When walking into the Davis center, where the farmer’s market resides during the colder months, I could hear the sound of music in the distance along with a low hum of chatter. The light acoustic music drifted down from the second floor, growing louder as I climbed the stairs and immediately signaled the warm and inviting environment of the market. I stood for a minute to absorb more of the music and then began the standard loop that people take when making their rounds at the farmer’s market. It really is incredible to see how the market fits and folds itself into the compact second floor of UVM’s main building on campus. You would think that the stands full of produce and other organic goods would look unnatural in such an institutional and overwhelmingly indoor setting, but the market and its loyal band of followers and admirers transform the building into a vibrant space teeming with life. People all around you are talking, laughing, and tasting, creating an oddly pleasant hum that ebbs and flows as you make your way through. I start in the Davis Center’s fish bowl where the sights and sounds of students studying and eating has been replaced with stands overflowing with homemade goods such as breads, jams, honey, and even jewelry.
Next, I make my way through the Davis Center’s marketplace and eating area, now inhabited by overflowing produce stands and hot, freshly made foods. The people gathered around the Green Mountain Potstickers eagerly and audibly await the scallion pancakes they’ve been thinking about for the last two weeks while the cheerful sound of vendor Carey Kolomaznik blends in with the sizzling of her hotplate. For Kolomaznik and many others at the Burlington Farmers Market, the lines between buyer and seller are often blurred. As Ella Shorr, UVM student and frequent visitor of the market puts it, “When you see the same people at a vendor that you go to every [two weeks] you’re kind of bound to be friends with them”.
These friendships are what really struck me the most while exploring the farmer’s market, a place that Shorr goes on to describe as “a complex network of really caring people… sharing what they have to offer with people that they know and the rest of the community”. While making my way through the “loop” of the market, I caught bits and pieces of different conversations that further emphasized the strength and genuineness of the farmer’s market community. Conversational topics ranged from light, such as the type of beers people prefer, to much heavier, such as a discussion of one woman’s cancer remission.
Aside from the rich social aspect, another key benefit of the farmer’s market is all the free samples. Growing up in New York City, I distinctly remember the first time I went to the market and walked away with a stand’s sample guilt free. It was hard for me to grasp the idea of a vendor giving someone a free sample and not making you feel guilty for not buying it. There was no dance of me pretending to consider it, nor an insult when I didn’t. This unique encounter was also caught on tape during my sound recording of the market. The sound of someone introducing his product cuts through the chatter and after a compliment from the consumer, no passive aggressive play at closing the sale is made, in fact not even close- the vendor instead imparts a warm and very genuine “you’re very welcome”. This behavior is not at all rare, and contributes to the friendly and easy atmosphere of the farmers market. When asked what she thinks vendors want or expect of people at the market, attendee Ella Shorr says, “I think they probably hope that people just have a nice time and eat or buy some fresh, local, delicious food. I mean obviously they would like to see people contribute to the local economy as opposed to buying conventional food”. This mindset emphasizes the market’s priorities of sharing and appreciating good food rather than focusing only on the monetary aspect of the market. You are there to enjoy and provide only what you can.
While first considering this project, I was especially interested by the institutional presence at the farmers market. I wondered if the presence of politics at the market as well as the dependence on UVM for its housing hindered the localized and organic values of the farmer’s market community. Upon reflection and through talking with Shorr, I feel as though the local-feel of such big institutions and authorities and their ability to fit into the community so seamlessly is what makes Burlington so special. Burlington was quite literally built around the University of Vermont, and throughout its recent history has been very connected to agriculture in general it’s a land grant university and in extension works a lot to grow these community links” (Shorr 2018).
