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Church harbors a market in winter

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While church basements tend to be the place for after-service coffee hours and socials, the basement of the Yellow Springs United Methodist Church will soon veer off the traditional path and host vegetables. Beginning this Saturday, Jan. 9, from 9 a.m. to noon, the church will sponsor its first winter farmers market.

The new market will host vendors who are selling goods like eggs, honey and canned jellies, meats, milk, cheeses, soap and perhaps even fresh cups of coffee. All products must be made or grown by Ohio sellers living within 100 miles of Yellow Springs, each of whom is required to pay a weekly $7 fee to cover utilities, cleaning costs and advertisement.

“It should be good for the farmers, it should be good for the people who want to eat healthy year round and it should be good for socializing,” said Jason Clark, one of the market organizers.

Although churches are not the typical place to find such a happening, it appears to be perfectly suitable for the parishioners of this historic church, with its scent of thumbed-through Bibles and aged carpeting. The market’s opening will bring to fruition ideas that they have long held about the natural connection that they see between religion and environmental advocacy, organizers said.

“The idea was that we were going to discuss environmental sustainability as well as spirituality,” said Clark, the 29-year-old co-leader of the adult discussion group that meets each Sunday. Since last September, he has been following a reading list that includes The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable Miracle: a year of food life, and The Green Bible, which highlights in green each environmentally themed passage of the text along with new articles from “green” thinkers like Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Clark and his fellow organizer Roger Reynolds emphasized that the market is not-for-profit and none of the proceeds would go to the church, although the idea has the support of its members. The organizers see the market as a community service.

Clark describes himself as a lifelong nature enthusiast who enjoyed spending much of his time outdoors during his childhood in Ames, Iowa. Shortly after moving to Yellow Springs two years ago, one of his first priorities was to start an environmental group. When a slot opened for an adult discussion group leader at the church, his wife, Jen, volunteered him for the job and he saw a golden opportunity.

In his first e-mail to the group, Clark discussed his objectives for the class and issues that he wanted them to ponder.

“Does it matter for our faith if our communion bread and wine are made from wheat from China or grapes from Bolivia that traveled thousands of miles to Ohio — when we could have obtained both from people we know within our communities?” he wrote on Sept. 8.

Roger Reynolds, a member of the discussion group, was inspired by the new direction that the young instructor was taking. Reynolds and his wife, Macy, the other co-leader of the group, have also held a strong interest in environmental issues.

“When you start reading these books, it kind of puts it all together,” he said of Clark’s reading list. He cited as especially influential Kingsolver’s work, in which she describes her own family’s challenge in eating only food they had grown themselves or that had been raised in their own neighborhood.

Holding the book in his hand as he sat in the church’s basement one recent Saturday, Reynolds said, “When you start reading things like this, you start thinking we can do some of this in Yellow Springs.”

Reynolds partnered with Clark to organize the farmers market. The two have much in common, including having worked at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Clark is an engineer at the base’s research lab while Reynolds retired as the executive director for the Air Force Security Assistance Center in 1997. Neither had been devout church attendees previously, but can now be found sitting in the pews every Sunday.

Other church members like Amy Magnus, Beverly Tanamachi and Gordan Brown have also played instrumental roles in the development of the project. Magnus, in particular, provided much of the impetus behind the market idea. A regular patron of the Kings Yard Market, she said that when the group first began brainstorming about ways to promote sustainability and local foods in October, a winter farmers market was the first thought that came to her mind.

A member of the U.S. military, Magnus has traveled extensively and had been to several winter farmers markets before.

“I came from D.C. and they have the Eastern market and the E Street market, which is indoors also,” she said. As part of the YSUMC board, the married mother of one introduced the concept to other church leaders and dealt with critical issues like snow removal from the walkways and parking, which is now being handled by the Village.

“They’ve been very supportive,” Magnus said of Village leaders.

The YSUMC market will have many of the same vendors as the seasonal Kings Yard farmers market and will end in April when that market begins again. Michele Burns, the organizer behind the Kings Yard Market, supports the new market and has in fact helped Clark and Rey-nolds to secure sellers and develop contracts. She believes that having a winter market will be very beneficial to farmers in Yellow Springs.

Reynolds and Clark are hopeful that the winter farmers market will be enough of a success this year that it can become an annual village fixture. Ever the optimists, they have already begun to think about moving the market to First Presbyterian Church, 314 Xenia Avenue, which is much larger and more centrally located. They would also like to initiate a partnership with the local food bank already housed in their church.

“The question is, what can you do to make an impact,” Clark said as he considered the possibilities for the YSUMC market. “This is one pretty easy way to do that.”

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