THE REALIZATION OF a permanent open-air structure for my hometown farmers market was a dream of mine that took six years to come to fruition. A municipal parking lot at the corner of Roanoke Street and Draper Road in Blacksburg, Virginia, has been transformed into the farmers market’s new home—Market Square Park, a sixty- by ninety-foot grassy area with an L-shaped structure along its northeastern perimeter (see image 3.1). Five nested pavilions made of white oak, heavy timber with brown metal roofs, comprise the structure. Each one steps down a few inches with the slightly sloping terrain, and each one’s roof overlaps the next by about two feet. The park, parking lot, and pavilions together cover half an acre in the downtown core.
Blacksburg’s Market Square Park sits at the southwestern edge of Virginia Tech’s campus, a block from Main Street, the U.S. Post Office, and the Historic 16 Squares Neighborhood (see image 3.2). The new structure officially opened on December 5, 2009. Five inches of snow fell that day, but vendors and shoppers still showed up excited to see and experience the new shelter, which effectively offers protection from all kinds of weather while shopping. At the grand opening celebration in April 2010, hordes of people filled the park—some stood in conversation, others sat on the new curvilinear benches and observed the crowd, and lots of kids ran around in the grass, but most folks browsed the bountiful displays of about two dozen vendors before purchasing the fresh local harvest, meats, and handmade goods. As I sat on one of the benches, I watched the energetic engagement; it was gratifying to see how well the open-air pavilion was functioning, as planned, as a cohesive market space and as a place for community gathering. Over the past decade since its opening, my satisfaction has only grown as the planned and spontaneous use of the open-air pavilion, on market days and non-market days alike, increases each year.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, towns often built open-air structures solely for use as farmers markets, at the time called “freestanding sheds” or “market sheds.” Typically located in the middle of a thoroughfare or on the edge of a town’s public square, the market shed consisted of a low-pitched roof supported by multiple bays of brick piers or wooden posts. Builders could quickly and easily assemble this type of structure because the modular bay system was a common construction technique at the time.1 Because this type of structure was relatively inexpensive to build (versus the market-house type discussed in Chapter 2) it also fit within the budgets of many more towns and smaller cities. Sadly, none of these centuries-old open-air pavilion markets remain standing today, although we have an abundance of photographs, which can be found in the U.S. National Archives.
In today’s urban landscape, open-air pavilions most often reside in public parks or adjacent to public market buildings. While similar to their historic predecessors in materials, size, and configuration, modern open-air pavilions host a multitude of recurring events throughout the year in addition to seasonal or even year-round farmers markets. Most open-air pavilions are single-story structures with multiple entrances to a central open area that allows for flexibility in the placement of tables, chairs, signage, and displays of vendors. Designed to accommodate diverse functions and varying numbers of people, open-air pavilions, by their very nature, promote intimate as well as group interaction. Over time, these structures become an integral part of the community, as natural as a post office or a corner grocery.
The Harris Pavilion, which stands adjacent to the commuter train depot in Manassas, Virginia, maintains a full calendar of free music events for people of all ages and interests in the community. The Victorian-era-inspired steel pavilion hosts the city’s farmers market on Thursdays from April through October, but converts into an ice-skating rink during the winter months.
The Pavilion at Constitution Park in Waynesboro, Virginia, hosts the town’s biweekly seasonal farmers market in addition to numerous special events throughout the year. The thirty-five- by sixty-foot laminated bentwood shelter remains popular for all kinds of events due to its adjacency to the South River and Greenway Trail. The annual Virginia Fly Fishing Festival features wine tastings from local wineries in the pavilion while fishing enthusiasts browse tables overflowing with gear and guided tour brochures in a temporary pop-up canopy set up next to to the structure.
A smaller but no less elegant steel structure known as the Fifth Third Pavilion located in Cheapside Park in Lexington, Kentucky, hosts its farmers market on Saturdays, April through October, in tandem with the weekly community gathering event simply called Artist’s Market and sponsored by Downtown Lexington Corporation.
In Little Rock, Arkansas, two open-air pavilions adjacent to the Ottenheimer Market Hall host the city’s biweekly farmers market, which originated in 1974. The contemporary pavilions are part of the River Market District that encompasses ten blocks and includes art galleries, shops, restaurants, and the main branch of the Central Arkansas Library. The construction of the open-air structures in a once-dilapidated area generated the redevelopment of buildings and land fronting the Arkansas River. The two pavilions, comprised of laminated wood trusses supporting a metal roof, offer 6,800 square feet of space—plenty of room for twenty vendors during the farmers market. A fifty-eight- by forty-foot park with a dozen trees and a few benches joins both pavilions at the midpoint of Market Hall. Together, River Market District and Riverfront Park provide a multitude of community gathering places for civic engagement.
Although smaller in scope than Little Rock’s market, another open-air pavilion market in Ithaca, New York, is also notable for its pivotal role in the transformation of underutilized land along the banks of an inlet from Cayuga Lake into the destination known as Steamboat Landing. From its inception in 1973 on the west side of the city, Ithaca Farmers Market grew rapidly; it had to move five times before settling into its current location on the north end in 1988. The following year construction began on its timber-frame pavilion, and, remarkably, it was all built by volunteer labor. Comprised of eighty-eight stalls ranging from ten to twelve feet wide by ten feet deep, this T-shaped structure situated in a parklike setting also has served as a community gathering place for hundreds of weddings, and for the past several years, has hosted the premiere concert of the decades-old Ithaca Festival held in early June.
