If you’ve visited the Richmond Farmers Market in the last few years, you may have seen Caleb Smith wandering around to offer a smile and make sure everything runs smoothly. As the Market Coordinator for the Richmond Parks Department, Smith has led the efforts to improve and expand the Market experience for shoppers and vendors alike, and by all measures it seems to be working very well.

In this conversation with Chris, Caleb talks about what goes in to making the Market successful, where it’s headed in the years to come, what food security means to the broader community, and what it’s been like to make a life in Richmond after originally coming here to attend Earlham College.

Transcript

The below transcript was generated with the use of automation and may contain errors or omissions.

Chris Hardie: There’s a lot I want to cover. I think one of things you are probably best known for is your involvement in the Richmond Farmer’s Market, and I wonder if you can tell you us a little bit about how the market is doing, and what you notice when you’re there every week, about the market and the experience that people have there?

Caleb Smith: Yeah. So, yeah, so I’ve been working with the Richmond Farmer’s Market for about a year and a half now, and just in the time I’ve been involved it has just grown so dramatically. There’s just been this surge of interest in the market, and … both from vendors and from the community. And yeah, we’re rocking and rolling.

Caleb: We have … Let’s see, just to give a little background, when the Richmond Park’s Department took over invitation of the vendors, the market, in 2015, we had three vendors on our first day and, I think, five season pass vendors.

And a season pass vendor is someone who pays for the whole summer and kind of, you know, indicates that they’re in, they’re going to be there every week, things like that. And then in 2016 we had 17 season pass vendors, then in 2017 we had 35 season pass vendors, and this year we have 45 already. So the market’s been growing leaps and bounds that way. Last year we just started tracking sales from our vendors, it’s anonymous, but they report how much they make, and we reported over $100,000 dollars in sales at the market over a six month period last year.

Chris: Is six months the full season then?

Caleb: Yeah.

Chris: Okay. Wow, that’s amazing. Do you know how that compares at all to other markets in the region, or just other markets that you’ve seen in your travels?

Caleb: I’m not totally sure yet. The Farmer’s Market Coalition, which is kind of a national organization, does keep some of that data, but I’ve been kind of waiting to compare it until I have a couple years to kind of go against. I like to measure up to other markets, but I also like to measure against ourselves.

Chris: It seems like, in the market’s history, I mean, people have been excited about a farmer’s market in Richmond for some time. I know that there was a day, a time, when if you went to the market, and I think this was long before you were involved, there were people there, there were vendors there, but it was not anything like the kind of quality, maybe, and variety that you see today.

Can you talk about some of the changes that have happened over time to make sure that the market is a great experience, both for the vendors and for the people who are there to shop?

Caleb: Right. So yeah, so, I mean, there’s been farmer’s markets around in Richmond forever, you know, off and on, different places around town. You know, I talk to people who are vendors at the market, who are … they’re like, yeah, we were doing this 30 years ago.

So, definitely it’s not a new thing, but before 2015, when the market took it over, and the kind of most recent iteration was a pretty loose kind of … You know, there was just … there were some vendors and a parking lot, there wasn’t a whole lot of organization or thought put into it.

And one of the biggest issues that people had, and one of the reasons why it kind of was starting to fade away in the last few years before the Parks Department was invited to kind of join in, was that there was regulation on the type of vendors that could sell at the market.

So we had vendors who, they would go to Kroger, or Walmart, and they’d buy a case of watermelon, or they’d buy a case of cantaloupe, and they’d come down and sell it out of the back of their truck, and that was a real issue, because there just was no … kind of, no promise to the customers, I think, and there was nothing about it that made it special except that it was outside.

And then you had the people there who were selling things that they’d grown themselves, but, really, lost a lot of its glamor and appeal when people realized that, you know, I could just go to the store and get this. This is just someone trying to make a buck.

And so now what we do is we have our growers only policy, and that is, basically, we tell every vendor that you need to be growing the things that you make, or hand making the things that you sell. So, you know … And I go out to peoples’ farms, and I inspect, and I say, okay, you said you were going to sell tomatoes, carrots, onions, corn, and salad mix, show me where all of those are, and then we go, and we look through, and we say, okay, yeah, you have all those things.

