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CARLTON FLETCHER: Community Market offers friends, neighbors chance to slow down

OPINION: Support necessary to keep weekly Tift Park event viable

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Blow up your TV, Throw away your paper, Go to the country, Build you a home. Plant a little garden, Eat a lot of peaches, Try and find Jesus on your own.

— John Denver

Now comes the hard part for the Friends of Tift Park Community Market.

Four weeks into the gathering, which by all accounts has been an unqualified success, organizers can expect drop offs to begin. Vendors who didn’t rake in money hand over fist the first month of the market will seek out new locations, and those who feel they have to be a part of any social do — particularly ones that are free — will move on to other things.

That’s the way it is with any such spectacle once the new wears off.

But there’s no reason the Community Market can’t continue to flourish. Stephen Brimberry and his Friends of Tift Park volunteers have done a remarkable job of organizing the market, bringing in any number of unique craftsmen, produce growers, food vendors, cookie makers — the Cookie Chick rocks! — and entertainers to make the underused park a prominent part of the community again.

Just as important as the market vendors and their wares, though, have been the visitors: the shoppers, the hungry, the scenesters and the curious alike. Families, many who ride their bikes to Tift Park from nearby neighborhoods, make the market part of their weekend plans, and many from outlying communities are stopping by as part of their weekend shopping excursion into the big city. Lovers of home-grown produce are coming by to pick up watermelons, tomatoes, peaches and other farm products, and the line is always long at Glenn Eames’ wood-fired pizza oven.

The danger, as Brimberry and Co. well know, is that the world — even in relatively slow-paced Southwest Georgia — is always moving at Mach 3. In an age where today’s technology is obsolete mere weeks later, excitement is held at a premium. Today’s big event is next month’s old news.

Hopefully, though, patrons, vendors, supporters, volunteers and everyone else involved in the weekly Community Market gatherings will remember just why they were started in the first place. Sure, the concept of bringing all these artisans, craftsmen, growers, musicians, artists and community activists together at Tift Park was new. But it was new only because of its location.

The concept of a common marketplace at a centralized location is as old as America itself. From Colonial times to the computer age, communities and neighborhoods have bonded over the shared enjoyment of specialized products that are grown or created by others within that community or neighborhood. Such gatherings have long been the catalyst for social activities, the place where skills are displayed and friendships are forged.

Albany has become notorious for its non-support of events, those of the entertainment variety as well as those planned to inject a sense of local pride into the community. No one has ever gotten rich by banking on the unqualified support of their friends and neighbors in this community. In fact, it’s almost as if some kind of malaise sets in when local citizens are offered an opportunity to be a part of establishing a meaningful tradition or helping an enthusiastic self-starter with big dreams take the first steps toward making those dreams come true.

Sadly, we’ve become a community content to sit at home, watching the world go by on a computer or TV screen and offering snarky commentary on people and things about which we know nothing, only what was posted on Facebook.

The Friends of Tift Park Community Market is an opportunity to get out in the fresh air, to see people you haven’t seen in years or to meet interesting new people. There are some amazing products available, most made or grown by local people who want to share their talents. It’s an amalgam of what’s always been good about the community.

We can’t let it become another one of those great ideas that never really took off because it was too much trouble to get off our collective duffs and actually support something good in the community. There’s just too much positive energy flowing through the old park on Saturdays to allow our indifference to end it.