What if ... What if families from neighborhoods near downtown walked together to shop for fresh, local food?
What if the solution for a more walkable downtown was something simple, inexpensive, and created from the collective wisdom of Moms?
In 2011, I was a new Mom working every Saturday at the Downtown Bradenton Farmers' Market. I welcomed people who stopped by the Info Booth, answered their questions, and shared everything there is to LOVE about downtown Bradenton. On Mother's Day of that year, I was inspired to create the "Market Mamas" group.
On the Market Saturday before Mother's Day, I handed out pink carnations to all the Moms I could find at the Market and invited them to join the "Market Mamas" list. We corresponded via e-mail and Realize Bradenton asked us to help plan family activities for the following season. It was fun, enlightening, and the start of some great friendships. When my second child was born at the end of the 2012 season, I had to step away from the "Market Mamas" project.
Fast forward to 2016. The other day, my daughters and I were visiting friends in Bradenton's Village of the Arts (VOTA) when I got the idea to walk to the Downtown Bradenton Farmers' Market. Now my children are three- and five-years old, so I thought: "No problem, it's less than a mile ... we got this."
Well, the reality was much less walkable than my imagination.
Looking both ways, check!
But there was one street that might as well have been an interstate highway - four lanes of traffic, no cross walks and no middle lane. We were patient and waited a long time to find a safe opportunity to cross, but I kept wondering: "What could make this road easier to cross?"
So this weekend, I was thinking about the Emerging City Champions, my beloved Market, my adorable but sometimes rambunctious children, my friends in VOTA, all of the Mamas who live so close yet so far in terms of walkability ... And then I remembered "walking school buses."
Walking school buses are a simple concept where families who live close to a school walk together with their children - safety in numbers! What if we could organize walking market buses? Could we identify walking bus stops in the Village? What if we recruited some volunteer "bus drivers" and crossing guards to help Mamas and their little ones cross the big street?
My hope is that we - my Mama friends in VOTA, the Farmers' Market, Realize Bradenton, and my family - can come together around solutions that get people out of their homes and enjoying the city without needing a car. (Seriously, have you tried to get multiple young children under the age of 5 into a car on a Saturday morning to shop for food? It's a circus). Maybe the walking bus is it, maybe the wisdom of the group surfaces better solutions.
Again with the daydreaming ... I imagine replicating the fun and camaraderie I experienced with the first round of "Market Mamas," only multiplied, so that many other Mamas can experience it too! I imagine a line of red shopping wagons stretching from walk-to-town neighborhoods into downtown every Saturday.
I imagine moms who normally stress over their budgets relieved that their SNAP money goes further at the Market with "double SNAP" bucks (hopefully!) starting next season (maybe we can finally get our kids to eat more veggies!). I imagine Mamas as our "Foodie at the Market," showing off their favorite recipes while their kids help.
But most of all, I imagine welcoming these families more completely into the downtown fabric with simple but powerful acts of connection like walking together, planning meals, watching over children, enjoying our city, and sharing food.
A daydream, maybe. Hopefully it can be a reality one day soon. Anyone want to help?
When Catherine Ferrer is not salsa dancing, re-filling her kids' juice cups or planning a PopUp event, she likes to daydream ways to make downtown Bradenton more vibrant, walkable, and awesomely enjoyable for people of all ages and abilities.