And then if I see something new pop up at the market, from them, I’m like, well hey, where’d this come from? And they say oh, well, it was over in this part of my farm that we didn’t walk over to, or, you know, and they ask me, you know, hey, can I sell this? And so …

Chris: Tthat sounds really, I mean, time intensive, I’m sure, for you to be managing that, but it sounds like it’s been worth it in terms of the experience that people have. Do you get into anything around, like, the standards for organic versus non-organic, or just, like, quality of what’s being sold? Or is it mostly that baseline of you’re growing it or making it?

Caleb: I think the baseline of you’re growing it or making it cuts out a lot of that need already, because a lot of our vendors are pretty small time, and they’re just, you know, this is either a side job, or a hobby for them that they want to, you know, make a little money off if, or it’s their full-time thing and they’re really invested in it. And either way, with those two categories, people really do take pride in what they’re doing when they’re doing it for those reasons, and so that already helps a lot.

And then most of our vendors, if you ask them, “Hey, are you certified organic?” They’ll say, “No, but I use organic practices,” and the reason why is because it’s just so expensive to get an organic certification these days that, for most people, it’s just not worth it. And there’s alternative certification programs, like the naturally grown certification, and different state organic associations sometimes have their own certification programs, and some of our vendors participate in those.

Chris: Yeah, I think it’s been pointed out that the USDA organic certification is sort of a far cry from what people who started the organic foods movement, or who have been thinking about that for a long time, would have selected, and then sometimes it can be more confusing than it is helpful, so-

Caleb: Yeah, I would agree with that.

Chris: Let’s not take for granted that people think about or understand why a local, grower’s only farmer’s market is important, why that’s a thing that’s valuable to a community like Richmond, and why the conversations that come up around that, around food and where food comes from, like, why is that important for us to be thinking about?

Caleb: So, there’s a few things, and I always … you know, I like to say, so, why farmer’s markets? There’s, like, four big things for me. I think farmer’s markets stimulate local economies. They help preserve farmland and those rural livelihoods that are quickly disappearing. You know, they say the median age of a farmer in the US is … I think it’s, like, 59 or something.

Chris: Wow.

Caleb: And then farmer’s markets increase access to fresh food, especially for low income or otherwise disadvantaged populations, and they support healthy communities.

And so, with local economies, I talked a little bit about the … you know, how we had over $100,000 dollars spent at the market last summer, and I talk to my vendors and they say, “Yep, got enough money this weekend. I’m going to go, and I’m going to be able to pay for my daughter’s dance lessons, and she takes those dance lessons right downtown,” and all that stuff. Or, you know, I’m going to go and reinvest this in my farm, make improvements, and then that, just, you know, improves the local economy, improves the tax base, things like that.

You know, and then I think also, oftentimes, if we have local growers that start to get, kind of, big enough, and by big enough I mean they just are … they’re serving more people in the local community, they create more jobs than people who are just kind of selling at the huge, kind of, giant agriculture scale that we’re so used to now.

And then, you know, I talked a little bit about the farmland and rural livelihoods, but increasing access to fresh food I think is also really important. Last year … So, we have a SNAP double dollars program with the Richmond Farmer’s Market, which we started last year, and to give a little, like, background to that, I guess, so when we started accepting SNAP in 2016, SNAP being food stamps, we had $546 dollars spent, in SNAP, in 2016.

Then we introduced this double dollars program where, with help from Reed, peoples’ money is doubled when they use it at the farmer’s market, and we do this wooden token system, we had almost $11,000 dollars in SNAP spent, which was just huge, and that’s just a huge impact for low income families to be able to purchase locally grown food, and that helps our vendors, and it helps them.

And I always like to say that the double dollars is like everything’s 50% off. And so, you’re thinking about, okay, in the store, carton of eggs, normally $1.25, $1.50, at the farmer’s market, they might be $3 for a dozen eggs, but when you have double dollars, suddenly that carton of eggs is $1.50. That’s completely … you know, it’s 25 cents more than it might be in the store, and that’s a completely reasonable increase for someone who’s, you know, watching their money.

Chris: Yeah, yeah.

Caleb: And then, so, you know, the farmer’s market is one of the only places in downtown Richmond where you can buy fresh food, and, you know, the closest grocery stores are either Marsh on the West side, or Kroger all the way on the East side, so, for a lot of people, actually, this might be the closest place to get fresh produce.

