Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Really, really fun and free (really!)

The first Yellow Springs Really Really Free Market (“No money. No barter. No trade.”) took place on Saturday, January 24, from 1-4 p.m., at Emporium Wines and Underdog Café.

“I have a news item,” said RRFM coordinator Vanessa Query as she maneuvered herself away from the fray to locate a chair and collect her thoughts. “People showed up on time.”

Throughout the afternoon, conversation and laughter would spontaneously erupt as a new crowd crowded around the two tables set up for the event. RRFM participants in hats and heavy winter coats jostled and joked with one another as they dropped off and sorted through an ever-changing landscape of donated goods. CDs, plants, puzzles, games, books, bags, vitamins, and “Vanilla Biscuits for Teethers” competed for limited table space while a gradually growing mound of adult and children’s clothing threatened to devour it all.

“The festive energy is fantastic,” said participant and Emporium staffperson Carmen Milano, who had only just read about the event in last week’s issue of the YS News and wasn’t prepared to donate any items. “Such a happy, sharing, discovering event!”

“It’s the perfect mid-winter social occasion,” said Kathy Beverly, who donated candles and a bathroom scale and was taking home a pair of sunglasses and Chinese checkers.

“People keep asking, ‘Is this really free?’” said Query. “Yes, it’s really really free. You don’t have to bring stuff to take stuff, you don’t have to take stuff to bring stuff.”

“It’s a community builder because it brings people face-to-face in a safe space,” explained Milano. In Portland, Ore., where she lived before moving to Yellow Springs, the food co-op she belonged to had what was known as a “free box.” “You could swing by any day of the week to ‘shop’ the free box or to drop off goods,” she said. “However, rarely were there any other people there at the same time. The Really Really Free Market format that Vanessa is presenting is people and relationship driven.”

Query, who is also events coordinator for The Emporium and graphic designer for the YS News, was quick to point out that the idea isn’t hers. “It’s a national movement based on anarchist ideals,” she explained, “but you don’t have to be an anarchist to participate. It’s not about any political ideology. It’s about community first.”

According to Wikipedia, the Really, Really Free Market movement “is a non-hierarchical collective of individuals who form a temporary market based on an alternative gift economy.” The goal is to build community based on “sharing resources, caring for one another and improving the collective lives of all.”

RRFM participants bring food, skills, talents, and unneeded items to an open community space, often a public park or community commons. Local artist and pianist, Benjamin Belew, added to the atmosphere with a lively piano concert.

“The Really Really Free Market gives new meaning to the Yellow Springs values of shopping locally and recycling,” said participant Joan Ackerman. “It’s great to get a cup of coffee and visit with friends at the same time.”

Query is really really thrilled with the Really Really Free Market’s first time effort.

“The event took on a life of its own,” she said in a post-event interview. “I set it up but then it ran itself. One person would come in and leave and then I’d see that person come back with four other people.” She loved the “messy variety of things” and the way participants engaged with their new acquisitions right on the spot: the little boy who immediately starting playing with his “new” miniature billiards table; the voracious readers who spotted a good read and then settled into a couch; the adults who spied the jar of bubbles and playfully got into the act.

At 4 p.m., Query enlisted the help of some friends to move the tables back where they belonged and transport leftover items to the Salvation Army. “I think it’d be great to continue that aspect,” she said. “People coming a little early to set up, a couple of people staying afterwards to help break it down. After all, it’s not my event, it’s everyone’s event.”

In addition to feeling good about the community’s response, Query was even happier with the bounty of her own.

“I got this knife,” she beamed, showing off a shimmery-blue retractable knife. “I’ve been looking for a knife just like this and blue’s my favorite color.”

In the true spirit of community, while Query oversaw the RRFM, colleague Milano borrowed the knife to cut open wine boxes.

Due to the event’s success, Query would like it to become a monthly series. Check out for future dates.

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

Susan Gartner is a freelance writer and photographer for the News.