The community in which I live is in the news too often. A year and a half ago, a tornado passed through my suburban St. Louis County neighborhood, sparing my home but seriously damaging homes half a mile from me. My husband and I got calls and texts from concerned friends and family who lived out of state and had seen the news. We reassured everyone that we were okay and that our house was still standing. This week, we’ve been getting texts and Facebook messages once again, asking “How close are you to the riots?” That’s because we live only a few miles from Ferguson Missouri.
One week ago, an 18-year-old black male was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson. The teen was unarmed. Police reported he struggled to grab the officer’s gun, but witness accounts differ. Crowds gathered to protest, and the situation devolved into violent rioting and looting during the night, culminating with the burning of a QuikTrip convenience store. The disturbances have not spread beyond a very localized area, but as the investigation continues, the situation remains volatile in North St. Louis County.
I remarked to my husband the other night that I would not have expected this type of unrest and violence to happen in Ferguson Missouri. St. Louis City proper has its rougher areas, where poverty and urban blight are real problems and incidents of gun violence regularly make the local news. East St. Louis on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River also makes the local news for the same reasons.
|Birthday cake sculptures celebrating St. Louis’ 250th anniversary currently are visible at landmarks around the region, including this cake at Ferguson’s Citywalk.|
But Ferguson Missouri?
I could not have predicted this would happen here. It’s an old community established in the mid 1800s. During the past few decades it has experienced a lot of “white flight,” precipitated by African-Americans moving up from the city in search of a better life. Today it is a vibrant, diverse area with a core of good middle-to-working class citizens who are committed to promoting business and culture. The good things in this community were extensively highlighted only a few months ago during an In Your Neighborhood feature on a local news channel. I was happy to see businesses my family frequents getting positive press.
|Painting a garden decoration using recycled bottle caps, sponsored by the Northern Arts Council at the Ferguson Farmers Market.|
While my family doesn’t live in Ferguson Missouri, we are close enough that over the years we have been drawn to the area. It started when we began shopping at the weekly Ferguson Farmers Market. We buy grass-fed beef, bacon, tea, and fresh produce from local farmers’ booths. Sometimes we spend the morning at the market eating cooked-to-order omelets or Mexican food and drinking fresh-squeezed lemonade. Every week a different local music group performs under a tent for a crowd of people sitting in plastic chairs, and a stack of hula hoops sits nearby for those who feel so inclined. There are sometimes crafts and cooking demonstrations for the kids, and occasionally there’s a sheep pen, where you can get up close with animals who produce wool for products sold at the market.
We have found people at the market to be friendly, from the vendors who offer cheese samples and tips on how to cook grass-fed beef to fellow shoppers who may share your picnic table while you eat a slice of pie or an empanada. After breakfast at the market one Saturday this summer, we exchanged contact information with a family with young children who shared our table and talked about getting together for a play date.
|Meeting sheep at the Ferguson Farmers Market.|
The farmers market also coordinates with other local events, like the Ferguson citywide garage sale. We can buy fresh produce, then pick up a map and hunt for bargains around the city, including large sales at churches.
During the winter, the market moves indoors to the fellowship hall of the historic St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. We can’t buy as much produce during the colder months, but the meat, tea, and omelet vendors are there, along with others selling olive oils, soaps, jewelry, and handcrafted items. We visited the market one weekend in March and were greeted by a priest dressed in green handing out chocolate coins to children in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Some church members trace their family’s involvement back several generations. They are eager to talk about their church’s history, and they are a pleasant group.
Not long after we began shopping at the farmers market, we gravitated to other locally owned businesses in downtown Ferguson in an area called the Citywalk. One of our favorites is Whistle Stop, which sells sandwiches, soups, salads, and frozen custard in a historic train depot building. For eight dollars, you can buy the lunch special, which includes a cup of soup, a sandwich, drink, and a generous scoop of the frozen custard flavor of the day. We order our food at a ticket window and watch trains from a nearby line speed by while we dine. The restaurant also displays local historic items and photos. A little ways down the road, my husband, Josh, and I have enjoyed date night at Ferguson Brewing Company, a restaurant that features handcrafted beers. Josh’s colleagues highly recommend the seasonal pumpkin beer.
|A “cow catcher” concrete at Whistle Stop.|
There are bakeries, restaurants, coffee shops, and a bicycle shop our family has yet to visit. Our friends and neighbors participate in the Ferguson Twilight Run and the annual Taste of Ferguson. On our way to downtown Ferguson, we pass a large park with an aquatic center and a fishing pond stocked with trout by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Ferguson’s older brick homes are generally well tended, and several homes are part of a holiday tour.
It’s disheartening to see the negative images from the past week on the news. The scenes of chaos and violence are not indicative of this community, and I fear the behavior displayed on the news gives ammunition to those fearful of living in diverse communities.
My family has found Ferguson Missouri to be a charming town full of history and culture, and we enjoy the diversity. We like that our daughters are growing up around people with a variety of skin colors. Josh said he looks forward to the day when Ferguson Missouri can be about black and white people – and everyone else – simply meeting up at the farmers market or stopping by Whistle Stop for frozen custard. That would be a great day indeed.
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