In the remainder of this chapter I take an in-depth look at three open-air pavilions whose identity is derived primarily from the fact that they host a local farmers market. All three pavilions were built within the past dozen years: two in small Virginia cities, Abingdon and Covington; and another in Durham, North Carolina. Each one began over three decades ago as a pop-up canopy market in a public parking lot and persisted through its local economy’s transformation. The pavilions also serve as focal points for community events on non-market days within their respective municipalities.
In the counties surrounding Abingdon, the demise of the tobacco farming industry beginning in the 1980s severely jeopardized the livelihoods of residents. However, by the mid-1990s organic farmer Anthony Flaccavento was inspired by the idea of transforming the region’s tobacco-producing agricultural land into food-producing farms that would offer environmental sustainability and food security for the region. To accomplish this feat, he founded the grassroots nonprofit organization Appalachian Sustainable Development. In support of Flaccavento’s proposed land use conversion, then Director of Planning Al Bradley advocated for an open-air pavilion as a visible, permanent place for the farmers and other local food producers to sell their harvest and self-made products. Their efforts proved successful; Abingdon’s farmers market as it stands today remains a formidable force in the region’s local food network and sustainable agricultural economy.
Similar to Abingdon, Durham’s market resides in its current location at the Pavilion in Durham Central Park because of the demise of the tobacco industry—the pavilion sits on land that once warehoused tobacco when it was a driving force of the local economy. However, the Durham Farmers Market began as an extension of a local food co-op, which would set up pop-up canopies in the parking lot of the Durham Bulls baseball stadium. Today, the pavilion serves as an incubator for new businesses; it hosts the farmers market twice a week in addition to other events year-round.
Covington’s new open-air pavilion is a remarkable accomplishment of another sort. Local businessman Jacob Wright teamed up with architects Keith and Marie Zawistowski, who lead seventeen Virginia Tech architecture students to fundraise, design, and build the structure within a year. The new pavilion that now hosts the city’s farmers market sits alongside historic Route 60. Also known as the Midland Trail National Scenic Byway, the highway extends 315 miles from Charleston, West Virginia, to Hampton Roads, Virginia. The Covington Farmers Market’s ideal downtown location alongside the historic highway has helped it become a well-known destination for fresh, healthy food, and an anchor for community events and civic engagement.
The consistent presence of open-air pavilions is paramount to communities experiencing the ritual and fellowship gained at a farmers market. The story of these three cities’ markets proves how well open-air pavilions function as farmers markets and community gathering places. Notably, the design of each pavilion is as unique as the place and the ways in which the community embraces it. Discovering each pavilion’s impact beyond market day validated my understanding of their civic importance—whether full of activity on market day or almost vacant, they beckon passersby to engage.
I heard about Abingdon’s pavilion market several years ago from Jenny Schwanke, a vendor at my hometown market in Blacksburg. Although not an architect, she described Abingdon’s structure as though she were one, verbally painting a picture of its open-air, L-shaped, wood-frame pavilion with a dark green metal roof—highlighting its distinctive feature at the bend in the L-shape of the roof where a distinctive six-foot tall rooster weathervane rests on the peak of the double-height, hip-roofed segment. As part of its art initiative, the city’s leaders commissioned local blacksmith Bill Gable to craft the weathervane as a way to signify the pavilion’s primary identity with the city’s farmers market (see image 3.3).
With Jenny’s vivid description of Abingdon’s market lingering in my mind, I decided to pay a visit one spring Saturday morning. After the hour-and-a-half drive down I-81 South, I exited onto Cummings Street and approached the town from the south. As I crossed over railroad tracks, I spotted the rooster weathervane atop the pavilion on my left. A sea of people carrying bags overflowing with veggies streamed out of the end of the light-green-stained-wood pavilion and walked towards a vehicle-packed parking lot across Remsburg Drive. The pavilion sits a few feet below the street level at its entrance from Remsburg. I then spotted a pedestrian bridge close by and headed towards it on a wooden-planked path next to the railroad, hoping to get a view of the market in relation to the downtown. From my vantage point on the bridge, I could see the pavilion nestled downhill, a block from Main Street, which is lined with banks, restaurants, art galleries, shops, and the famous Barter Theater a few blocks from the Mary Washington Hotel (see image 3.4). I could also see that residential neighborhoods with high-quality houses bordered Main Street. The very fact that the pavilion is situated where people live, work, and conduct their daily or weekly activities is vital to its role in fostering community and civic identity through recurring and varied use throughout the year.
I then headed back to the market and entered from the railroad entrance. As I did so, I took note of its architecture and setup; vendor displays flanked both sides of the fifteen-foot-wide center aisle, and the cross-section of the pavilion looked to be about thirty-five feet (see image 3.5). One-foot-square columns spaced every twenty feet along the perimeter accommodated two vendor displays between columns. The pavilion hummed with conversation among shoppers and vendors. Each vendor displayed goods in unique ways that gave individual identity to each stall. To the left of the aisle stood one display with heaps of produce next to a table with only eggs, and across the aisle sat a table with tubs of salsa stacked as high as my shoulders, adjacent to a two-tiered display of wooden bowls and boards (see image 3.6). Some stalls had a sheer shade cloth behind their display draped like a curtain from a rod spanning between columns, while others had a banner with the farm name hung from the rod. The vendors’ personalized displays transformed the repetition and sameness of the stall dimensions and overall uninspired pavilion design, transmitting a balance of cohesiveness and quirkiness.
