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