This Town Built A Market Where Neighbors Can Take What They Want For Free

It’s a radical but simple experiment that builds community and keeps useful things out of the landfill.


Published:

It’s like a swap meet, except no one pays for anything and no one makes a profit.

Kathy Cole is on a mission to persuade her community to stop throwing things away. She makes her way to the edge of the town of Independence, Virginia, a couple of times a week to run a new venture she simply calls the Free Market. It’s a radical but simple experiment in the “take what you need” philosophy, and an ambitious spin-off from the little free libraries trend that has spread across the country.

The idea of “reciprocal giving” has been percolating in Cole’s mind since 1975, when she was a graduate student at the University of Oregon. She and other students living on campus shared what they could to get by. When she retired about eight years ago, Cole finally put the idea into motion.

She and local nonprofit Grayson LandCare have moved into an empty storefront whose longtime owner died recently. The event is like a swap meet, except no one pays for anything and no one makes a profit. People donate knickknacks and useful household items that couldn’t be resold but might still be useful to someone else. In turn, community members take what they need. As Cole explains it, it’s less tit-for-tat and more of a “reciprocal giving” experiment.

“I’m not a hoarder, but I just want things to go to the right place. I grew up in this area, and my parents were like this. They were very resourceful,” Cole says. “My mother never met a Cool Whip container she couldn’t use to store something else in the freezer. You just don’t throw something away if there’s a way to use it. I think, for a couple of generations, we’ve gotten away from that, even here in this rural area.”

Though backed by a group of ambitious volunteers, Cole is at the center of the whole experiment. On paper, she isn’t exactly the woman you might expect to find in this town. Independence, with a population of about 900, is the seat of Grayson County, a sparsely populated area tucked between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the New River. It’s about 80 miles northwest of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the nearest sizable city.

Most folks here are politically and religiously conservative, and few went to college. The town’s economy, like many others in Appalachia, once thrived on the blue-collar workers of local furniture plants. Those plants are now closed, and people needed to tighten their wallets and look elsewhere for work. The Free Market helps the community pinch a few pennies, and Cole, a lifelong environmentalist, hopes it reduces waste the town produces.

Have some extra bubble wrap laying around the house? Bring it down to the market. What about packing boxes, used toys, office supplies, gift wrap, tools, or old kitchenware? It’s better in the hands of someone who can use it than forgotten in a landfill somewhere, she says.

The market is run entirely on a volunteer basis, with members of local nonprofit Grayson LandCare giving what time they can spare. The organization is made up of a collection of local farmers and landowners working together to help the environment and the local economy. They have supported local farmers to raise grass-fed beef, grow organic vegetables, and to promote selective harvesting of hardwoods instead of clear-cutting a forest, among other things. The Free Market is the newest program.

One woman recently dropped off a music stand at the market. A few days later, a young girl just beginning to learn to play the clarinet found it. Another woman zipped straight to the back of the store hunting for a single piece of black construction paper. She found it, saving her a trip to the local Dollar General. The Free Market is even a place to shop for Christmas gifts. The market hopes to host, whenever the weather is nice, a holiday celebration to let people come and find gifts for their loved ones—anything from jewelry to winter gear, table linens, and more.

When the market’s doors first opened in September, not many people visited, says Colette Nester, a health promotion intern at Appalachia State University working with Grayson LandCare. A few eventually trickled in, mostly just to see what it was about. Foot traffic picked up as word spread. Now when the market is open, 20 to 30 people stop by. Nester has volunteered since the market opened. She uses the opportunity to promote fitness activities in the community and to connect people with dental services in the area.

The venture cuts across political and economic walks of life. Unlike Cole, the people involved with Grayson LandCare mostly did not grow up in the area. They’re mostly well-educated, financially well-off retired people who moved to the area to take advantage of the cheap land and beautiful scenery. Cole says they’ve struggled to spread the message of their work because of the perception that they’re “the crazy environmental hippies up the road.”

“I’m meeting lots of people who are not well-off, who have been here for generations,” Cole says. “You get to know them, and we’re all mixing and mingling over this common thing of getting stuff where it needs to go and can be useful.”

This article was republished from YES! Magazine and funded in part by a grant from the One Foundation.