Chris: Yeah, and where do you see a farmer’s market fitting into the overall ecosystem of food acquisition and groceries? I mean, there was certainly a time where Richmond, like many other towns, had more corner groceries, more locally owned groceries. We have the stores you just mentioned. You know, just because they’re big box stores, or part of a corporate chain, doesn’t inherently make them not a good place to be, do you-

Caleb: Right.

Chris: … see them as competition? Do you see them as a compliment to what the farmer’s market offers? How do you look at that?

Caleb: When I’m talking to vendors, and, you know, occasionally we get into these things where a vendor will be upset because someone else is selling the same thing as them, or they think there’s too much of this, or too much of that. I always turn to them and say, you know, we are not competing with each other, we are competing with the grocery store.

And that’s not to say that grocery stores don’t have a place, you know, we don’t sell grains, pasta, you know, household goods, things like that. But I think it’s pretty common among, you know, the national farmer’s market conversations to say, you know, we’re really trying to work against the kind of conventional produce side of grocery stores, because of the environmental impacts of that, the impacts to regional economies, things like that. And so, at least from that, I think, you know, farmer’s markets have an important role to play.

Chris: And there’s a phrase, food security, which, you know, people talk about, but I’m not sure everyone always knows what that means. Can you tell us a little bit about what … What does food security mean? What does it mean to be secure in where food comes from, and how does that fit with the farmer’s market, too?

Caleb: Well, to me food security means regular, secure, and frequent access, I guess, to food options. And, you know, we define food deserts as places where there is not easy access to things like fresh produce, to, you know, bulk products, things like that.

Because, you know, you look at, say, in Richmond for example, there are places where the only place to buy any type of food is at the Dollar Store, and we all know that at the Dollar Store, your options are not anything like what they are at the grocery store. It’s, you know, boxed mac and cheese, you know, frozen dinners, things like that, that are, one, more expensive, which makes being poor really an expensive thing to do, but then also are worse, nutritionally, for families.

And so, when your options are the Dollar Store and fast food people get trapped in this cycle. So, I think the farmer’s market, what we’re trying to move towards is, you know, a secure food economy where we … a secure local food economy where we can have regular access.

And so, you know, we’re starting conversations. The first step, of course, was to get the market really solid in its home base, but now we’re starting to think, okay, how can we do more?

So, we’re looking at doing popup farmer’s markets. There are some conversations out there about, you know, what would a mobile market look like? Things like that, as well, and those are all things that bigger cities around the country are starting to think about as well, so …

Chris: The farmer’s market has become a prime destination for people on Saturday mornings. Have you had to wrestle with the sort of creeping interest in other, non food related organizations, or, you know, sponsorships, or business ventures trying to become a part of that, and figuring out, like, what’s the line between a helpful contribution to the environment of the market versus something that detracts from it?

Not too much as of yet. That’s definitely something that I keep an eye on. We have … We did start a corporate sponsorship program this year, but it’s pretty limited in scope. It pretty much allows interested businesses to set up for a single market, for a substantial contribution to the overall success of the market, and … And that definitely has become … it’s been beneficial to the market thus far.

But we do have lots of, I’d say at least 50% of the applications I get, or the interest I get from people I have to say no to because they just don’t fit within the guidelines of the market. There’s a lot of people who will do, kind of, the multi level marketing programs, or the thrift items, or flea market type items, and I say, you know, that’s not really what we’re here for. I’ll point them in the direction of other places where they might be able to do that, but, you know, I really …

The focus of the market is very tight, and we … definitely that’s something we wrestle with. You know, I’m always like, well, is this really in the spirit of the market? Is it not? And trying to make sure that the market stays as true to itself as possible.

Chris: What role has the renovation of Elstro Plaza played in the market’s strength and overall popularity, do you think?

Caleb: I think it’s huge. I think it’s one of the single largest contributors to the success of the market, and there’s just … The dedicated amenities that we have now make the market so much more appealing than it was before, because before it was in a hot parking lot on a summer day, and, you know, you had to … You know, you couldn’t-

And you know, you had to … you couldn’t let skin touch the ground sometimes, you know? But now, we’re in a plaza where there’s lots of green space. There’s a water featured splash pad that kids play in and that’s wonderful. The restrooms, you would be amazed by how important restrooms are to a farmers market and I’m in conversations online with market managers all around the country who are always wrestling with the bathroom issue.

