Be a Local Hero

Just south of us is Cornish, New Hampshire. It is a rural town with a small population, but it has a very large and dramatic history. From 1885 to 1930, it was home to the Cornish Art Colony. The Colony’s many painters, playwrights, sculptors, composers, poets, musicians, and landscape architects spent their summers and sometimes their winters in the beautiful homes and gardens they built in the hills of Cornish.

There is something about visiting a Cornish Colony house that informs and educates about the idea of “home”. The houses are sometimes large but their scale is infinitely comfortable. You want to sink down in every room and when you do, the vistas from each window offer a zen moment of beauty. The interiors glow with unusual paint colors and every room looks like a scene you’d like to paint. Over the years, I have visited a fair number of Cornish Colony homes. Sometimes, one of my kids has had a friend whose family lives in a Cornish Colony house. Sometimes a friend has been caretaking or gardening at one of the estates. Sometimes someone in Cornish has organized a garden tour of some of the Cornish Colony gardens. Any experience of these places is an ongoing gift from a group of people who really thought about their relationship to the natural world and built houses that embraced and celebrated this connection. Even the time we chased a run away pig during a nursery school field trip, all I noticed was the dell of blooming primrose and the way the terrace where we sat for milk and cookies was about the nicest place I had ever been.

Architect Charles Platt was part of the colony and designed many of these homes. He mentored landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman when she found herself in financial straights. Eventually her career took flight and she left Cornish to design many gardens on large estates across America. Her gardens are now considered among the most important gardens ever created in America. A recent retrospective of seven key American gardens at the Smith College Museum of Art bore witness to her visionary gifts.

Artist and illustrator Maxfield Parrish is also considered to be a part of the Cornish Art Colony, though his home was just over the border in our town of Plainfield. Our town was considered an inferior address by members of the Colony and people in the Colony actually printed on their stationery “Physically in Plainfield, Socially in Cornish. Can you imagine?

The sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens, lived year round at his glorious Cornish property Aspet. His sculptures can be found in many American cities, with his bronze Civil War remembrances particularly powerful and emotionally resonant. Aspet is a national park now and a place we love to visit. Last summer, the Masque of the Golden Bowl was reenacted in the fields of Aspet. This play was originally written and performed in honor of Augustus St. Gaudens and his wife Augusta during the summer of 1905. This time around, local children and adults dashed in and out of the woods dressed as Olympic Gods. A fun time was had by all.

The Cornish Colony had a long tradition of dancing around the woods in costume. In Meriden village, there were al fresco bird fetes with dancers costumed as birds. Locals continue to like putting on a show.

In fact, there is something about Cornish that makes it still a dramatic place, even with the Colony kaput. Meriden feels sort of vanilla to me in comparison with Cornish. Our Deb, the lovely woman who answers the phone with a British accent, now lives in Cornish. She tells us stories of the daily life in the town that make our jaws drop. Everyone likes to play their roles in Cornish with GUSTO!

One role that Deb plays is that of running the Cornish Farmer’s Market. Each spring she rounds up vendors, keeps everyone on the same page about the farm market calendar, advertises the market throughout our valley, runs the weekly markets, and also throws together a couple of exuberant farmer’s market special events. One of these specials is a June market called “Fur, Fleece, and Feathers” where you can find a Speckled Sussex chick, a Blue Swedish duck, an angora rabbit, sheep fleece to dye and spin, or a kitten to love.

Deb is getting ready for the next farmer’s market season right now. This has meant attending regional meetings with other farmer’s market organizers. She tells us of a regional campaign to get more people to support their local farmer’s markets. This campaign is called “Be a Local Hero”.

We have been reading a lot lately about the long emergency that fuel shortages in the near future will bring us. The crux of the situation as far as food production goes is that it is going to be too expensive, even impossible, to ship our food the long distances it is presently traveling. The word on the streets is that local food is going to move to center stage again by NECESSITY and not just choice.

Deb is a local hero right now because of what she is doing keeping this farmer’s market, with its network of local food providers, alive and flourishing. Even in rural New Hampshire, she has a hard time finding produce vendors to run stalls. Even with its location on the village square in Cornish, Deb has a hard time getting people to shift their shopping patterns to buy a local tomato being sold across the street, versus one that they get at their local Price Chopper. Even with this charming, sweet, wonderfully social, AND delicious market going, so many people drive on by or tell me that they have never visited this weekly local moment.

Deb has had to rally the troops through a time of marginal interest in local produce. She cheerleads. She unravels snafus. She and her husband set up and take down the signs, stalls, and other paraphernalia of the market every week. She deals with the trash. She helps vendors to understand that if four people sell winter squash, it attracts more winter squash lovers to the market and everyone is a winner. She congratulates those who are selling their offerings. She consoles, helps, and encourages those who are not. All this and she still bakes her amazing cornish pasties and other delicious treats for market.

So Deb is my local hero today and in her honor, I hope you will find your local farmer’s market and go out and support these folks that are keeping a network of food supplies vital and flowing, ready for when we need it once again.

PS This is Deb’s poster for the Cornish Farmer’s Market, painted by her. Don’t you wish this was your local farmer’s market?


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