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Building Community, One Market at a Time

With the increasing popularity of farmers markets in America, suburbanites and city dwellers alike can purchase farm-fresh produce without setting foot near a farm. Graduating senior Eden Trenor is counting on this trend to generate foot traffic in the now-desolate downtown area of her hometown, Mukilteo, Washington, and to make her newly established market there a success.

"Mukilteo's businesses lost customers when the strip malls moved in," Trenor says. "I hope the farmers market will lure residents back to the city, where they can rediscover local businesses and reconnect with the community."

Trenor is funding the project with a $40,000 Compton Mentor Fellowship. Now in its third year, this program promotes the creativity and commitment of graduating seniors to environmental and social issues, while providing guidance from a mentor within a similar field.

For Trenor, this guidance will come from Jon Hegeman, founder of Seattle's now-famous Sunday Fremont Market. Hegeman, who calls himself an "urban anthropologist," is a passionate proponent of the farmers market as a community-building tool.

"Aside from the food, farmers markets are about conversations and rapport, two very important ingredients in the neighborhood diet," says Hegeman. "Markets build community because they create relationships between people who share the same table values. In my experience, starting a farmers market is one of the most important contributions an ordinary person can make to revitalize or improve a neighborhood or community."

Mukilteo's market will officially open for business July 22. In the meantime, Trenor is busy recruiting vendors and spreading the word about the market. So far, she's gained the support of Mukilteo's city council and chamber of commerce. She is cautiously optimistic, but she knows that as the market's manager, she's got a long row to hoe before the market sees success.

"A good manager makes or breaks the livelihood of so many people," Trenor says. "I'm going to have my hands full locating new vendors, publicizing the market, and dealing with customer service issues. This is definitely a full-time job."

In addition to these responsibilities, Trenor is organizing a series of family-friendly activities on Mukilteo market days. With help from members of a local arts organization, she has scheduled art walks and outdoor concerts, and she is planning to coordinate even more activities as the summer goes on.

"If the market doesn't bring people downtown, maybe the other activities will attract them," Trenor says. "Once we bring people in, we hope they will realize that there is a whole city to explore. The project's main objective is to give people the opportunity to meet other people and to teach them what it means to be members of an active community."

Trenor plans to stay on as manager of the Mukilteo Farmers Market for three years—the length of time it generally takes to get a market up and running. After that, she's not sure where she will go or what she will do. But she's certain that she will remain active in her community, no matter where she ends up.

"I want young people to look at what I'm doing and realize that they can do it, too," says Trenor. "They can be community leaders, and they can lead their community in innovative ways. It doesn't matter how young they are, they are members of the community, too."

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