Like where do we have bathrooms? Where do we have bathrooms. And so, to have a dedicated facility just for bathrooms on its own is huge. And then the stage, the sound system, just a lot of the things that many other farmers markets don’t get to take for granted, we do and that means we have so much more time to focus on the next step, what makes us better and better.

Chris: That’s really awesome. If you could look out five years, three years ahead, what would be your ideal version of the Richmond Farmers Market as it exists then?

Caleb: I’d say my ideal vision for the farmers market would be a market that completely takes over Elstro Plaza on Saturday mornings and has lots of activities and events going on, there’s cooking demonstrations, we have buskers and performers, there’s maybe 50, 60 vendors regularly and big crowds, of course.

And then I’d love to see us move towards having more popup markets and a mobile market potentially and there’s some discussion around changing our schedule a little bit. We’re always going to keep the Saturday mornings May through October but with the winter market, which traditionally is only first and third Saturdays of each month, we’re talking about, should it be more often? Should we do different hours during the winter? We need to find a permanent home for the winter market as well, we’re still wrestling with that but doing all of that and making the winter market really successful as well are all kind of on my dreams list, I’d say.

Chris: What do you look for in an ideal facility for a winter market? What other kinds of places in other towns, where do they tend to have their winter market and what’s that look like?

Caleb: It varies a lot, some places do it in big warehouse style facilities that they kind of dress up and decorate. Some places do them in kind of like how we did in an existing business, how we did it last year in the Italian market in New Boswell. Some places will do it, they’ll just do it outdoors or they’ll do kind of a heated tent or something so, we’re playing with all that. Personally, I’m leaning a little bit towards the warehouse option right now because we are growing so much and there’s just a lot of interest from vendors who want to continue throughout the winter and especially our craft vendors who the market becomes a little bit more about them in the winter around the holiday season with gift giving and things like that.

Chris: Nice, yeah and Richmond has some warehouses available, I hear.

Caleb: Yes it does. So, I’m actually in conversation with a few different real estate developer people to kind of figure out what might be our next spot and hopefully we can find something permanent.

Chris: Let’s step back a little bit and just talk about how you ended up in this role and in general, how you ended up in Richmond, Indiana doing what you do.

Caleb: Sure. So, I’m originally from New Hampshire, southern New Hampshire on the east coast. I grew up Quaker and so, when I 13 I went off to a Quaker boarding school in Iowa, which was kind of my first introduction to the Midwest and it was an agricultural high school because I was really interested in learning more about sustainable agriculture and things like that. And then I was there for four years, I had a certificate program in sustainable agriculture on top of the high school diploma so, I did that as well and then I had a lot of family that had gone to Earlham and so, when it came time for me to think about college and things like that, Earlham was on my list and ended up being the best place for me through my college search and so, I attended Earlham and I was really involved with Miller Farm, the student run farm there.

It’d been shut down the summer before I arrived. So, I arrived on campus expecting there to be this agricultural program I could participate in and learned that it needed to be restarted and so, I dedicated basically all four years to getting Miller Farm up and running again, along with many other people at that time but that was kind of one of my big things while I was there and it’s now up and running and has some staff and interns and I have the community garden plot out there. Anyways-

Chris: Great and just to say a little bit more about what Miller Farm means to an Earlham student, is it a farm they can just visit once in a while? What’s it like there?

Caleb: It’s a student run farm. So, Miller Farm is a student run farm that students at Earlham have been running since the 70s and it just recently switched location and it grows food for the community, for students and as an agricultural learning lab, different classes at Earlham use it, geology classes, painting classes all sorts of different groups. And it’s really grown and changed over time but has a definite spirit to it that has remained the same. But so, I was involved with Miller Farm and then also my senior year, I was an environmental studies major and the environmental studies department every year does a project with the seniors that kind of is a culmination of all their learning and a practical application of it and so, my senior project along with four other students was working with the Richmond Parks Department on the Sensory Playground in Clear Creek Park and we fundraised a quarter of a million dollars and were able to get this playground with lots of sensory equipment for children on the autism spectrum or otherwise a beautiful new playground for them to use.

