Thursday, May 31, 2012

Market Research

Last seen on Facebook, with names removed to protect the innocent:
Finish this sentence: I would come to my farmer's market more often if it had________________
Artisan cheese. (This post is for my wife...who decides what Farmers Markets we go to)

Bear in mind, my village is Owen Brown, and I feel strangely possessive of its farmers market.
"If it had weekend or after work hours." Since it currently does not I go to Oakland Mills. So "if it had more greens."

Me:  I am wondering about added attractions which would make a Farmer's Market more of a "happening." Live music? Children's activities? A cafe set up for sipping coffee and eating fresh bakery treats?

Artisan vodka.

 Me:...and free samples?

. . . moved with me. ;) I miss being able to walk up the street to it!!! :)
You can't go wrong with a moon bounce as a family magnet.

Live music

Goat yogurt.
... hot models in bikinis giving car washes!

Different hours. It may work for people in the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center. . .but not for other church goers.

Me:  I know! But since there are a variety all over the area, they offer different hours from the OM one. Not everyone goes to church, and working folks need non-weekday times.

Saturday hours so that I didn't have to miss church to get the early fresh produce.

Me: Isn't there a Saturday one someplace?

Flea market?  I would totally dig a venue for impromptu garage sales. Agree in re OB farmer's market.
I usually just go to the stand on Oakland Mills Road. . .Pete's? Easy to get to and I don't have to try to remember which days it is open. Of course, they don't have bakery products.

Me: But they DO have snowballs!

Things that make it an event. Put one at the lakefront at the start of  Friday nightconcerts/movies so folks might buy some provisions for a picnic dinner or just impulse buy some groceries for the weekend. Make a big-deal weekend market like Olney's. Perhaps the library could have outdoor story time under a canopy at the current East Columbia market so parents can shop with kids somewhat in tow. Have gardening and cooking demos/Q&A booths.

Me:  Shade, water tables and a sprinkler pad.
Air conditioning

I like the cafe idea. Maybe if the coffee guy could bring a big thermos of ready-made coffee, and we set up a table with chairs , people would have a chance to linger and chat. Yet another thing to look forward to, especially if there was music.

In this completely unscientific sample I notice a breakdown emerging which mirrors our well-known conflict between Village Centers and Big Box Stores, Neighborhood versus Downtown. The HoCo Farmers Markets provide a number of market days and hours in different locations. Doing this provides choice and, for many, the convenience of taking a reusable shopping bag and walking or biking to the farmers market nearby.

On the other hand, some folks appear to think that this arrangement dilutes the impact of the Farmers Market Experience.  They envision more vendors, and a wider variety of vendors, a more centralized location, activities, live music, perhaps cafe seating.
Descriptions of  the big "happening" market hints at a deeper yearning for a vibrant, inviting downtown experience. Aren't we hearing a desire for a community experience: walkabout shopping, music, eating, drinking, fun for kids?

Columbia Aquatics spent a good deal of time wrestling with the issue of neighborhood pools vs. destination pools.  It would appear that their is a similar tension at work as we look at neighborhood vs. destination Farmers Markets.

Fresh food, support for local agriculture, a chance to see neighbors and friends--our Howard County Farmers Markets provide these opportunities throughout the growing season. And we--typical HoCoLocals--want to tinker with it, put ourselves into the mix, and make it "just right."

Me?  I'm all for moon bounces,  a misting/cooling tent, and a place to sit down with an iced coffee.

And--hmm--what about free wi-fi?


Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Real Battle of the Board

The next election for school board members isn't until November, but that hasn't kept issues concerning the board out of the news.  We have been fortunate, I believe, to have local news supplemented by the Hoco Blogger community on this topic. However, there is one issue that I don't see anyone covering.  I hereby issue a Village Green/Town Squared Challenge to local news outlets and bloggers to address the following:

Does the Board exist solely to receive information and directives from Central Office/Superintendent and vote yea or nay, 


Does the Board have the right and/or responsibility to ask for/require evidence, metrics, background information to make decisions?  Can they use said information to make their own suggestions in regard to the issues submitted to them?

In my opinion, this is probably the biggest divide on the School Board right now.  Although Mr. Dyer has taken up a good deal of the Board's time, getting rid of him does not solve this particular problem.  And it isn't necessarily a "Throw out the old!" problem, either. There is a serious philosophical divide on what the role of the Board is meant to be. I believe each side is completely sincere in its point of view.

I'd like to see the community get involved in this discussion.  In addition, I'd like to see someone in the traditional media do some serious investigative journalism on how something called the Integrated Approach (IA Reading, IA Math) came to be, and how it turned from an idea into a mandated program in Howard County. I believe that such an investigation would tell us a good deal about interaction between Central Office and the Board--what it has been in the past, and what that has meant for our students.

So, please--journalists and bloggers--take the challenge and get this discussion out in front of the public.  The Village Green/Town Squared motto, "Learn More, Think More", has never been more appropriate. The more we learn, the more we think, the better our decisions will be in November.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Come Play the Game of Life, HoCo Style

It takes a lot of people to make our county run.  For a moment, lets consider these folks:  store clerks, janitors, nurses’ aides, child care workers, office cleaners, groundskeepers/landscaping crews, fast food workers, stock personnel, day laborers. We need all of them, and more,  in Howard County.  They are the working poor.  But where do they live?

