It’s me and Tina, the fake plastic fish, after lying awake for hours Saturday night, stumbling out of bed at 6am, and lugging a card table and folding chair on a mini hand truck half a mile down the street to the Temescal Farmer’s Market. We are located in a great spot in the “free speech” area where shoppers enter and exit the market. We have our table set up and photos displayed. We are psyched and ready to go! Well, I am. Tina is just hanging out, which isn’t much different from what real fish do.
As it turned out, I didn’t need the chair. I spent the entire four hours on my feet handing out “Don’t Think About A Plastic Bag” flyers as folks passed by, with a friendly, “Can I give you some information about plastic?” As I expected, the reactions were mixed: some took the flyer politely; others outright refused or looked away; a few started to walk away until they heard the word “plastic” and then actually turned around and came back, clearly relieved that I didn’t want their money or their immortal souls.
I had a great conversation with Bianca, the farmer’s market manager’s daughter, who was there selling imprinted canvas bags. She said that they’d already been looking into alternative produce bags and other types of containers for the vendors to use from a company in Palo Alto called World Centric and that my e-mail had spurred them to act a little faster.
And in fact, I did notice that one of the vendors, Milk Bubbles fresh-churned ice cream, was already using biodegradable bowls and spoons that they purchased from Excellent Packaging & Supply, a small Richmond, CA company. The next time I’m at the farmer’s market, I’ll have to survey the other prepared food vendors and see if anyone else has made the switch to biodegradable.
Anyway, back at the table, I started out my activist day a little bit apprehensive and nervous. See, back in the late 80’s, I worked as a door-to-door canvasser for Clean Water Action. In addition to fundraising, my job was supposedly to educate the public and organize letter-writing campaigns. Over time, I became a little disillusioned with the whole canvassing deal, as I realized that while education and activism were important, my ability to fundraise determined whether or not I kept my job.
But this farmer’s market action was going to be different. No pressure. I was there voluntarily and could spend as much time talking and really listening to people as I wanted. No one was going to count the number of flyers I gave out. No one was going to judge the effectiveness of my “rap.” I was situated in a pleasant, shady spot on a beautiful day, and I was just going to have fun. And as a result, I did have some great interactions with people. Here is a list of some of the more memorable ones:
- One woman stopped when I handed her the flyer to show me her reusable canvas bag she’d brought with her, only to realize with dismay that she’d left her plastic produce bags in the car. “Just because of you, I’m going to go back and get them,” she sighed. And she turned around and did just that.
- Another woman welled up with tears as she fumed about how Green Peace had been trying to tell people about the problems with plastic for decades and how no one would listen. She walked away clearly upset, but when she passed me again on her way out, she proudly showed me all her plastic-free purchases and said she was glad to have the reminder.
- An artist was intrigued by Tina and wanted to know exactly how I’d made her. She then went on to tell me about a beautiful wall-hanging made of plastic bags in Berkeley’s Downtown Restaurant and also a web site called the Women Environmental Artist Directory.
- A woman with a woven African basket explained why it was far superior to a canvas bag because the produce does not get squashed together in it, creating less need for additional produce bags. I had actually found my own basket at Goodwill the day before and set it on the table, but hers had a much better handle.
- A gorgeously tattooed woman answered my questions about permaculture and recommended that I purchase Jessica Prentice’s Local Foods Wheel so that I’d easily know which foods were in season in the Bay Area before shopping.
- A woman whose business is selling and installing solar panels chatted with me for about half an hour about everything from plastic water bottles in India to McMansions in Blackhawk.
- I also met one of the readers of this blog, Aurora, who is a design student and has started making repurposed cloth shopping bags as an alternative to plastic.
To each person who spent time sharing information with me, I gave a card with the URL of this blog and my e-mail address. I was sparing with those, taking care to give them out only to people with whom I’d made a real connection.
Towards the end of the day, I had one ridiculous lapse in judgment that makes me simultaneously laugh and groan each time I think of it. I’d brought back a green plastic strawberry basket to return to the strawberry vendor, and a couple of little kids saw it in my bag. They were very cute as they asked if they could have it. They wanted to play with it, to make it into a boat. “Sure,” I said, my head full of visions of children playing and being creative with household objects.
It wasn’t until they’d run away down to the creek to play that I realized I’d just given some children plastic to put into our waterway! There I was with a table full of photos of sea birds, turtles, and seals chocking on plastic, and instead of explaining to them why we need to keep plastic out of the water and suggesting they find something more biodegradable for their boat (like the huge piece of eucalyptus bark that fell off the tree while we were standing there), I handed them plastic to put in the creek. So I guess that was a learning experience for me!
Maybe it was low blood sugar. The time was approaching 1pm, and Michael showed up to help me lug everything home, where I ate some food and then collapsed on the couch for a welcome nap. I hadn’t needed a big organization behind me. I hadn’t even needed a chair. Just myself and the desire to go out and interact with people. And Tina helped just a little bit.