And so, during that whole process, the Parks Department was looking for a new farmers market coordinator and one of my professors at Earlham, her husband sells at the farmers market and she mentioned it to me and said, “Hey, you’re interested in sustainable agriculture and you’re looking for a job post grad, you should apply for this.” And I kind of brushed it off, I was like, “I don’t know.” But I was in a meeting with Denise, the park superintendent a couple weeks later and it kind of occurred to me again, I had been thinking about it, I was like, “Hey Denise, are you still looking for people for this job?” And she’s like, “Well, we actually just closed applications last Friday.” And this was on a Tuesday.

And I was like, “Oh man, I thought that would be kind of cool.” And she’s like, “Do you still want to? If you can get me a resume, we’re interviewing this week.” And I was like, “Oh.” So, I went home that night and I worked on my resume that night and the next morning I sent it in and then I went in for an interview on that Thursday and I didn’t think the interview had gone amazingly but I felt okay about it and I was like, “Well, that was a good experience.” It was my first kind of interview for a job post grad and then Monday, Denise called me and was like, “Hey, you have the job. When can you start?”

Chris: Wow.

Caleb: And so this was in February of my senior year and I started in late February and just kind of went from there. And the morning that I ran my first market on my own was also the day I graduated.

So I got up really early, I got the market all set up and then a couple park staff came and took over the end of the market and I went, I put my robe on and I went and graduated.

Chris: That’s amazing. It seems like a really classic Earlham experience.

Caleb: It really is.

Chris: When did you know … during your time at Earlham, you were involved with Miller Farm, which is a little bit outside of the normal boundaries of the college experience but when did you start thinking that maybe you could see yourself living and working in Richmond after graduation?

Caleb: So I moved off campus my senior year and before that, I had done some stuff in Richmond, I’d go to Roscoe’s and go grocery shopping and things like that but I hadn’t really considered much about Richmond, I just knew it was kind of interesting to me and I would read the paper online and kind of get a feel for things but I didn’t really have a good understanding of what was going on.

But then my senior year, I moved off campus and I was living on the 10th Street park, which is Richmond’s oldest park and I would see kids outside playing all the time and there was these events that would take place and I was like, “Wow, things are happening in Richmond.” And my girlfriend had another couple years left at Earlham so, I knew I was gonna be sticking around in Richmond anyways and I had always kind of thought I would get some job that would kind of be on the periphery, something probably in food service or at an office. I wasn’t totally sure but I was just like, I’ll just do something and it will be kind of a break after being in academia for so long.

And then as my senior year went on, I was just trying to get more involved with the Richmond community through the Playground with a Purpose project for my senior project and was meeting more and more people and I was like, “Wow, this place is really pretty cool.” And so that’s when it all started to coalesce for me. I was like, I think I want to stick around here for a little while and then the job for the farmers market came along and it couldn’t have come along in a more perfect time because I had kind of launched on this tirade finally where I was … you know, anyone who would listen to me at Earlham, I was like, “Listen, Richmond’s really cool. There’s this stuff going on, I don’t think you understand, you just gotta start looking a little bit and you’ll see that there’s tons going on.” And then I got a job promoting some of the best parts of Richmond with the Parks Department and the Farmers Market.

Chris: Yeah, you’re right in the middle of it now.

Caleb: Yeah.

Chris: I had a slightly similar experience in that I didn’t really understand Richmond or know much about it until I moved off campus from living in the dorm at Earlham. And I know that Earlham has made big strides I think in the last couple decades on integrating life on campus with life in Richmond but I also know that it’s still the case that most Earlham graduates` trajectory is one that takes them out of town. What do you say to someone if you’re talking to a current Earlham student or when you were talking to your peers who were looking elsewhere. What do you say to them about the thought of staying in Richmond and working here, making a life here, is that something you sell people on and how do you talk about it?

Caleb: I try to sell is whenever I can. What I’m always telling people is that Earlham teaches you that you really should strive to make a difference in some way and Richmond’s really a place where if you’re willing to invest yourself in the community, you can make a difference as well because there’s just so much going on that needs dedicated people, young people especially and it’s a community that really if you’re willing to give yourself to it, the community’s really appreciative and there’s just a lot to say for being a student and being a young person in Richmond and you can’t complain about the cost of living either so that’s also something.

