By Fadila Chater
Windsor, N.S. — Just when it seemed summer was upon us, cold spring rain made a roaring return on Sunday as vendors at Avon Community Farmers’ Market set up shop at Victoria Park in Windsor.
But the heavy showers didn’t put a damper on what vendors would call the beginning of summer at the seasonal market, which runs from June to October, rain or shine.
With live music, sweet treats, coffee and artisanal goods, the market was hard to miss. And it got the attention of dozens of locals, including Deputy Mayor Laurie Murley, who stopped by to stock up on fresh greens.
“We have lovely music here today, which makes it a celebratory atmosphere,” said Murley. “You can see the smiles on people’s faces. They’re greeting each other and people are happy to be here. That’s what community is.”
Dozens of people weaved in and out of kiosks – children, dogs and even a parrot in tow – picking up fresh, local produce from Manning Family Farm, wool creations from Doris Benedict’s Wool-a-Fibres and savoury samosas from Shivani’s Kitchen.
“We like small communities,” said Abhishek Asthana of Shivani’s Kitchen. “The feeling that everyone knows each other is really cool and that’s what makes us come again.”
Asthana and his family are originally from India, which boasts one of the largest human populations in the world. Now they live in Halifax, but are excited to make trips to Windsor since coming to the market last summer.
“What makes a community happy is being open to outsiders,” he said. “This community has opened its doors to let us into the market and supporting us by buying our food.”
There is no shortage of support when it comes to local businesses in the West Hants area. Brenda Bailey from Meander River Farm and Brewery says her family’s beer, cider and lavender business was a community effort from the very beginning.
“The neighbours all showed up with their tool belts and it was like a good old fashioned barn-raising,” Bailey said.
Replacing the fallen community centre in Ashdale, Nova Scotia, Bailey’s family farm and brewery quickly became the new community hub.
“We introduce people who probably don’t even know each other, even though they might just live down the road from each other,” she said. “We call it our ‘habitat for brew-manity.’”
Happiness is contagious, Bailey says. All it takes is for a few people to get together and do something positive in their community, their neighbours take note and the domino effect begins.
“Sometimes people see there’s this umbrella thing happening and they want to be one of those ribs in the umbrella,” Bailey said above the sound of rain pattering overhead. “And that’s made a big difference in our community.”
The Happy Community Project helped bring back the Windsor-area market back from the brink last June after it lie dormant for a year.
The Happy Community Project hosts other community building events including a kitchen party, community gardens, Movies in the Park every Friday in July and August, Ellershouse Breakfast June 29 and a Welcome Newcomers June 11 event. It’s all part of the group’s effort to strengthen the wider community of West Hants to become self-reliant, resilient and accountable for each other.
As the rain began to pour, people made their way to the Windsor Community Centre for the Greatest Patchwork Picnic Ever, an annual picnic that brought about 300 people last year.
Tea and coffee warmed people’s spirits as children and their parents played games, sang along with the John Geddes Band and mingled with friends.
Janice and Brad Dorman brought their own lunch to the picnic and sat with their daughters Nora and Audrey.
“It’s better than sitting at home in front of the television,” Brad said.
“I think it’s excellent,” Janice said. “There was not a lot to encourage people to take part before this happened. And it just seems like the town itself is having a little bit of a resurgence. And people are a little bit more proud of what’s here and what’s to offer.”
The Dormans met at St. Francis Xavier University. They decided after the birth of their first daughter to move to the valley, which was closer to friends and family.
Brad didn’t think he’d ever come back to his hometown, but he’s glad he did.
“We are giving our children a childhood not dissimilar to what we had,” he said, “They can roam in the back yard and they can come down and buy something made in town.”
Building a peaceful and brighter future for the children is just what Sharmay Beals-Wentzel and Glenn Wentzell hope for in their home of Three Mile Plains.
The couple decided to be more engaged in their community last year by joining the Happy Community Project core team.
At the picnic, Glenn said he’s noticed a difference in youth from Windsor and West Hants getting along with each other.
“In the past it was ‘they are Windsor and we are West Hants,’” Glenn said, taking a break from serving buttery popcorn to picnic-goers in the community centre. “It’s important because they are the future and if there is a division at this age, what’s it going to be like when they are our age?”
For Glenn and Sharmay, the Happy Community Project brings sometimes-rival neighbours together.
“No matter what your race or your culture is, it’s important you know something about somebody,” Sharmay said.
When it comes to what the Happy Community Project has done in West Hants, and what it can do in other communities, Glenn says the rest of the world should “come see it for yourself.”
Sunday’s events are a testament to just how strong Windsor and West Hants have become since the Happy Community Project’s formation. Despite the rain and wind, people young and old decided to come together to bring about a sunnier future for their families.