By Rheta Grimsley Johnson
PASS CHRISTIAN – The green market here is in a lush park across from the Mississippi Sound and has, among other things, lemons and grapefruits grown just a block away. It also has Christmas crafts made out of oyster shells taken from the Gulf. And miniature cheerleaders selling raffle tickets, and a gardener selling mosquito plants.
Buy from local folks, they say, and you’ll be healthier and so will the economy. Not to mention your own town will keep more of the money you spend; it will prosper and look different from every other place in this paint-by-numbers country.
This is shopping one can enjoy. I buy fresh shrimp from a boat in the harbor for a fraction of what the frozen ones cost at the grocery store. And I get flounder from the local seafood market that’s been here for several generations.
I buy homemade bread from a woman who gives me a sheet of instructions for its care and feeding. Serious bread, she calls it.
The okra and bell peppers and garlic I buy from another market vendor wasn’t picked four to seven days ago – the average lag time for produce in a grocery store – and shipped 1,500 miles, another average. It was picked early this morning and trucked a few miles. I’m helping the environment, the local economy and myself to fresher produce.
I wonder if the country might go back to its old, self-sustaining ways if the economy went totally into the toilet and we were forced to remember the skills we’ve forgotten or tossed. Our grandparents, after all, worked in the fields. Our parents worked in the factories. Only our generation has made its living in that nebulous category called “service.”
If necessary, would we fight back with resilience and determination, or be consumers too soft and weak to go back to barter and basics?
Going green is trendy, true, like yoga classes or ugly German sandals were in their turn. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t all good ideas. Once you’ve bought contaminated dog food from China or infected lettuce from mega-agribusinesses, you start weighing the true cost of cheap discount goods.
People aren’t led by bumper-sticker slogans as much as by necessity, of course.
At a church yard sale, there’s a line waiting for the doors to open. Inside are secondhand items, mostly of a practical bent. People need towels and sheets and clothes and pots and utensils. And here they cost a fraction of what they’d be on Aisle 6 at the nearby box store. There’s no rush on the cemetery rubbings; the furniture is gone minutes after the doors open.
In the nearby chain store, everything came over the waters outside the door in containers from China. I often wonder if they buried made-in-America Sam Walton on a spit, because today he must be spinning like one of his deli rotisserie chickens.
This community was brought to its knees by Hurricane Katrina. The businesses here today mostly are the local, small, family ones that were here before. They rebuilt, arose from the rubble, employed local citizens and reopened as soon as possible. They put their money back into this place.
Did I mention the beauty of the green market? As kids, we used to try to say a tongue-twister about a generic “she” who sold seashells down by the seashore. I met her today, and she does beautiful work.
Syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson lives near Iuka. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.