A flurry of activity at the bend in the “L” caught my attention, where a group of people stood around a table covered with t-shirts, tote bags, and a sign. All of these materials promoted the market’s acceptance of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), the federal government’s food assistance program for low-income citizens. The farmers market began accepting SNAP EBT in 2010 thanks to the pioneering efforts of Sara Cardinale, Abingdon’s market manager at the time (whom I would soon meet). Sara initiated a relationship with Appalachian Sustainable Development, which is qualified as an agent to distribute USDA-funded SNAP Double Value monies. In 2013 Tamera McNaughton, Agriculture Program Manager at ASD, reported that $10,000 was distributed to shoppers at seven farmers markets in the vicinity—Norton, Big Stone Gap, and Independence in Virginia and Greenville, Jonesborough, and Johnson County in Tennessee. Notably, Johnson County Farmers Market located in Mountain City has 33 percent of its residents receiving government assistance for food.2 At Abingdon Farmers Market in 2013, $5,300 was given out under the Double Dollar Program, which matches up to $10 per SNAP household each market day. When that number declined to $2,086 in 2014, ASD stepped up efforts to broaden awareness of the program as well as to assist in access to the market.3
Ed Davis, the man behind the table with the SNAP sign, smiled broadly when I told him of my research into various types of farmers markets as community gathering places. Ed’s description of his involvement with Abingdon’s market validated many of my conclusions regarding a farmers market’s vital role as a community gathering place. Ed, a professor at nearby Emory and Henry College, is a rural geographer whose research and outreach involve connections between agricultural sustainability, place-making, and meaning as they relate to farming and home gardens in the American Southeast. One of his comments, among others, that stuck out concerned the disparity between the wealthy lawyers who lived in the region due to its role as a county seat, and the struggling farmers due to the desmise of tobacco. He said the farmers market provided common ground where people of varying incomes could support the local economy and livelihood. We chatted for a bit and, realizing we had much to discuss regarding our mutual interests, exchanged contact information so I could resume exploring the vendors’ displays.
A bucolic image of cattle grazing on rolling hills with “Roffey Cattle Company” printed on a banner stretched between two columns caught my gaze. Behind a single, sparse table with a cooler below and plastic jar labeled “chicken raffle” on top stood a young man wearing a Ron Paul t-shirt and a cap: he introduced himself—Dwayne McIntyre, the farm manager. During conversation with Dwayne about raising cattle and farm life, I realized another dimension of community that selling at the market offers farmers like him: the balance of the independence that farming affords with the camaraderie that the market provides (the opportunity to meet the people who value what he creates). Dwayne talked about sitting among the herd each morning to inspect their health, describing how he observes the cattle to see if one may have a limp because (as he explained) thistles are tough on the cows’ hooves. He shrugged off the demands of twelve-hour workdays, six days a week; a new norm for him over the past few years in comparison to his eight-hour days as a commercial painter in Philly. He said, “painting was just a job, and not as fulfilling as farming,” which he extolled as the best way of life for him—one that lets him “create something while feeling part of a larger community.”4 Dwayne explained how selling at the farmers market allows him to befriend the people who eat and appreciate his products and make connections with people who share his interest in healthy food production.
Stepping back from Dwayne’s display, I felt a waft of warm air coming from the ceiling. I looked up and saw a row of a six swirling fans on either side of a continuous strip of fluorescent light fixtures running the entire length of each section of the pavilion—not visually appealing to me as an architect, but functional; the breeze comforted me on the hot, muggy day (see image 3.7). Suddenly, I heard the bellowing of a shopper’s voice, “What is a chicken raffle?!” as he gestured towards the plastic jar on Dwayne’s table. Dwayne’s explanation made me realize another impact of participating in the farming community. He explained that his farm has a stellar reputation for having the best-tasting chickens, and couldn’t keep up with demand, in part because they raise the chickens in small batches of fifty to a hundred with non-GMO (non-genetically modified organism) feed. He explained that the “chicken raffle” gives customers the chance to win a free chicken. The proceeds from the raffle go towards a new initiative that he and a few other farmers started called Appalachian Food Roots Cooperative. The co-op’s website allows farmers to post their inventory so that local restaurant chefs can purchase food for delivery to their restaurants. Through this process, Roffey supplies local restaurants with, for example, high-quality duck meat at a price below what food-supplier giant Sysco charges (due to their higher transportation costs). Dwayne remarked, “The co-op is another way the farmers market extends [a] sense of community and meaningful contribution to fresh, healthy, locally grown and produced food.”5
Just as I finished my conversation with Dwayne, Ed Davis approached me with a young woman whom he introduced as Sara Cardinale. Sara and I strolled through the market as she talked about details of her involvement in the market’s operations since 2009. She boasted that at the time the market hosted thirty-eight vendors—an amazing number given that Abingdon had a population of only 8,200 at that moment. In 2011 the market divided some spaces in half to accommodate the possibility of more vendors and diversity in products, a change that local farming and fresh food advocate Anthony Flaccavento had pushed for from the outset. We paused in front of Flaccavento’s stall display, an L-shaped configuration of tables draped with dark green cloths and covered with bowls of lettuce, spinach, and parsley among overflowing shallow trays and boxes of other produce. The two interns who stood in front of a banner printed with the farm name, Appalachian Organics, informed me that Anthony was in town that day, campaigning for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Unfortunately, he did not win the election.)
From Flaccavento’s stall, I observed the activity in a grassy, triangular park, where half a dozen vendors had set up ten-by-ten-foot pop-up canopies. The vendors had randomly placed their pop-up canopies without any spatial relationship to one another or the pavilion—the ad hoc displays were uninviting and had me turning back towards the orderly and appealing displays under the pavilion. The crowd inside the pavilion had thinned out as the market hours were close to ending, but one stall was still surrounded by people on all three sides. As shoppers left with their purchases, I glimpsed a handwritten sign reading “Mehl’s Bakery,” and trays of baked goods sparsely filled with varieties of breads, muffins, and cookies. As the crowd dissipated, I approached the man behind the display, who smiled and said, “I’m David Mehl. How may I help you?” Within a few minutes of conversation, I learned that David and his family had sold baked goods at Abingdon’s farmers market since 2004; they’d stayed with the market when it moved from the police department parking lot adjacent to the municipal building a few blocks away on Main Street.
