I came to the idea of self-reliance slowly, through an interest in cooking. I wanted to start using fresh herbs in my meals and couldn’t find them at my rural Kentucky grocery stores. It seemed like a good idea to try my hand at growing them. I started out with basil, cilantro and parsley. Before I knew what happened, I was transforming my 1-acre yard into a garden, buying baby chicks and ordering beehives.

I couldn’t afford solar panels just yet, but I started cutting my electricity usage drastically. My nightstand was stacked with seed catalogs and worm-composting bins were finding themselves into empty corners of the house. My long-term goal was to go to the grocery store only to buy toilet paper, because, hey, there are some luxuries you just can’t give up.

About five years ago, though, I found myself divorced with two young kids and all my plans were derailed. I still believed that living a simple and sustainable lifestyle was a good thing, but I was in survival mode as I adjusted to single parenthood. Sure, a milk cow still sounded like a good idea, but buying one and increasing my responsibilities moved way down on my list of priorities.

Jamie Aramini
“Getting involved in a community of homesteaders and small farmers saved my life.” said Aramini

Fresh, Fair Start

I needed a creative outlet, so I started a blog where I wrote about gardening and started interviewing small farmers in Kentucky. Immediately, I tapped into this growing niche of people who wanted to be self-reliant but had quickly realized the irony that they needed other people to do so. People responded positively and I soon found myself in the role of connecting homesteaders and small farmers in Kentucky to the resources they needed to succeed.

I decided to put together a little meet-up where the homesteaders and farmers I was writing about could get together. Our first event in March 2013, the Kentucky Green Living Fair, drew about 1,000 people from all over the state and beyond. I was blown away by the response and how far people had driven just to meet others who shared their interests. It turns out that striving for self-reliance can be pretty lonely. Everyone was eager to spend the day learning from others and getting to know them.

Farmers Market

Since my divorce, I had been suffering from pretty severe depression. Organizing the fair and getting to know my vendors and presenters started me on the road to feeling emotionally healthy again. I was hooked on being in a real community and didn’t want the feeling to go away! At the encouragement of some friends, I decided to start a farmers market in my hometown of Somerset, Kentucky, that would have an emphasis on community.

Many a homestead dream is built on the idea of self-reliance, and part of that is having the ability to earn an income from your own property. It is only a natural progression to sell one’s homestead goods at a local farmers market. 

Market on Main
The author at the info booth for the farmers market she helped found, the Market on Main in Somerset, Kentucky.

The Market on Main opened in June 2013. We decided on an evening market since young families are often busy (or sleeping in) on Saturday mornings. We have live music each week to encourage our customers to stay around and get to know each other. We work hard to connect with our community in any way that we can, whether by offering a free yoga class at the market or allowing local nonprofits to set up a booth from time to time.

Many of the market’s vendors were homesteaders and small farmers who had never been part of a market before or, in some cases, sold any of their produce at all. It was a learning experience for all of us. Our goal for the market is to give our farmers a viable outlet so they can earn a living and stay on their farms while bringing our community closer together. Our farmers brought in over $50,000 during the season, which we consider a huge success for our first year. Now, we are focusing on making the market sustainable in future years.

A Life Saver

Getting involved in a community of homesteaders and small farmers saved my life. I went from being seriously depressed and lonely—a therapist had recommended that I start taking medication for anxiety and depression—to being a whole and healthy person. I feel like my life’s purpose is to help make my community stronger through developing a strong local food network and facilitating learning opportunities for others who want to live sustainably.

Being a part of the community of a farmers market is so fulfilling. It is hard work and always challenging, but with some sweat and creativity, starting a market or participating can be a great way to connect with others and add vibrancy to any homestead. 

This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Fall 2014 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here

Related Stories: Jereme Zimmerman On His Kentucky Roots

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