Recipes for Community
"Here, that’s my job. To tell a story, give them a recipe, they eat well, they come back and they feel good. That’s my job."
~Joan Norman, One Straw Farm
32nd Street Farmers Market, Baltimore, MD
Photo Credit: Michael Caballes
What is a Story Market?
Inspired by my time working and shopping at Baltimore City farmers' markets, Story Markets replace the monetary exchange between vendors and community members with stories.
Story Markets are based on the premise that stories encourage investment in our communities.
Having moved to Baltimore during the COVID-19 pandemic, the outdoor markets were the one place I could safely engage with people in my community. It's through our conversations that I began to feel connected to my new home. Working at Baltimore City’s farmers markets, I met people who had been coming to this market for decades. One community member I met told me that it was his 567th time at the 32nd Street Farmers Market that day. What kept people coming back, week after week? How might reflecting on this question encourage people to invest even deeper in their communities?
The American Festival Project (1983 - 1999), a national coalition of artists dedicated to partnering with local communities to shift the local and national dialogue around issues of oppression, offers some insight. Michael Hunt, former director of the AFP, described the ultimate goal of AFP as follows: “to provide tools and facilitate local expertise in the development of a welcoming, thoughtful, and imaginative community life.” Story Circles with the local communities were key to the success of the AFP, and essential in creating lasting change. This is because when people took ownership of their stories, they took ownership of the communities in which their stories existed, thus creating the possibility for long-lasting community engagement. As Hunt explained, the AFP sought to challenge the audience to reconsider their relationship to their community and take an active part in it.
By temporarily removing the monetary exchange, Story Markets create the space for intentional conversation–for local growers and makers to share the inspiration behind their products, and to learn more about the people who take their creations home. They foster relationship building, encouraging community members and vendors alike to reflect on their interdependence and mutually invest in each other. Because at the end of the day, the market is not just somewhere people go to buy their groceries. It’s a place people go to feel connected– to each other, their food, and their homes.
How are Story Markets organized?
Identify a host community.
In collaboration with the host community, decide upon the theme for the Story Market.
Research potential donors/grant opportunities.
In collaboration with the host community, identify potential vendors whose businesses connect to the theme. Contact vendors for collaboration.
Once the vendor list is finalized, I work individually with each vendor to develop their Story Stand and choose the medium for their storytelling. Past examples include food demonstrations, planting seeds, and coffee chats.
Based on the Story Stands, develop prompts and other engagements to facilitate storytelling from participating audience members.
Who funds the Story Markets?
Story Markets rely on grant funding. This funding is used primarily to compensate participating vendors and the Story Market creative/administrative teams, in addition to covering cost of supplies and any rental costs. This funding has been critical to the participation of some of these vendors. Some vendors have communicated that without the stipend, they wouldn’t have been able to participate because of staffing/time restraints.
Past funders include:
Towson University Theatre Arts Department
BTU (Baltimore-Towson University), a branch of The Office of Partnerships and Outreach at Towson University
What's the impact of Story Markets on the community?
One of the goals of Story Markets is that the stories community members exchange with vendors will encourage them to patronize these businesses–translating their emotional investment into financial investment. As a direct result of Story Market: Tastes of Home, one family shared that they were inspired to visit the JFX Farmers Market on the following Sunday. Another family shared that they visited the Fresh at the Avenue produce stall in Avenue Market based on the food demonstration that Fresh at the Avenue shared. This is the only community feedback I received about the direct impact of their exchanges. However, I appreciate what one of my community partners Bryan Wright said about the development of Strength to Love II Farm: different seeds germinate at different times. Investing in community means that you won’t always see the fruit of your labor–but that doesn’t mean the seeds aren’t growing.
Who are some of your previous vendors?
In cooking, we want a balance of flavors. The same goes for our stories. In her TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story the only story.” The metaphor of a recipe highlights the reciprocal and adaptive nature of community. I’m interested in the stories of these adaptations, and in creating space for people to come together and create new recipes/stories using the given assets of the people and place around them. Therefore, with each Story Market I’m committed to collaborating with a range of vendors to present a multi-vocal narrative around the chosen theme.
Read about the wide network of partners who have shared their stories in previous Story Markets on
Interested in hosting a Story Market in your community?
Send me an e-mail! I'd love to collaborate with you.