From our brief chat, I realized that Mehl’s Bakery perfectly embodies Flaccavento’s vision of cultivating a homegrown economy for Abingdon based on the kind of local food production advocated by Appalachian Sustainable Development. Mehl’s Bakery demonstrates the power of a farmers market to strengthen relationships even within a family—the business began with David’s wife Kelli’s homemade scones and breads. Their daughter, Hannah, makes peasant breads (round breads with cheese or olives); their youngest son, Micah, makes several varieties of muffins; and their youngest daughter, Rachel, bakes cookies and sweet breads. Overhearing our conversation, twelve-year-old Rachel said, “My favorite cookie is ginger, and my favorite sweet bread is pineapple.” David pays each of his children by the number of batches sold each week; one recent week, he boasted that he had paid Rachel $150 (see image 3.8).
As the market closed at 2 p.m., the Mehl family began to pack up what few leftovers they had. I inquired about what they like or don’t like about coming to the market. David said, “I enjoy the social opportunity the market offers. On Tuesdays, the market is less busy, so I get to know the people in Abingdon’s community.”6 Hannah added, “It’s cool to get to know regulars like friends. They come to market, ask what I have been up to, and they really care.”7 David added that, without the market, he would not have come to know certain people he is glad to have met. I thanked them for their insights and their time. As vendors began to sweep the bare concrete floor, I headed for my car, thinking about the role that farmers markets play as incubators of start-up enterprises. They can be crucial in developing and sustaining multi-generational businesses as well as customers that evolve beyond mere agents of consumption.
The sense of community that Abingdon’s farmers market enables coupled with a desire for a permanent sheltered space for the farmers market moved former planning director Al Bradley to pursue the building of the pavilion. Until its completion in August 2007, Bradley said, “the market was like a band of gypsies moving from one parking lot to another, and the farmers had no identity within the town.”8 Shortly after retiring in 2004, Bradley approached Flaccavento and Garrett Jackson, the market’s new director of planning, about the necessity for a permanent home for the farmers market. Bradley suggested that Jackson think about the underused parking lot on Remsburg adjacent to the railroad tracks and the Virginia Creeper Trail (another public space that Bradley had worked to establish) (see image 3.9). At a meeting not long after his discussion with Bradley and Flaccavento, Jackson sketched a site plan for a market structure on a napkin and showed it to his colleague, a civil engineer at architectural firm Thompson & Litton. Jackson’s sketch blossomed into a design for a multi-use pavilion, including a small park.
Harry McKinney, an architect and former resident of Abingdon, created official documents for the proposed project, which Thompson & Litton presented to the city council in September of 2005. After a year of discussion, the project broke ground in late fall 2006 and the new structure opened in August 2007. The speedy realization of the project was in large part due to Flaccavento’s leadership in transforming tobacco farming to food production via Appalachian Sustainable Development, which provided access to $140,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Commission.9 This funding, together with Abingdon’s municipal leadership and citizens’ commitment and a financial contribution from Washington County’s Board of Supervisors, resulted in what Mayor Ed Morgan called:
Bradley echoes the mayor’s statement, saying, “I had worked for the city for twenty-five years and observed that most public projects were met with some level of opposition, but the new pavilion garnered accolades from everyone”11—“everyone” including farmers, customers, chefs, foodies, residents, and tourists—the whole community.
Durham’s farmers market, like Abingdon’s, came to fruition in part due to tobacco’s demise. Upon my initial visit in November 2012, I met local community advocate Allen Wilcox, who told me about one winter afternoon in 1994 when he and Dr. Curtis Eshelman discussed their dream to revitalize the once-thriving tobacco Warehouse District in downtown Durham. Wilcox and Eshelman had lived in the adjacent Trinity Park neighborhood with their families since the 1970s. Over the next half hour, Allen told me the multifaceted story of his engagement with Durham Central Park and how the Durham Farmers Market came to fruition there, in addition to the financial and civic improvements both have brought to the Warehouse District.
The Warehouse District in Durham had gone downhill since the mid-1990s, when the tobacco warehouses and allied businesses closed following the downturn of the tobacco industry resulting from successful lawsuits by several states. Together with Bill Kalkhof, executive director of Downtown Durham Inc., Wilcox and Eshelman garnered community support and, in 1995, organized a public planning charrette to envision ways to revitalize the area. Eshelman provided the funds necessary to seek professional expertise key to the success of the community workshop, which included three design teams comprised of architects, planners, and citizens. The various design proposals had one common component: an urban park that would provide “a place for public art, picnics, concerts, and community gatherings—a catalyst for the neighborhood, and a venue that would serve the whole city.”12 I particularly appreciate the “community gathering” part of the proposal’s description as necessary for the success of the area’s revitalization and as a symbiotic amenity for the farmers market.
