Communication, I have come to realize, is the key to everything.
Another thing I have to come to realize is that communication becomes much more difficult when the people I am reaching out to are on completely opposite schedules than myself. I have spent the last couple of weeks traveling all around Ohio in search of local growers and producers who would be interested in participating in Market Days, and have received responses that hit all over the board. Many people seem excited and interested about getting involved, and others decline for one reason or another (some more politely than others).
One common theme I have found? If I do not keep in constant communication with the people I am trying to recruit, I can not expect them to do the same. For me, and most likely those of you who are reading this entry, sitting at a desk with a computer and phone during normal business hours seems to be the most efficient way to facilitate communication. For the people I am trying to get in touch with, it is exactly the opposite. June through October seems to be the busiest time of the year for most of these folks, which also means that there is less time to talk to people like me. The more time I spend in the rural areas that surround central Ohio, the more I begin to understand why. I may spend most of my day at a desk, but these people spend most of their day outdoors. Internet and cell phone communication was not always as prominent as it is today, and has been slow to spread through rural areas. Many local growers have stuck to their ways over the years, and going electronic has been less than convenient for a variety of reasons.
The only way to truly begin to grasp an understanding of what rural life is like is to experience it yourself. I have found myself driving through areas that are completely foreign to me, and with that comes a lifestyle that is somewhat foreign to me. As I cruise down the country roads, with seemingly borderless corn fields to my right and cows grazing in the sun to my left, there are several thoughts that cross my mind. Normally, I am driving on a road where there is something new to look at every couple of feet; as soon as I process one thing I have seen, there is something else that captures my attention. There is something else that seems a bit unfamiliar, and that is the noise…or lack thereof. Billboards, banners, and stop lights are few and far between, as is the bumper to bumper traffic. There are no hoards of people walking up and down the sides of the road with cell phones glued to their ears, or iPods drowning out their surroundings.
As I walk up to farmer’s markets and local shops, people greet with me eye-to-eye contact and welcoming hand shakes. The best responses I have received have not been through e-mail (although I have reached out to countless people electronically), but through face-to-face contact. I have found that once people are able to put a face to a name, they are much more likely to respond positively. When people see that I am genuinely interested in what they are doing, they think of me as more than just an e-mail address or a phone number. So I have received commitments from several different vendors, including Snowville Creamery and Frijolito Farm. Although I am far from my goal, I am confident that my persistence will pay off.
We may live in a day and age when communication can occur at the click of a button, but developing genuine relationships and connections with people is not something that can easily be replaced.
Susan Snyder, Franklin Park Conservatory