh water lake and beautiful mountains and golf courses, Kelowna is the off-season home of many professional hockey players. It’s ironic how hockey become a strong niche market for me as my MSG-TV imaging for the Buffalo Sabres led to an even longer serving client, who are locally based: Shaw-TV and the Western Hockey League broadcasts. I have just started my seventh season with them.
Locally, the Kelowna Farmers’ and Crafters’ Market turned 18 this summer and you’ve inspired me to check out all the action on Saturday. They actually run it as well on Wednesday but I didn’t make it out today:)
Yes indeed, go vocal and local!
Mike Harrison says
If I didn’t know better, I’d have sworn this story was right out of the 1950s.
It is making me rethink online ‘social media.’
Charming… and inspiring!
Thank you, Paul!
matt forrest says
Wow, I had no idea it was the longest-running outdoor Farmers’ Market in the U.S. – that’s pretty incredible. It’s 24 years older than the country itself! With so much tweeting, posting, commenting, and emailing these days, it’s definitely nice to be able to connect with folks locally; I think it helps us to remember what being human is supposed to be like.
Moe Rock says
Oooooooo I LOVE farmers markets. I’m gonna have to come to Easton. ;o)
Again just a fabulous blog and a great outlook on not only the VO business… but on life.
Thanks for all you do Paul.
Debby Barnes says
Okay, that’s it Mr. Loveable, Upstanding Local + Global Neighbour of ours. You’re getting officially Rah-Rah’d! What a way to nourish and flourish. Win-win! 🙂
rick Lance says
Paul… so nice to see you expound on the joys of living the rural lifestyle. You know I’m right there with you! You’re doing a wonderful thing for your community and, as in everything you’ve ever done, you’re eyes and ears are wide open and you’re learning something new all the time.
We make a special point to buy and support our local businesses here in Spring Hill, TN. We feel that way about any charity work or donations we give as well. And we’ve had such an unusually wet summer, the fruits and veggies are as sweet and bountiful as I’ve ever known… um, um!
You mentioned low tech… this is why I love my horses and riding. Horses are about as obsolete a mode of transportation as you can find in America. Completely low tech… that’s why I love them so much. I can tun off the high tech world for a little while and enjoy something so basic that it’s like Heaven.
Great to read your thoughts on this, I knew you had a little bit of farmer in you! I know you enjoy your rural lifestyle and you’ve just made your case for it beautifully!
Paul Strikwerda says
A big thank you to all of you who were inspired by my story!
If I’ve learned anything in the last few years, it is that the things we do on a small scale, do affect what happens on a larger scale. Change takes place when committed people take action to make this place a better world.
Only a few years ago, downtown Easton was not a place people would like to visit. Businesses had moved to malls outside the city, and empty buildings attracted the wrong crowd. In part thanks to a vibrant market, our city got its heart back. Entrepreneurs and restaurants are now opening up shop, and developers have bought historic buildings and are turning them into apartments.
Those living in center city need fresh produce, and that’s why our market is now open all year round. With the growth of our downtown population, our market is bound to grow even more.
Organically, of course!
Rose C says
Wonderful to read Paul! You are indeed very inspirational.
I just Emceed this month for the Western Design Conference Fashion Show, & it was a great joy for me to do (although I was still in a “booth” behind the scenes). I did this at no cost – but they were so excited to have me, that they are now planning to budget me in for next year! It’s always nice to be offered $$ when you don’t ask 😉
Emceeing events is also one of my favorite things to do besides being in the booth recording. My small, but very vibrant community of Jackson Hole is very important to me. What I find, living in a small town as well, is there are certain people in the radio business for 30+ years always called upon for event emceeing. So, this doesn’t always give me a chance to work for many of those events as the people are “grandfathered” in.
I really enjoy Emceeing, so I’ve decided to branch out to larger cities because one of the magical things for me is to bring community together in any situation. What people don’t always realize is that a great Emcee is vital to the success of any event. There’s lots to do: having a pleasant stage presence; being gracious, personable and flexible; thinking on your feet; keeping many “balls in the air” at the same time; and calmly handling the unexpected.
I admire you for emceeing for 5 hours at a time, as it’s not always easy to do for that long! Usually people don’t know what’s going on in our minds behind the scenes – we are carefully managing the timing, maintaining a positive energy flow, and creating a community in which listeners feel welcomed, special, comfortable, & respected.
& how cool is it that your farmer’s market goes year round! If we did that? People would be milling around in several feet of snow getting their tomatoes 😉
All always my best to you for continued success ~
Paul Strikwerda says
Hey Rose, thanks for bringing up the fact that emceeing is indeed not always as easy as it seems. Live events are often unpredictable and to me that’s part of the fun. The emcee is the host of the party but shouldn’t be the center.
I’ve also seen radio personalities in my area who are asked to emcee. Some of them are great at it. Others not so great. Certain radio people have a hard time interacting with a live audience. In their minds, they’re still alone in a studio, talking to a microphone with their backs to the action.
When I started emceeing, I turned the equipment around so I could see what was happening in front of me, and people could see me.