During the period of public planning and the design directive outcome, the City of Durham initiated a bond referendum for civic infrastructure. Kalkhof was part of the group identifying the needs of the city and advocated for $1.3 million towards the purchase of the few remaining businesses and decrepit properties in the Warehouse District, which today comprise Durham Central Park (see image 3.10). It took twelve months of weekly meetings to purchase all twenty-seven parcels. Concurrently, Wilcox and Eshelman formed the nonprofit organization Durham Central Park Inc. to implement necessary operations and oversight, which includes developing the park, securing local businesses and nonprofit organizations to adopt sections of the park, and directing hundreds of volunteers who come out for workdays to maintain and improve the park.13
Since the completion of the pavilion in 2007, it’s been used for weddings, summer movies on the lawn, and free concerts throughout the year. Despite its multifunctional use, however, the structure’s primary identity comes from the Durham Farmers Market, where vendors sell locally grown and produced foods from April through October on Wednesdays, and year-round on Saturdays. The farmers market arose from a group of local citizens who advocated for fresh, healthy food, particularly food that is regionally sourced. Elizabeth Gibbs, one of the citizens involved in the market’s formation, asked local food co-op owner Christine Westfall to assist her in finding farmers to constitute a seasonal market. Shortly thereafter, from June to September in 1999, about a half-dozen farmers set up in the parking lot adjacent to the former Durham Bulls baseball field. While the market had committed vendors, Elizabeth saw the need for more formal organization—throughout the winter, she and a few others collaborated to write rules and regulations for the next season. They also continued to recruit farmers and other local food vendors, and Elizabeth served as market manager from 2000 through 2005.14 Another civic activist for fresh, local food access and a key supporter of the farmers market, Brenda Brodie, cofounded with Annice Kenan the nonprofit South Eastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Spaces (SEEDS) in 1994. SEEDS has occupied a stall at the farmers market since 2000, where they promote their “vision of transforming neighborhoods and lives through gardening,” a vision that has grown to include “community gardening plots, an outdoor classroom, a greenhouse, environmental education exhibits, and a display of ornamental and edible plants.”15
Increasing access to fresh local food within the community has a long, bountiful history at the Durham Farmers Market and most recently expanded its impact through local nonprofit Farmer Foodshare, which collects 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of donated food from the farmers market at its Donation Station each year, which is then distributed to those in need through Iglesia Emanuel food pantry not far from the market. And in April 2014 the farmers market began accepting SNAP and offered Double Bucks up to $10 for each visit beginning in July the same year. As of mid-May 2019, the program has disbursed $75,000 through the program since its beginning.16
A multitude of shoppers came to the market from the outset and the number of vendors steadily grew; however, after a few years, the baseball parking lot presented too many difficulties; in particular, intermittently locked gates on Saturday mornings. Fortunately, a nearby company, Measurement Inc., learned of the situation and offered its parking lot; the farmers market, at that time with forty vendors, moved. Around the same time, Durham Central Park was taking shape, specifically the siting and design of a pavilion. From the beginning, Elizabeth Gibbs participated in Durham Central Park’s meetings, in which she advocated for a permanent home for the farmers market under the new structure (see image 3.11). In the spring of 2007, the Durham Farmers Market moved to the pavilion, where it has gained presence and stature in the community in numerous ways, particularly through offering a better understanding of the culture of food and the necessity to change our food systems.
Architect Ellen Cassilly, a Durham Central Park board member and longtime patron of the farmers market, designed the pavilion at her office just a few blocks away from its proposed location. Ellen had been given the handful of designs that came out of the public planning process, which included representations from Durham Central Park, the Durham Farmers Market, and city staff. In collaboration with landscape architecture firm Coulter Jewell Thames, PA, she combined the multiple sketches into one cohesive design that accommodated the diverse wishes and needs of all involved.
I met Ellen during my first visit to the market in 2012. As we strolled under the structure, she pointed out various features of the pavilion, including the clerestory that allows sunlight through the peak of its roof. We settled on a bench in the Grace Garden adjacent to the structure. Curious, I asked why the pavilion was so tall. Ellen said that the farmers had requested room in the pavilion for a twelve-foot-tall van, but she did not want the structure to obstruct the view from above the park or from below to the three gardens located in the wooded area on the northwestern boundary of the park (see image 3.12). The pavilion sits on relatively flat land, but just behind it sits a short but steep hill rising about fifteen to twenty feet before leveling out for Grace Garden. From our vantage point, I understood her explanation for the pavilion’s height; I could see the market activity under the structure, but also across Foster Street to the rest of the park.
That day, the farmers market buzzed with the activity of more than fifty producer-only vendors: thirty under the pavilion; a dozen pop-up canopies along one block of Foster Street; and another dozen along the northern edge, facing a grassy area with seating under a few trees. The market opened at eight in the morning, but around nine, flocks of families piled out of their minivans and SUVs in the parking lot at the southeast corner of Foster and Hunt streets and strolled towards the structure with empty tote bags draped over their shoulders or the back of strollers. At the entrance on Foster Street, the pavilion’s red steel columns and green metal roof are striking. The proportions are grand in scale for a pavilion; it measures about twenty-five feet tall and forty feet wide (see image 3.13). Once underneath the structure, slender wooden trusses spaced every two feet create the effect of a ceiling while allowing sunlight to shine through clerestory openings onto the concrete floor. The stalls are more spread out than in other markets I have visited; most have twelve to twenty-five feet of frontage. The center aisle, a spacious twenty-feet wide, allows a large number of people to shop without feeling too crowded.
