Volume 12, Issue 34 ~ August 19 - 25, 2004
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Community: We Keep It Alive
Communities, just like plants, must be watered and cared for less they wither and fall away.
by Jim Bourne

It’s market day. Up at 4am, at the market by 6am, finished selling and visiting by 10am, and now it’s time for breakfast. Today, I have my oldest daughter with me. At age nine, she’s become quite the market helper, setting up my stand and then helping Tony and Lori service their stand. I sell eggs, chicken, and beef; Tony and Lori sell vegetables and flowers.

By 10:30 we’re packed up and headed for home. Then it hits us: breakfast, or rather the lack of it. We’ve nibbled at the market, but now it’s time to do some serious eating. The choices are many, but Amanda knows where I will eventually go. I will bypass the McDonalds and the Burger Kings on the way home and head for my favorite breakfast spot just over the Calvert County line in Friendship.

We pick up the necessary local papers as we enter Rusty’s and seat ourselves. It’s been a successful market day, selling out of everything once again. We order and then I get caught up in the news. I go to my Bay Weekly first, and then on to the other papers. The hot item in Calvert County is the big box issue, or rather how many Wal-Marts is enough?

Breakfast is great, as usual. The owners are friends and long-standing community people. The owner’s grandfather delivered me back 40-some years ago.

When Amanda and I arrive home, we’re tired but grateful for a good day and a safe trip. I stop at the mailbox and pick up our letters. I’m instantly struck as I see the mail carrier has left a sympathy card for us. My father passed away the week before. I’m struck because I really don’t know our mail carrier, but I have always made it a point to wave when I see her, as did Dad.

Maybe this is the reward of being in one place for so long. Perhaps this is part of what being a community is all about. Just as I could have stopped anywhere else on the way home for breakfast, our mail carrier could have kept on with her life without acknowledging our loss. But both of us decided that a little time and effort would make a better community.

Over the past years, I have made it a point to shop local within the Southern Maryland area, patronizing locally owned businesses. At times, I have to travel farther and spend a little more money. But that money reticulates in the community many times over. Every time I spend my money locally, I am voting to maintain a rural community in this region.

Which is why I am so distressed about Wal-Mart and the big box issue. I’ve read the letters to the editor in which convenience and freedom of choice is touted. Of course, there is also the element that simply wants cheap stuff, no matter the treatment of workers in the store or overseas. But the real question to me is this: What kind of community do we want to be? Or rather, do we want to invest in a community at all?

The Barons of Bentonville don’t give an iota for the rural character of Calvert County. We are simply another place to be conquered. They do not set up shop to promote competition; they set up shop to kill it. The name is predatory capitalism, profit at the expense of producers, workers and ultimately consumers. Every job Wal-Mart creates takes 1.3 jobs out of a community. They replace full-time employment with part-time employment. So tell me, how does a community benefit from this?

Change is inevitable in our region. But we do have a choice about what that change will look like. By the time this goes to print, public comment will be over, and the decision over zoning will be made by our elected leaders. But the choice of where our dollars go will always be ours.

My farmers’ market customers can buy their eggs anywhere, yet they take the time on a Saturday morning to meet me at the market. Many of you go the extra mile and spend the extra money to support local businesses all over our region. I just worry that an area that clamors so much for cheap conveinince will never fully support its local roots. Communities, just like plants, must be watered and cared for lest they wither and fall away.

Jim Bourne writes from his grass-based farm in Owings.

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