The Middle Distance 9.20.14: A Grand Market?

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Credit Sean Cayton

When my son died in the summer of 2007, his brother was scheduled to head off to Budapest, Hungary that fall to study math. The idea of him, so far away and on his own in a foreign place so shortly after this family trauma, caused both of his parents enough anxiety that, even though we had been divorced for many years, we decided to make a family visit to Budapest that October.

The sheer beauty of the city, bisected by a gently curving river and a series of elegant bridges, comforted us. But we were strangers, doubly alienated in the fog of grief that enveloped us. On our first outing across the Danube by footbridge, we disappeared into the towering Central Market Hall where it seemed all of Budapest shopped for food and tourists flocked to the booths of beautiful embroidered textiles and other traditional Hungarian crafts.

Originally built in the 1890s when markets across Europe were being gathered indoors, the Central Market Hall still fulfills its original purpose over 100 years later.  Here, locals can shop for affordable locally and regionally grown food, supporting the local economy while mingling with tourists who come from across the world to witness the city’s history and beauty. Here, people can sip a coffee or a beer or a bowl of goulash soup and be at home among strangers.

When I was in Budapest, it was the only place I wanted to be: wandering among throngs of people, amid the smells of fresh food and spices and the bustle of commerce, feeling the vibe of common humanity. I especially loved the rows of women merchants, dressed in crisp white aprons, neatly lining up their gleaming glass jars of pickled fruits and vegetables. It was like being in some universal version of Grandma’s kitchen.

Lately, among the buzz of Local Food Week here in Colorado Springs, I learned more about the initiative to develop a public market here in the city’s downtown, dedicated to the same purpose as Budapest’s grand public market and scores of others across the country and throughout the world.

What if, the public market organizers ask, we had a downtown public market in Colorado Springs, open all year … to serve the entire community with locally grown and produced and related goods? … The big concept: a focal point and gathering place defined and enriched by the community it serves … to express the best of what we do right here while meeting genuine demand for local food commerce, connections and culture.

I can already smell the chilies roasting.

One of the Colorado Springs public market board members, local beef purveyor and entrepreneur Mike Callicrate, tells me the market is well on its way to becoming a reality in the Prospect Street building compound that used to house the Gazette. Owners of the property and market organizers are currently deep into talks about how to make the project a truly public partnership despite no promise of support from city government.

Callicrate, a local food activist who has done battle with corporate food industry giants, sees it this way: it’s a matter of growing the local economy and rejecting the model of industrial growth and predatory business practices that have turned our city, one of America’s most distinctive and beautiful, into a poster child for the global extraction economy.

It’s also a central meeting place where ideas, small businesses, cottage industries, farmers, ranchers and ordinary folks who care about our town can flourish.

Callicrate sees local markets as the only sane response to a sick business culture built on greed. And he is passionate about the necessity of rebuilding a local food infrastructure that has been bitten off, chewed up and spit out by global industrial agriculture and its pervasive corporate components.

“Farmers markets are great,” says Callicrate, “but what we really need are steady, reliable markets for farmers. If farmers don’t have ready market access, they’re gone.”

In Budapest, the Central Market Hall is a monument to the city, its people, growers, artisans and local food producers. It’s also a great place to hang out and feel yoked to that most fundamental human urge, to be fed by human hands. It’s an ancient idea largely forgotten in the suburban supermarket sweep of 20th century America and the age of globalization. In Colorado Springs, a public market with a sweeping view of Pikes Peak, perched on the edge of downtown, could feed us well. Now, says Callicrate, all we have to do is make it happen.

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Kathryn Eastburn is the author of A Sacred Feast: Reflections of Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground, and Simon Says: A True Story of Boys, Guns and Murder in the Rocky Mountain West. You can comment and read or listen to this column again at The Big Something at “The Middle Distance” is published every Friday on The Big Something and airs each Saturday at 1 p.m. right after This American Life.