Upon walking into the pavilion, I noticed two young girls standing behind an array of vegetables. Their unique display had two tables placed at almost ninety degrees to each other, creating a wide “V.” Baskets of different shapes and sizes, full of sweet peppers, green tomatoes, and bags of spinach, covered the tables, with eggplants and yams spread out in front (see image 3.14). One of the girls proudly offered, “We’ve grown everything that’s for sale.” I picked up a flyer lying next to the weighing scale, which explained that the girls were part of a community garden and educational program offered by SEEDS. In 2000 SEEDS had created DIG (Durham Intercity Gardeners), a youth-driven entrepreneurial initiative in which teenagers grow produce, herbs, and flowers to sell at the Durham Farmers Market.17 After completion of the pavilion at Durham Central Park, in addition to having a stand at the market, SEEDS established a community garden, the “Garden of Eatin’,” on the southwest side of the pavilion. SEEDS, in collaboration with volunteer organizations, designs, plants, and maintains their own section of the garden; however, the “Garden of Eatin’” is a “free-pick, public edible garden.”18 The accomplishments of SEEDS in conjunction with the farmers market validate my belief in the role of place and the ritual it supports in building community. This reminds me of Lucy Lippard’s statement about place being “replete with human histories and memories. It is about connections, what surrounds it, what formed it, what happened there, what will happen there.”19
I continued exploring the market displays, stopping at the bend in the L-shape configuration to admire a two-tiered display overflowing with bundles of pink, white, red, and purple radishes above dozens of heads of red and green lettuces. Behind the display, farmers Alice and Stuart White busily served customers eager to purchase the glistening goods grown on the Whites’ farm, Bluebird Meadows (see image 3.15). The Whites started selling a wide variety of vegetables, flowers, and small fruits at Durham’s market when it existed only as a few pop-up canopies set up in a parking lot. In its previous form, Stuart observed, the market “was a wide-open space where you could go around…without touching anyone else.”20 However, he added:
Alice pointed out another benefit the market offers; she says, “Many of our customers have become our good friends. We’ve been to lots of social outings with our customers; there is no line between customer and friends sometimes.”22 Stuart and Alice use organic and sustainable practices to cultivate “six separate fields, each with lots of character [and] slightly different soils and micro-climates” on their fifteen acres of rolling hills in Bushy Fork.23
Alice views the growth of the Durham Farmers Market and small farms in the surrounding area as having a significant beneficial impact on the community. She believes that, through farming and selling at the market, vendors are able to educate people “to be in touch with the community about food, the culture of food.”24 She adds, “The next step in our local area is to be able to turn the vision—instead of just focusing on CSAs and farmers markets—[into] some kind of movement towards getting [local, fresh, healthy food] into the local schools and hospitals.”25 It is clear from Alice’s comments that Durham’s farmers market has real potential to foster community beyond the city itself. Its influence could reach the wider Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Triangle region and potentially create a network that crosses state boundaries and affects public entities like hospitals and schools.
Across from Bluebird Meadows’ stall, I found the market information table, where I met the enthusiastic and energetic Erin Kauffman, in her sixth year as market manager at the time. Erin is employed by Durham Farmers’ Market board, which has an agreement with Durham Central Park’s board for its operation. Of her position, Erin said, “I like my job because I meet interesting people, but it can be draining with all the different personalities.”26 She explained that farmers typically have strong dispositions, which is why they succeed at farming and why Durham’s market has grown steadily since moving to the pavilion. In its first year at its new location, the number of customers doubled, which led to much more community engagement and activity at the market. Erin told me that the farmers market’s association with the pavilion and the market’s increasing promotion of healthy eating prompted Durham Herald Sun editor Bob Ashley to invite her to write a weekly column about goings-on at the market. Erin believes that on non-market days, the presence of the structure alone reminds locals to visit the market on Wednesdays and Saturdays to shop for fresh, local food. Ellen Cassilly concurs about the influence a building can inspire simply with its physical presence, even in the absence of designated activity. She knows this effect from direct experience; her architecture office is located a block from the pavilion. Ellen says:
Tim MacAller of Four Leaf Farm also credits the pavilion with substantial community impact in multiple ways (see image 3.16). He and his wife Helga, who have sold at Durham’s Central Park market since 2000, experienced the improvement first-hand. He says:
Tim and Helga enjoy selling at the market “because it gives them direct contact with others who share their love of food and gardening.”29 In conversation with Tim about other benefits of the farmers market, he said:
On my first visit to Four Leaf Farm’s stall, the grouping of flowers and vegetables reminded me of props for a still-life painting. A few cantaloupes, a lone dark green acorn squash, and a basket of striped delicata squash surrounded a half-dozen deep yellow sunflowers in a French garden vase. On my next visit, the vase held peach-colored dahlias, the baskets were full of curly lettuces and multiple colors of sweet peppers, and a flat of purple and white pansies took the place of the squash. These memorable displays express the varied efforts of Helga and Tim MacAller, who cultivate one acre for “sustainable crops by following organic practices that produce healthy food full of flavor and nutrients.”31 Their farm also has an ornamental garden, a unique place with a diversity of flowers and foliage that especially thrive in North Carolina’s Piedmont region.
Talking with Tim, I am reminded of the crucial role the vendors play in building community. When asked why he served on the farmers market’s board of directors, Tim explained:
Thanks to Tim and other vendors and community members like him, the Durham Farmers Market was born out of community action, and by continuous and expanded citizen engagement has become stronger in its substantial positive impact on the livelihood and prosperity of residents and farmers alike.