I’m like, “You know, you’re just graduating with a lot of college debt and there are lots of places in Richmond that are good places to work and that are hiring.” And I think Richmond is general is at this point where we’re saying, “Hey, what can we do? We’re pretty much open to most anything.” And at least from people I hear and meet and talk with regularly so, if you’re someone who has an idea on a business you want to start, by all means, if you connect with the right people, which I can help you do and many people can help you do. There’s business advisors, there’s lots of … I know there’s even business owners downtown who are saying, “I will give you this retail space at a gigantic discount,” you know, and so on.

So there’s just a lot of positivity around new things at this point because I think Richmond’s kind of gotten to this point where, “We need something new.”

Chris: And it’s funny because Richmond has a long history of being a place that supports and cultivates entrepreneurship. It’s looked a lot different over the years but the idea that someone could come out of a place like Earlham or somewhere else and bring a good idea to the community and make something happen with it is not a new one but it’s always really cool to see when it does happen. I guess, related to that, you had mentioned the Playground with a Purpose project, as far as I know it was one of the first or maybe the first public works type project that used a crowdfunding approach to make it happen.

Is that your understanding and how did that conversation or that method come about when you all were looking at ways to make that happen?

Caleb: So we pretty early on found about an opportunity from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, the IHCDA and they have this opportunity through, they have partnered with this crowdfunding platform called Patronicity to … and the program’s called Creating Places and the IN is capitalized for Indiana and it’s all about supporting place making efforts and so, the program … it’s a really, really neat program and we’ve utilized it a couple times now with the Parks Department is if you raise any amount of money, up to $50,000, whatever your goal is, if you reach it, it will be matched.

Chris: Wow.

Caleb: Playgrounds are not cheap things because they’re a lot of safety requirements and things like that and so, that opportunity to get that matching money is really, really amazing and it’s really beneficial when you’re talking to the people who are gonna be making up that match saying basically, “Your impact’s doubled if you donate to this,” and so, that was really amazing and yeah, it’s the first time that in my knowledge that something in Richmond has been done through that platform and it’s been incredibly successful both times we’ve done it.

For most recently, we’re been working on another playground project out of Middlefork Reservoir and that crowdfunding campaign just ended last Friday, June 8th I think. Yes and we were $5,000 short two days beforehand and we just kind of put this call out and said, “Hey, we need $5,000, who can help us?”

And within two days, just by spreading it around on social media, putting it in the radio, putting it in the newspaper, we had raised $5,000, which is just incredible and just shows that the community is really willing and ready to support good things in the community as long as there is momentum and proven capability behind them.

Chris: It’s a neat way for people to feel like they can directly make a difference on a project that may benefit their neighborhood, may not even benefit them directly, but it’s just something they want to see happen and I think people are so used to the idea that yeah, maybe you pay a sales tax or a property tax or kind of have an indirect contribution to the pool of money that’s used for community improvement, but to have that kind of direct opportunity is neat.

I think there’s another side to that conversation that people maybe get nervous about sometimes, which is that in the past, we have counted on government entities or public/private partnerships to make important projects happen, place making happen, and people talk about this kind of disconcerting trend in the US more broadly of people funding let’s say major healthcare expenditures through crowdfunding and that that could be a worry if that means that the overall healthcare system is not meeting needs. Do you worry at all that people will shift their thinking such that if you can’t crowdfund it, then it’s not worth happening and shouldn’t be paid for with tax dollars or is it more of a compliment?

Caleb: I think it’s a compliment. I definitely think that’s something we need to keep an eye on. There is I think on the private side of things yes, especially in all this crowdfunding for medical care and crowdfunding for moving expenses and things like that is a troubling sign of a broadly dysfunctional system, but there is a lot to be said for this kind of stopgap measure for getting things done faster than we can otherwise. A lot of times we’re thinking “Richmond’s population is declining. We have all these things happening. We need to figure out a way to quickly make things happen.” In the normal, the wheels of government turn very slowly and in the parks department, we really like to make things turn a lot faster.

