Fair Use of the Lincoln County Commons by Gilbert Schramm

For many centuries, local fairs and markets have been real engines of economic growth and community development. The existence of “common use” lands has also been a bulwark that the common people have relied on to protect themselves against corporate power—an avenue that enterprising individuals can use to climb the economic ladder. I believe the fairground revitalization planners should keep both of those facts in mind. We should think about the “commons” as a local campus for community education and economic development.

The old Lincoln County Fair has struggled in recent years. In its place a new “fair” has grown up—the “Farmers’ Market.” This is one of the more entertaining things to do on the coast on a weekend. It lives at the fairgrounds half of the year—so why not make “the commons” its permanent home? The Farmers Market does everything a county fair was meant to do: it showcases local produce and other agricultural products as well as local arts and crafts.

If you think of the fairgrounds as a home for the farmers market, and as a hub for community education and development, a number of other natural connections fall into place. First it remains a home for 4-H. It becomes a natural place to create a joint outreach office where the community college, OSU extension, master gardeners, and local artists could showcase their skills.

Many of these connections already exist in current planning If you follow the campus logic, some relatively minor changes can bring it all together.

A row of 3-4 classrooms on the south (3rd street) side could provide a windbreak against the prevailing SE winter storms. These could be used for adult education like English classes for new immigrants, and special events like the popular Paper Arts Festival. They could also be used to shelter the homeless during severe weather. A number of existing buildings could be repurposed and restored (that’s already in the plan). We have people in the community with expertise in designing and building energy-efficient passive solar powered structures. A small building of that kind could be a permanent exhibit of its own, used to house the offices of groups mentioned above.

The livestock barns so close to the animal shelter remind us that there are people who are rescuing larger animals (llamas and horses for example) which also need homes. Creating a connection for animal rescue in a visible place at the commons would be a great thing.

The unique positioning of the commons between our middle school and high school creates a valuable opportunity for students to make connections with opportunities in higher education. we can best serve our workforce though creating access to small business entrepreneurial projects like the Farmers’ Market and through making classes in continuing education more locally available (i.e. walking distance from where most of our workforce actually live.). Creating raised bed community garden spaces with priority given to low income applicants might help these families enormously—especially if they have help from master gardeners and extension agents.

Currently, there is no fish market at the farmer’s market. Wouldn’t a space for a cooperative group of local fishermen to market their catch be a great draw?

A final connection is with the arts community. A fair that included the working presence of a public access clay studio, a display for glass-blowing and certainly a communal commercial kitchen to facilitate food production for events and host culinary classes and workshops is essential. A stage for live music that opened on the market area is also a must.

One commentator noted that many of the groups (OSU extension, the VAC, playing fields, and music venues) already exist elsewhere. That misses the point—bringing them together in one place creates the kind of common public space where important connections are made. The word for this is “synergy.” Synergy matters.

All this would create a real engine for community enterprise and education and make the Farmers Market more attractive. The radically improved Highway 20 is a huge funnel for visitors to the coast. The proximity of 20 to the fairground should more than make up for any 101 traffic that is lost. A permanent, purpose designed home for the Farmers Market should more than compensate for any other inconvenience.  Cost will go down as use increases: so why not make the Farmers Market a Saturday and Sunday event?

Many of these ideas were already evident in the current planning process. No one party can reasonably expect to get their entire wish list, but I hope we can put our hearts and minds together in a positive spirit to make our commons really serve our common interests.