In recognition of the contribution the pavilion has made to the community, architect Ellen Cassilly was given the 2007 Golden Leaf Award for Community Appearance from the Durham City-County Appearance Commission. The pavilion was also ranked #13 out of 101 in the 2015 nationwide poll, “101 Best Farmers Markets in America” by The Daily Meal, and remains in the top 101 today.33
When I first drove into Covington along Main Street from I-64, the scale of the buildings and development appeared similar to many charming small railroad towns located along the railroads that wind their way through the mountains of western Virginia. Two- and three-story late-nineteenth-century brick buildings with shops and businesses flanked a tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly street. Covington sits about 60 miles north of Roanoke in rural Alleghany County. It is officially a city, although according to the last census, in 2010, the population was just under 6,000 people. When I arrived at the new farmers market pavilion in the center of town, I was struck by the sight of the enormous Mead Westvaco facility in the background at the northwestern edge of downtown, just across the Jackson River. The stark contrast between these two structures speaks to the industrial and agrarian roots of Covington, while simultaneously suggesting at least some measure of coexistence in the new century (see image 3.17).
Completed in 2011, the open-air pavilion and adjacent linear park came about thanks to the vision and leadership of Jacob Wright, a seventh-generation Covington resident, along with Keith and Marie Zawistowski, then Virginia Tech architecture professors. The definitively modern and minimalist pavilion is the result of numerous hours of research, design development, and hands-on labor by seventeen third-year Virginia Tech students studying architecture while participating in the Zawistowskis’ design/buildLAB. According to Keith and Marie:
Fortunately, many kindred spirits in town have joined Jacob, Keith, Marie, and the students in this endeavor. The proactive and philanthropic Alleghany Foundation was pivotal to the realization of the pavilion; in 2010, it awarded a $119,000 grant towards the construction costs.35 Another key supporter was the Alleghany Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, which “strives to enhance the extraordinary quality of life for its residents and the exceptional range of opportunities for visitors by fostering a healthy business environment and promoting economic growth.”36 Executive Director Teresa Hammond observes, “more people visit the market since the structure was completed in 2011. More are aware of the benefits of eating healthy and the importance of supporting local farmers.”37 The Alleghany Highlands Chamber has a relatively new initiative called “Don’t Roam, Shop Home,” which aims to support all local businesses in towns within the chamber’s boundary. Another new initiative, more directly aimed to establish the Covington Farmers Market pavilion as a community gathering place, is a series of chamber-sponsored events called “Rock the Block”; on one Friday evening each month in the summer and fall, local musicians play under the pavilion while onlookers enjoy from the adjacent grassy park. Hammond also leads efforts to attain grants advocating for the portion of Route 60 known as the Midland Trail to obtain “Scenic Byway” status in the Alleghany Highlands region (see image 3.18). The trail crosses Main Street at the intersection where the farmers market is located. The broad-based community strongly supported Covington’s new market pavilion from the beginning of Jacob’s vision to its completion, and community involvement remains steadfast today through these like-minded affiliations.
Jacob’s involvement with the farmers market began following his father’s death, when he moved to the family farm and dreamt of self-sufficiently growing his own food while also selling at a local farmers market. At the time, he didn’t think Covington had a visually appealing location that would allow for a successful market. In 2009 Covington’s farmers market existed as a group of ad hoc vendors setting up temporary pop-up canopies on Saturdays in a parking lot with limited visibility at the public library. This undesirable and likely economically unfeasible situation led Jacob and a friend to conceive a very simple structure for a more effective farmers market, which he proposed to City Council. They suggested the market move downtown to the highly visible corner of Main and Monroe Streets; City Council agreed and moved ahead to acquire the land, at the time owned by Mead Westvaco, who agreed to a land swap (see image 3.19). Jacob’s streak of good fortune continued; he then met Keith and Marie.
Jacob met the Zawistowskis while serving as a board member for the renovation of the Masonic Theater in nearby Clifton Forge. One day after a meeting he shared with Keith and Marie his vision and progress towards realization of a farmers market for Covington. To Jacob’s surprise, they immediately proposed the prospect of working with Virginia Tech (VT) students who would design and build the structure. Of the chance meeting and collaboration, Jacob says:
Keith and Marie established design/buildLAB in 2008 based on their own experience designing and building projects in rural communities as participants of Auburn University’s Rural Studio program. They met as students participating in the nationally acclaimed architectural design/build program, at the time directed by Samuel Mockbee. Keith and Marie conceived their new hands-on enterprise as
This “charitable in nature” aspect of the Covington Farmers Market was not at all typical of most charitable arrangements. In many communities, new buildings come about as a result of collaborations between private companies and the local government. In this case, however, the students envisioned, designed, and presented everything. Their professionalism, enthusiasm, and charm won over the hearts of the community, such that when it came time for assembling the prefab components of the pavilion, residents housed and fed students in their homes for three weeks. One of the project’s early supporters, Martha Nicholson, recalls welcoming the students as if they were her own children visiting for a few weeks. (Her daughter Jennifer had graduated from VT’s School of Architecture + Design in 2005.) Martha now serves as part of the steering committee that oversees market operations. On many Saturdays she spends time at the market in the morning offering coffee to shoppers to encourage informal gathering and conversation. Facilitating face-to-face interaction is an essential part of the farmers market’s mission statement: “To promote the sale of local products, to provide an educational forum for consumers and vendors, and to enhance the quality of life in the area by providing a community activity that fosters social gathering and networking.”40
The Covington Farmers Market Steering Committee is a subcommittee of Olde Town Covington, a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to revitalize downtown, specifically Main Street. According to the market’s website, the steering committee is comprised of a “volunteer group of citizens who support the Covington Farmers Market and the local community by providing educational programming to vendors and our community, applying for grant funding, and planning special events that further enhance the Covington Farmers Market and our area.”41 Not surprisingly, Jacob, Teresa, and Martha served as charter members along with Nicki Wolfe of the market’s steering committee. Today the committee includes Virginia Tech extension faculty Christine Hodges, Jacob and Martha. Their responsibilities include market operations and the oversight of a market manager. Martha explains that the committee hopes to keep the market’s momentum going, noting that “since the structure was built, sales have increased, there is a different clientele, and there are new vendors.”42
Baked goods vendor Patsy McKinney welcomes the new customers that the new (2011) structure has brought to the market. She began selling at Covington’s farmers market in 2008 when she retired at age 71, and fondly recalls when her parents took eggs and butter to sell at the farmers market many years ago. While Patsy admits that her baking requires a lot of work, she says that she loves everything about the market and considers the vendors and shoppers as part of her family. Patsy’s bountiful display of fresh baked goods perfectly conveys her positive sentiments—they look like the dessert table at a family’s holiday gathering. Two tables covered with elegant cloths under an array of cakes, pies, and preserves hold an eye-catching feature cake of the day, which sits in the middle on a doily-covered stand. Patty clearly takes pride in her market stand; with a broad smile, she tells me that her best-selling pies are pumpkin and custard, and that when berries are in season, she sells ten to twelve gallons of berries each market day. When asked about the new structure, she says, “It is mighty nice. Underneath it provides a good breeze on hot sunny days, and rain is no longer a problem. Having a bathroom is also welcome”43 (see image 3.20).