If we were to look at these types of playgrounds projects, overall community revitalization that we need to have happen and we were thinking about paying for them through our tax funds, we’d be looking at applying for 10-year, 20-year bonds, things like that that would impact our ability to do things in the future and from a practical measure, the parks department budget currently an operating budget. It does have any capital improvement money at all. That’s due through a variety of federal and state policies that limit property taxes. They have property tax caps and other things like that. While I think there need to be discussion about those, we also need to look at … We’d like to get things done now.

Chris: It’s a real credit to the parks department and to the park superintendent, Denise Retz. I’m sure there are things that you all have wanted to do and haven’t been able to do, but from the public perspective I have not yet seen a thing that Denise wants to make happen that she hasn’t found a way make happen.

Caleb: That’s very true.

Chris: It’s pretty impressive and unique to see.

Caleb: Yeah. I think where there’s a will there’s a way and she definitely has the will for it.

Chris: What are some of the other things that you’re involved in? We’ve just covered what sounds like more than a couple of full time jobs in terms of the work you do with the farmers’ market, but what are some other ways you spend your time?

Caleb: In the office, I’m also the Volunteer Coordinator and the Community Engagement Facilitator for the Parks Department. That means a lot of social media and just general media work. I write a lot of our press releases and things like that. Then also if a volunteer group approaches us, I meet with them and say, “How can we make this work for you?” and do things like that. There’s just a lot of things that when I came in, I was like, “Why is our social media not doing more to tell people our story about what we do as the parks department?” ‘Cause I think a lot of times what happens is that when people don’t see any information, it’s very easy to make assumptions about how things are working.

The benefit for us with our Facebook page, our Instagram, our Twitter is that we can kind of change the narrative and say, “It may not seem like the parks department has been doing much for the past couple of months, but look, we just raised X amount of money. We just met with these engineers to talk about this project, all these things.” Getting to show the behind the scenes and then also spread the good news about the parks and the farmers’ market and all that as well is really beneficial.

Chris: Nice.

Caleb: That’s stuff I do work-wise. I’m on the board for a couple different nonprofits in town, one of them being the Wayne County Food Council, which is pretty related as well. It’s a consortium of about 60 different organizations that represent different food related businesses or nonprofits, mostly nonprofits in Wayne County area. Food pantries, soup kitchens, community gardens, logistics, behind the scene stuff for food pantries, all of that as well is all represented there. We’re working on being a broader force for talking about food and security and things like that in Wayne County. That’s one thing I do.

Chris: I just couldn’t have imagined that there were 60 organizations related to food. Does that seem unusual? Does that amaze you?

Caleb: It is a little amazing, but we get in a room together and we get a big conference room and we all sit around and it’s people from Gleaners, which is a regional food bank, it covers all of Eastern Indiana, and all the churches and all the independent food pantries and soup kitchens and people from community garden projects and stuff like that and yeah, it ends up being a lot of people. It’s pretty neat.

Chris: That’s great.

Caleb: Then speaking of community gardens, I’m also on the board with Sprout of Control, which is the community garden project in Richmond and we have three community gardens that I help out with as much as I can. That’s kind how I get my hands dirty, which I’m happy about.

Chris: Nice. How is the idea of community gardens catching on in Richmond do you think?

Caleb: I think it’s growing slowly, but steadily. We manage three community gardens and I know of two or three others in Richmond that have been around for three to four years, maybe a couple that have been around longer. I think what we’re facing right now is we get a lot of burnout because it’s been all volunteer-run so we’re looking at ways to become more sustainable as an organization and kind of try and take on more. My personal dream would be to get a community orchard up and running in Richmond.

Chris: Wow.

Caleb: That’s kind of a longterm dream of mine to make that happen. Yeah, those are all things that we’re kind of working with and trying to make happen. I think people are slowly but surely becoming more interested and it was a big knowledge gap, which we need to work through because people haven’t been gardening for a couple generations now. Teaching those skills again and trying to share knowledge as a community is really important.

Chris: Is that something you see integrating into early childhood education curricula as well or is it more something that happens in neighborhoods or what’s the right mix there?

