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Armena's Community Market

In the summer of 2011, the hamlet of Armena held an event that became a tribute to everyone in the community.  At first glance and especially viewing it from the outside, the event didn’t appear much different from other small- town events.  Neighbours got together, planned, organized and held a community gathering around an activity and lots of good food. 

This event was described by Pastor Appleby as a cross between a community picnic and a farmer’s market.  “Sometimes I think rural communities start to feel a bit neutral about their social events” mused Pastor Jim Appleby.  “Maybe because there is a ‘same-old, same-old’ feel to some of it.  But we approached things differently last summer and we found new inspiration and hope.  Will we do it again? I sure hope so.”

Armena is a 16-house town, nestled between Camrose and Edmonton, Alberta. New people are finding their way into the area with acreages springing up. The local economy is rooted in beef and grain farming, but many families have diversified to include regular commutes to Camrose or Edmonton for work, post secondary schooling, and church.  Armena has a small post office, a church, a greenhouse, and the Armena Athletic Association which oversees the skating rink, baseball diamonds, the park and playgrounds.  The kids go to school in the village of Hay Lakes, about a 10 minute drive north. Adults go there too for amenities such as groceries, a liquor board store and a library. Armena is a one-church town, but there are several other churches in the area.
The idea for the community garden market started when Pastor Jim signed up for a rural ministry course called Healthy Rural Communities.  The course was organized by CiRCLe M as part of its support for graduate training of clergy in rural ministry and community development.  Under the direction of Dittmar Muendel, the class gathered to look at interesting ways to examine communities and to use various tools to assess and promote community health.  Students were asked to create a project that would draw community members together to address some element of their community’s health. So Jim arranged for an evening at his church... to talk with neighbours about food and faith in their town.  Six people came, bringing food, and together around the table, they started talking about “what the Armena community is.” They looked at their community from different perspectives - social, political, spiritual, cultural and ecological – asking the questions: “What makes our community healthy?  What does our community have going for it?  What are the challenges?  What are the historical perspectives?  And what are the current perspectives?”

“The whole thing was meant to be a research project to write up and reflect on what can be helpful in a community” recalled Pastor Jim.  “But out of our remembering and the conversation, a real vibrancy and joy emerged.  The Spirit was moving and as we talked we realized what a diverse group of people live in our community, with a wide range of talents. Enthusiasm blossomed.  And the idea was born to have a ‘community garden market’ that would showcase all of the talent in our community.  We formed a committee to see what could be done. And when asked to participate, all kinds of people in the area contributed.” 

“Part of our goal was to try and touch on the vibrancy in our community from the different angles. We wanted to open some windows into how local economic activity can happen and how we can build on it.  We wanted people to experience one another’s talents, have good conversation and have fun.  We wanted a focus on ecological sensitivity.  And with all of it, we knew that we would be showcasing the gifts that God has given us individually and collectively.”

As with most markets, vendors of all kinds set up tables and laid out their wares.  A food-buying group from the area uses an approach to ‘food exchange’ called ‘the bulls-eye approach’.  It’s where you start at the centre, close to home, and move out from there, looking for organic, fairly traded and wholesome food.  The buyers-group was already supplying food to some of the families in the area.  They had their own booth at the market and signed up new members.  

Tables displayed a rich variety of locally grown produce such as potatoes, carrots, squash, peppers and cucumbers. Trucks with freezers on-board, were filled with certified organic meats; sausages were sampled at the booths.  People brought gluten-free baking and cinnamon buns. 


Little girls staffed a lemonade stand with banana bread on the side; their moms brought knitting. Chainmaille jewellery was made from wire that a couple of boys found in the barn and started to craft with.  Regular household items, like candles and soaps were displayed and sold.  Others exhibited their crafts and pottery.  Someone made and sold horse halters. Most vendors came from within 5 to 8 miles of Armena.


The picnic, organized by a local caterer, came from within a 100-mile radius (aka ‘food on 100 mile diet’).  There was roast beef and homemade buns for ‘beef on a bun’, local pies and fair trade coffee (the beans were purchased and roasted in the Armena area).

And as expected at any picnic, the kids had great fun with games and other activities. Freezer boxes had been saved and were used for cardboard mazes for little ones. Young community members painted faces and others painted rocks.  All sorts of kids were climbing on the monkey bars.  The swing set was full.  The slide was full. 


“We touched on our local culture with live Armena- community music,” said Pastor Jim.  “A platform had been built for the musicians to play and perform as people were coming and going. Fifteen-minute and half-hour time slots were scheduled so that people enjoyed a mix of violin, saw, guitar, keyboard and singing.  Everyone was really enjoying it. It was fun.  People were glowing with it.


“As I have said before,” reflected Pastor Jim, “we had some sense of disappointment or discouragement with other events in recent years. But this time the attendance was vibrant and we saw new faces.  We planned for 120 to 150 people (and some of us thought this was optimistic), but closer to 300 attended. We ran out of food.  The place was buzzing.  Neighbours were crossing paths and having good conversations.   It was an inspiring experience for our community and people have been talking about it all through the year.  I think they are looking forward to the next one.

“When we started, we planned to have an event that would foster a stronger community by promoting neighbours, justice and a flourishing local economy that supports local businesses. The event did that.  But it turned into more.  It became a tribute to everyone in our community in a way that cultivated gratefulness and hope. People communicated in ways that matter so much and new connections were made.  God was very present, feeding a hunger and need.  The spirit in the community was a foretaste, in some way, of the feast to come in the Kingdom of Heaven.  We couldn’t have planned for that.  But we realized a gift had been given and that we were privileged to be part of it. It was a day of joy and inspiration.

Will we do it again? I sure hope so.”


Story written by Colleen Rickard, based on conversations with Rev. Jim Appleby, Spring 2012