Happiness is an Activity
One of the best things about living in Edmonton has been our proximity to the Farmer’s Market. When we last lived in the city, we lived near the original market in Strathcona. We now live downtown, and are getting to know the downtown market. It makes for a great Saturday morning: a leisurely walk, food samples, coffee, and fresh, beautiful groceries. The market is full of stands manned by people who are devoted to local, healthy food, and homespun goods. I have eaten the best mushrooms of my life these past weeks. But even as I wander the stalls, admiring the handicraft, smelling the food, reading posters about sustainable agriculture, and listening to a young singer with an acoustic guitar, I have had doubts about my beloved Saturday morning routine.
Herein lies its problem: The Farmer’s Market is expensive. It is pretty easy to spend $100 on groceries (for one to two people) that will last until Thursday. It is also only open on Saturday morning. This means that to shop at the market you need money, and you need leisure time. This is not the place for the poor.
My concern with the market is two-fold. First, I worry that those who are university educated, have time to learn about the benefits of local, organic produce, and have the time and education to push the government for change on these issues do not in fact use their time to do so. I know this to be true for myself: since I have access to good quality, sustainable food, I do not put effort into bringing about larger changes to how we grow, prepare, and eat food in Canada. Secondly, there is, as Kevin suggested is the case with the agrarian ideal, a sort of superiority of virtue associated with those who shop at the market. There is a clear message that supporting local vendors and local, organic food is a more virtuous choice. How could one be a good citizen when one is buying pop tarts from “the man”? There is a clear sense of superiority associated with shopping at the market. But what is this superiority but privilege? The market requires leisure time and a lot of money. The option to be a better person is thus controlled by money.
But for all that negativity, I love the market. The Farmer’s Market has many strengths: providing locally grown or raised food to the citizens of Edmonton; allowing people to meet their food growers and become involved in the process; selling local, handmade clothing that is not exploitative of foreign workers; and selling tasty, tasty, tasty food. Not only that, it is a place of community gathering. In the open square between stalls, people sit and talk and meet with each other.
I believe that the market, which can be seen as a symbol of elitism, is also a symbol of change. Part of this change comes because of money. Money talks. The more money that is diverted to things like the Farmer’s Market, and the more consumer demand shifts, the more agricultural and food practices have to change.
But the biggest strength of the Farmer’s Market is similar to the strength of the Agrarian ideal. It has the power to challenge and shift people’s desires. Unlike Berry, however, those who sell at the market mix their love for old fashioned farming and whole foods with a readiness to participate in social media and other public forums to help change people’s desires.
The Farmer’s Market is a place where people love food! While Kevin used Aristotle in a good critique of the agrarian ideal, I would like to use him in support of the market, and (in a way) in support of what Wendell Berry is trying to do. “In defining our chief good as happiness, Aristotle says that the common assumption that happiness lies in acquiring external goods (he mentions wealth, honor, health, and physical pleasure) is mistaken. Happiness is an activity, a way of doing things. It is living one’s life well, “through the active engagement of individuals themselves,” as Sarah Brodie puts it. Happiness is not a matter of acquiring something outside us, but of adopting a particular way of life.” The Farmer’s Market is about a particular way of life.
But this way of life does not have to be that of Wendell Berry. Kevin’s critique is apt that not many can participate in that life. But many can desire the goals of that life, in terms of sustainable living and hard work, beauty and community, and work towards them. “The path to happiness is unflinchingly social, not private, because it takes place in the context of interpersonal and public relationships and behaviours.” The Farmer’s Market is inherently social. Even though not everyone can participate in the limited lifestyle of the agrarian ideal, those who do enable many more of us to share in those desires without sacrificing the advantages of city life, or living in urban communities and pursuing careers in areas which don’t involve spreading manure on fecund soil.
Does this solve the problem raised by Kevin on Monday? Not entirely. Participation in things like the Farmer’s Market opens up many more people to a relationship with the land and with their food providers. It is not accessible to everyone, but it is accessible to many. In fact, the shift to make it more accessible has already begun in Edmonton by people who have recognized the same problems: a new market has opened in Edmonton that aims to solve some of these problems: it is open more days of the week, and it is cheaper. The Farmer’s Market, for all its flaws, is a symbol of and (I hope) catalyst for change.
 Ellen T. Charry, God and the Art of Happiness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010) 89.
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