We all know how expensive it is to live in the #hoco. I don't buy the argument that, "so what, if you can't afford it, don't live here."  These jobs are here, they serve to make this a desirable community, and the folks who are working them often can't afford cars, and options for commuting are limited. So the folks with fewer options are doing jobs that need to be done, and they need to live close to where they work.

What do you do to earn a living?  Do you work in Howard County? Do you need to drive somewhere out of the county to work?  Do area transit options meet your needs, in or out of the county?  How much does your commute cost you? Do the answers to these questions add up to a crisis for you and your family?

If your answer is yes, then you can turn to Bridges to Housing Stability. Jane O'Leary, Executive Director, shared the following information with me:

Bridges is a non-profit anti-homelessness organization that serves Howard County through our Housing Stability Program.  This serves low-income households in three tracks:
·         Prevention – helping households that are at-risk to stay in their homes or move to more affordable housing
·         Re-housing – helping homeless households who are ready to do so, to move into permanent housing, often without entering shelter
·         Temporary Housing – providing housing to homeless families while they work on their goal of achieving permanent housing

However, if your answer to the questions above was no, I'd like to suggest that you buy a ticket for this year's Columbia Home Tour.  (Sunday, June 3, 2012, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.) Their mission: 

The Columbia Home Tour creates a sense of community while celebrating the history of Columbia and the uniqueness of the people who live in this community by showcasing interesting Columbia homes and donating a portion of the event’s profits to a local charity that provides services to Columbia residents.

This year's charity? You guessed it-- Bridges to Housing Stability, which is an active partner in Howard County Plan to End Homelessness.  

It may feel ironic, taking in the beautiful homes of folks who clearly do have housing stability, in order to help those who don't. In fact, it points out that everyone can find their own way to help--those who have beautiful homes can share them for a day. Those of us with more ordinary dwellings can spend $20.00 to enjoy our community and help others.

Participate--share your money and your time to be a part of this community event.  As an added bonus participants are invited to attend a reception at Claret Hall in River Hill between 1 p.m.- 4 p.m. and enjoy displays provided by Columbia Archives and information about Bridges to Housing Stability.

As if that weren't enough incentive, you can see me and some very cool Oakland Mills women as docents in one of this year's homes.  When I'm finished with my shift, I'm going here.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Under The Shining People Tree (reprint)

The following is reprinted from my post of May 26, 2011, on Columbia Patch.

I moved to Columbia in the late spring of 1999, on the verge of beginning a new life. I knew very little of Columbia except that it was planned, and that it was extremely easy to get lost here.

Since I continued to commute to Baltimore City for several more years, I was limited in my time and energy for exploring. I learned how to get to the grocery, the gas station, and the mall.

In 2003 I began to work for Columbia School Aged Services. As a part of my training, I attended an orientation session designed to impart both the history and philosophy of The Columbia Experience. I was excited to explore my new land.

It didn’t go as well as I had hoped. Probably the worst occasion was when I dragged my family down to The Lakefront to see The People Tree, which I had learned was a symbol of all things Columbia. It was beautiful—there’s no denying that. The vista at the lakefront was lovely. And still. And barren.

There was no one there. It took on an incredibly creepy aura to me.

Little by little, I came to believe that Columbia was a beautiful experiment that had happened before I got here, and I had missed it. Like an awkward anecdote followed by, “I guess you had to be there.”

I hadn’t been there, I didn’t know what I was supposed to know, and I couldn’t afford the pools, the nice restaurants, the lovely gourmet stores, and the upscale arts events.

In the years since then something has changed: my decision to grow and evolve as a member of my village—Oakland Mills. Through participation in events, volunteering, serving on the board, and getting involved in community-based social media, I found my own way to put down roots.

As a celebration of this ongoing change, I decided to attend the first Lakefront Concert this year on May 11. Although the day was beautiful, I still had some trepidation about returning to the too-perfect atmosphere of The People Tree.

When I arrived, I felt cheered by the sound of bluegrass music and the sight of people on the lawn. I wandered around the edges of the event, trying to decide whether to stay.

And then I saw it: a plaque honoring the first class of Columbia children to start in kindergarten and graduate from high school. I scanned the names, wondering if any of these people had stayed to continue The Grand Experiment, or if they had flown the New Town Nest. As I was turning away, one name caught me: Timothy J. Lea.

This is what I know about Timothy J. Lea: He is a warm, hospitable man, and a great dad. He is welcoming, unassuming, and—wait for it—he’s still here, raising his kids in Hickory Ridge.

I don’t know why that meant so much to me, but it did. I turned again to survey the scene and felt for the first time since 1999 that this was my Columbia, too.

At that moment I spied a friend on the hill, who raised a hand in greeting.

I will be headed down to catch Damon Foreman today, weather permitting. Maybe I will see you there.