Caleb: I think it’s definitely a mix. I think neighborhoods are really important and having neighborhood pride around the community garden, but then also an example Early Headstart is starting a community garden at one of their locations. Families with young children can learn more about some of those basics and then also, the children and they’re trying to integrate it into their kind of pre-K, or pre-preschool even education with these children and sending home little seedlings with them and things like that.

Chris: That’s awesome.

Caleb: It’s a really, really neat program they’re doing. I think it needs to be a mix and then, I’m also thinking okay, we need to increase food security through other ways than just expecting people to start a little individual 10 x 3 plot or something and thinking we need to look at models beyond just the individual plot style community garden, but also, the like everybody pitches in together on one big garden and everyone reaps the benefits and things like that.

Chris: Certainly you have things like community supported agriculture programs or things that make sense as shoot-offs of farmer markets and community gardens that bring people together around food production, access to food, without necessarily saying that yeah, everyone is going to need to get up early to weed or come home and stay into the evening planting.

Caleb: Right, exactly, yeah. I think farmers’ markets, community gardens, CSAs, all sorts of things like that all play into a vibrant local food system and as they grow and become more ingrained in people, then we’ll see the kind of next steps at a local grocery reopening or other things like that will happen as well. Yeah.

Chris: If there’s something in Richmond that you see as an opportunity we haven’t seized yet or conversation that we should be having, but we aren’t having, what would that be?

Caleb: I definitely think that there are opportunities to integrate more of the college age population into activities in Richmond that are not exclusively college activities, but I think there’s always the night life scene, but also I’ve been always very enthusiastic about the idea of getting more Earlham student performances to happen downtown in a venue or at Elstro Plaza or something where the community can come and attend in as well. Or one of my big ideas for Earlham is that they should put a dorm downtown so that students actually get the chance to live downtown and they can go eat at local restaurants and get their school supplies from Phillips Drugs and things like that. I think that’d be a great use of a downtown building and a great opportunity for Earlham students as well to kind of experience independent living with some support, apartment style dorms that have some kind of oversight, but not in the same amount you’d have on campus and then shuttle that ran back and forth every half hour or something from campus.

Chris: That would be amazing.

Caleb: I think it would be really amazing and have a huge impact on downtown or the depot district or both and on for Earlham students and same thing could be said for IU East or … I know Ivy Tech doesn’t do much in the way of residentials, but-

Chris: Yeah, you’ve seen IU East start to open facilities downtown and think about that connection so yeah.

Caleb: Yeah, I love their classroom downtown and I would think if Earlham were to do something similar, they’d want to combine a classroom and dorm opportunity. Then if you have an Earlham class that really focuses on if it’s a business class or if it’s a community engagement class of some sort, those would take place downtown and then, even students who weren’t living downtown would have a reason to go downtown.

Chris: If someone has never thought about where their food comes from outside of a visit to the grocery store or going to a restaurant and they want to get more involved in notions of local food, food security, where do you think the best place to start might be?

Caleb: Of course, I’d say the farmers’ market. I think what’s really unique about the farmer’s market is that chance to interface directly with growers and also, with lots of different organizations. You can go and you can talk to a farmer and say, “Hey, could I come out and visit sometime?” Ninety-nine percent of our farmers would say, “Yes, absolutely. Come on out. I’d love to show you around,” ’cause they love what they do just as much as anyone else who really loves their job and you don’t choose farming because it’s an easy job.

I would say definitely coming and talking to farmers. There’s lots of local organizations. Sprout of Control is a great one to get involved in if you’re interested in doing more community gardening and things like that. I would always encourage people to volunteer with different food related nonprofits so that’s a food pantry or soup kitchen. I think that’s always important.

Then the Wayne County Food Council for people who are interested in kind of getting more involved with … We’re trying to tackle a lot of the structural things that might be barriers and trying to think, “Okay, how can we influence the public’s perception or policy,” or things like that to try and make the food system a better place for everyone.

Chris: Caleb, it’s been really cool to hear about all the things you’ve created, all the things you’re involved in and some of the visions you have the future. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me.

Caleb: Thank you so much. I’ve had a lot of fun. Sometimes people ask me little bits and pieces of my ideas, but rarely do I get to kind of just rant on fully so I appreciate it.

Chris: We’ll see you at the market.

Caleb: All right, I’ll see you at the market.