Set back thirty feet from Monroe Street, the pavilion provides the backdrop for a grassy, tree-lined linear park fronting the street. Both the park and pavilion extend half the length of the 320-foot block from Main Street towards Riverside Street. According to Keith and Marie, “At the scale of the town, the pavilion reads as a seamless gesture, but at the scale of the person, the details express the modular construction.”44 During one of my visits to the market, I noticed a particularly clever illustration of the pavilion’s ten-foot (height) module: a four-inch-wide recessed black channel runs along the ceiling, contrasting the smooth wood and concealing simple linear LED strip light fixtures (see image 3.21). To my delight, the streaks of light shine through the ceiling at nighttime and give the pavilion a presence that invites community gathering even after dark.
Keith and Marie’s students conceptualized the project in three parts (which helped to organize the construction): (1) the pavilion roof and ceiling, including a rainwater-capturing feature; (2) the ground plane, including the pavilion floor and surrounding landscape; and (3) the occupied space, including the vendors’ selling space, bathrooms, and the manager’s office.45 The rainwater-capturing feature carries the water into a cistern below the floor and irrigates the park’s grass and trees, as well as serving the bathroom’s needs.
The geometrically shaped ceiling/roof has turned into an icon of the pavilion’s identity, as this distinctive sculptural component appears to hover over the building. Fifteen modules, each ten by thirty feet, comprise the 150-foot-long roof and ceiling (see image 3.22). Using a 3D computer model, students calculated various angles for each of the diamond-shaped trusses to fabricate each one. The roof is sheathed in galvanized steel from a mill in nearby Follansbee, West Virginia, and the ceiling is heartwood pine that Keith, Marie, and the students reclaimed from a warehouse in Clifton Forge.
The black locust wood floor is comprised of thirty ten- by fifteen-foot modules, such that there is a negligible seam down the middle. The manager’s office and bathroom units are each ten-foot cubes. Students constructed all the modules in Blacksburg at a facility owned by Virginia Tech over the course of ten weeks. As they worked on the modules, Jen-Fab, a local steel shop that predominantly services Mead Westvaco’s paper mill, fabricated the steel columns using drawings the students had made. During this time, the general contractor prepared the site by connecting the utilities and constructing the foundations of the pavilion. Once all of the modules were complete, they were transported to the site over a couple of days, and within a week placed into position using a crane and the students’ muscle. The pavilion’s construction represents another parallel to agrarian sensibilities, as the assembly method resembled traditional barn-raising. This congruent process that incorporates prefabrication has an advantage over conventional construction, which occurs sequentially and usually over a much longer period of time. The components and final pavilion were completed in sixteen weeks. This incredible feat depended on the interconnectedness and resolve of Covington’s public, which again illustrates a farmers market’s ability to enrich a community’s way of life.
The model of education combined with design and construction, and the extraordinarily beautiful outcome, drew considerable local, regional, and national attention in publications, particularly online. The entire story was featured on Arch Daily and Architect magazine, and the state chapter of the American Institute of Architects gave it an Honor Award for Excellence in Architecture just a few months after it was completed in 2011.46
The three open-air pavilion markets featured in this chapter—in Abingdon and Covington, VA, and Durham, NC—serve a unique role in their communities as gathering places on market days and various other civic events on non-market days. In this sense, open-air pavilions have the capacity to assist in economic development in ways that are quite distinct from the other market types (heritage building and pop-up canopy) discussed in this book. Harrisonburg, Virginia’s new downtown pavilion, completed in 2008, offers yet another example of the manifold benefits this building type offers communities as a home to a farmers market and other recurrent activities and festivities. Harrisonburg Market Manager Josie Showalter says:
Josie says that one of the biggest surprises, and benefits, of the market in Harrisonburg is that she doesn’t see as many people texting each other as she typically does in restaurants. People look each other in the face and have animated conversations. Market day is often the premier social event of the week, where people drink coffee, hang out, and talk before or after they’ve done their shopping.48
The benefits to civic life that an open-air pavilion farmers market can bring are summed up in a statement on the website for the farmers market in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It boasts that its Historic Downtown Farmers Market “has become a ‘front porch’ of sorts for many Hot Springs residents and visitors who gather, visit, sip coffee, and savor the live local music on Saturday mornings in addition to doing their weekly produce shopping.”49 The analogy of a farmers market to an architectural element of a building reinforces my premise of community gathering places that successful farmers markets become. The “front porch” is a place of interaction at the human scale.