Thursday, 21 February 2013

What a Different World We Live In!

I had an opportunity this past week to attend the Edmonton Gift Show. Held at Northlands, it is a gigantic event where importers and wholesalers come and try to sell their stock to retailers (owners of independent businesses). It isn't open to the public, and it's not a place to buy individual items; rather, it's a place for local businesses to place their orders. [Believe it or not, many retailers were placing their Christmas orders there for next winter!] It was a very strange experience for me to wander the huge halls, looking at booth after booth of mass produced items.

I guess I should have known what to expect. Afterall, any business or company big enough to produce items for other stores and businesses to sell, and any company looking to expand beyond its own doors, was obviously going to be carrying factory or machine-made, mass-produced items. Now in fairness, there really were some unique items: for example, the Saskatchewan Craft Council sent a bevy of potters & an ironworker to the show, there was a local Edmonton artist who made blown glass necklace pendants, and there seemed to be some unique jewllery designs. But there was a lot of off-shore, made in China type of stuff. Even the "Made in Canada" Hall had the feel of off-shore tourist store kitsch (picture Banff themed sweatshirts and ball caps). For the most part, throughout the show, the vendors were offering up things that I had seen before, and honestly, I'm really not much of a shopper, but they were all very familiar. Nothing there was really all that unique or eye catching. And I was aghast, seeing all the wholesale prices of things throughout the show, at just how incredible the mark-up is on retail items!

I guess it helped me to realize what I knew in my heart already... I really value the creative process. The little guy. The handmade, one of a kind items that you can find with the artisans of farmers' markets. I love the amazingly creative people and the stories that go with these items. I like the sense of time, patience, love, creativity, insight & perspective that goes into making them. I like that they are not always perfect. Or, conversely, that they are so well made, with such finely wrought materials that no manufacturing process in a mass produced reality can possibly imitate them.

This is the world we live in when we regularly shop at farmers' markets. We encounter unique, well-made, original handicrafts and items. Take Sandra, the creative genius behind the Orange Avocado stall at our market, for example. If you read her Orange Avocado Blog, you'll see the care that she takes when crafting and designing her jewellery pieces. She writes:
It's pretty much black and white to me this year. Less is more. It has never been about mass production for me. Never been about a million new styles each year; although there are a million ideas in my head. It’s about making something from nothing.

And for me, it is about developing a relationship with an artisan. Understanding the work of art that you are purchasing. Getting a sense of the inspiration and the personality of the artist that lies behind the piece. Connecting with your purchase.

And if that is not enough for you... I always come back to the social imperative that often motivates me: support the local artist or farmer, cook or food producer at a local market and any profit that is made goes directly to that person. There is no importer or wholesaler; no middleman to take a cut of the profit. And because the artists and other vendors at our farmers' market are local, the money stays in our local economy, ultimately helping the community in which we live. In today's mass-market, globally-focussed economic model, shopping in local markets is an important stand to take.

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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee

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