The political aspect of the market is most prominent in the presence of Lt. Governer, David Zuckerman. Every other Saturday, Zuckerman is present at his own stand where he sells produce and organic chickens from his farm. He spends most of his time weighing vegetables and talking with his constituents about current events and political engagements. One of my favorite moments that I caught on tape was Zuckerman’s discussion with someone about hydroponics. Zuckerman recounts a conversation he had in which he defended his belief that hydroponics (a form of growing without soil) cannot be considered organic because “organic without soil is like democracy without people”. He claims that the nutrients and interactions within the soil are as vital to the growth of produce as interactions between people are vital to a successful democracy. This encounter really interested me as a direct overlap is made here between farmers market values (organic produce) and politics (democracy). The conversation occurs in front of a backdrop of constant murmuring voices further emphasizing and highlighting Zuckerman’s discussion. Perhaps people are as integral to the farmers market as he argues soil is for produce. There are so many interactions happening at once that it is difficult to single one out aside from his own.
This noise of the community interacting with each other lays a steady framework throughout my entire sound recording. There is no part of the farmer’s market that this noise does not permeate. When considering this noise I was reminded of Ashon Crawley’s article on the sound made by the black community and black church. He claims that sound and noise are an integral part of the black community calling it a “sound of love” and of being social. While the farmers market community and the black community are worlds apart, the strong connection/relationship between the community and the noises produced by the community is an idea that is very relevant to my research. The noisiness and constant drone of the farmers market is a testament to the interactive, caring, and “neighborhood” aspect of the space/event itself. Crawley discusses noise as “a refusal of individuation. Gotta give the noise up in order to receive noise, noise as the basis for being with, being together, being social” (Crawley 2016). This kind of close-knit community is becoming more and more rare in the modern age and that only becomes more obvious once you are immersed in the experience of the market. This “noise:” enacts a nostalgia and appreciation for a time when people cared about their neighbors. I would agree with Crawley when he writes that “to listen to the noise, to hear into it- feel the weight and texture of its vibration- is an ethical demand, a plea to recalibrate our ethics” (Crawley 2016).
Crawley also discusses flesh, and the noise of that flesh. He claims that “the fact of one’s flesh, is to accept noise as that from which life grows and that to which life returns”. This idea is further examined by Deborah Kapchan in her chapter “Body”, where she states that “the body begins with sound, in sound. The sound of the body is the sound of the other but it is also the sound of the same” (Kapchan 2015, 33). She suggests that our subjectivity is born with us as a crying subject amongst the noises around us. Sound is the first thing we experience and it is the first way that we present ourselves to the world (Ibid., 34). Drawing even more on Kapchan’s scholarship we find that there are two different kinds of body present at the farmer’s market; legal bodies, with their capitalist and neoliberal ties, but also the sound body which “is porous” and “resonates (with) its environment, creating and conducting affect” by transforming the space it inhabits (Ibid., 38-41).
The “bodies” at the farmer’s market do in fact transform and define the environment. The farmer’s market lives and dies by its community and the reliance on the social and human aspects of the event are what drives and defines the values and practices of the market. This reliance on community and their shared set of values is what drew me to such a secular space for a religion project. We started this class by asking the question; what does religion sound like in one of the most non-religious states in the country? We read scholarship by theorists such as Bruce Lincoln, who defines religion by a set of practices, discourses, and an institution that the community constructs their identity around. Lincoln’s emphasis on community identity and the shared values and practices at the center of that was something I wanted to dive into. The farmer’s market is produced for and by the community. Venders and local farmers get together to provide real food for other people and their actions create the actions, conversations, and values of the market which is then only further defined by those who attend it. While Lincoln’s definition does in fact clearly stipulate inherently religious and transcendental beliefs and discourses as a necessity to a community being defined as “religious”, his discussion of community and what drives it provides a directive for where something like religion can be found in such a secular city. So, what does religion sound like in one of the least religious states in America? It sounds like noise, it sounds like flesh and bodies- it sounds like people.
Crawley, Ashon. 2016. “Noise. Church. Flesh.: Or, For Coltrane Church, For Pulse”. Los Angeles Review of Books. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/noise-church-flesh-coltrane-church-pulse/#!.
Kapchan, Deborah. 2015. “Body” in Keywords in Sound, 33-45. Edited by Novak, David & Sakakeeny, Matt. Durham: Duke University Press.
Lincoln, Bruce. 2003. “The Study of Religion in the Current Political Moment” in . Holy Terrors, 1-18. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Shorr, Ella. 2018. Interview by Juliet Duncan. In person. Burlington.