Jake Jarvis wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Jake is a recent graduate of West Virginia University and a lifelong Appalachian. He reports on education for the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

See also:
When Buying Nothing Gives You More Of Everything
8 Inspiring Documentaries Exploring The Sharing Movement

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

April 27, 2018

Today, a cardinal sign T-square is powerful motivation to face challenges head on. The Libra Moon is testing Saturn and Mercury, giving good reasons to first think things through carefully, before speaking or acting. Imagine the needs of others and how…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

April 2018

Usui Holy Fire II Reiki I Prerequisite: a desire to learn Reiki Study includes the history of Reiki, the Reiki principles, the hand positions used to give Reiki to yourself and to others,...

Cost: $175 (pre-registration required)

Where:
The Studio at One Earth
191 Emery Mills Road
Shapleigh, ME  04076
View map »


Sponsor: The Studio at One Earth
Telephone: 207-636-2500
Contact Name: The Studio at One Earth
Website »

More information

Sunday yoga is back! Hatha Yoga with meditation to get you ready to tackle your spring intentions. Sign up for series or drop in. 

Cost: $75/5 classes; drop in $17.00

Where:
Dragonfly Wellness Center
176 Jackson Rd
Devens, MA
View map »


Sponsor: Dragonfly Wellness Center
Telephone: 978-227-8297
Contact Name: Anita Perry
Website »

More information

Have you done yoga before but feel a little rusty? Haven't been on your mat in a while? Yoga Basics is a great place to begin again. Do you feel you need motivation to jump-start your...

Cost: $60

Where:
YogaLife Institute of NH
6 Chestnut Street
Lower Level
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Telephone: 603-969-8968
Contact Name: Brian Serven
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

This workshop is part of the At the Heart of the Matter: a series of workshops about all things HEART. How do we connect with our hearts? And what keeps us from staying connected? In this...

Cost: $35

Where:
Newtonville, MA


Telephone: 617-913-0683
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Feel the bliss of opening your spine, while being totally supported and meticulously aligned. Great for sciatica and low back pain! Classes also held Saturday mornings.

Cost: $18 drop in

Where:
Bliss Through Yoga
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
View map »


Sponsor: Bliss Through Yoga
Telephone: 508-331-3564
Contact Name: Janice
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

As springtime rolls around, many of us get out our trash bags, buckets, and boxes in order to clean out and tidy up our homes and offices. Physically cleaning our spaces is great and all, but did...

Cost: Free

Where:
WeWork
31 St. James Ave
Boston, MA  02116
View map »


Sponsor: The Kabbalah Center
Website »

More information

Ayurvedic practitioner. Presenting a 28-day program designed to initiate and maximize detoxification and nourishment of your body, mind and soul, inspiring results that can last a lifetime. For...

Where:
Concord, MA


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

This workshop is part of the At the Heart of the Matter: a series of workshops about all things HEART. What does it mean to be deeply touched inside? To feel something deeply? To be connected?...

Cost: $35

Where:
Newtonville, MA


Telephone: 617-913-0683
Website »

More information

Join Mediums Laura Wooster and Andrew Dee for an evening of mediumship! In addition to sharing how you also can become more aware of your connection to passed loved ones, Laura and Andrew will...

Cost: $40

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
90 Main Street
Andover, MA  01835
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

YogaLife studio would like to offer this opportunity to slow it down, step back, notice your breath and sit quietly in community. Join us Thursdays from 5:40-6:30 PM. No Yoga...

Cost: Free

Where:
YogaLife Institute
6 Chestnut Street
Suite A
Exeter, MA  03833
View map »


Telephone: 603-969-8968
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Ann Barker will be seeing clients on Friday, April 27th and Saturday, April 28th at Balance Bethlehem. Call to book your appointment today! This non-invasive screening utilizes a thermal...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Balance Bethlehem
2087 Main Street
Bethlehem, NH  03574
View map »


Sponsor: Ann Barker
Telephone: 603-897-9645
Website »

More information

Friday, April 27 - Sunday, April 29, 2018 April Ropes and Ritu Kapur Sohum’s 3rd Annual Retreat will be offered in Beautiful Berkshires, The Spirit Fire Meditative Retreat Center in...

Cost: $385

Where:
Spirit Fire Retreat Center
407 W. Leyden Road
Leyden, MA  01337
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

April 27 - 29, 2018 What if there were 5 love languages in the bedroom…and you had a secret decoder ring? Imagine the erotic satisfaction you could unlock…for yourself and for...

Cost: $1097*/couple; Early bird $997* by Feb 14, 2018

Where:
Angel’s Rest Retreat Center
63 North County Road
Leyden, MA  01301
View map »


Sponsor: Conscious Intimacy
Telephone: 415-244-1652
Contact Name: Brynn Bishop
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Ann Barker will be seeing clients on Friday, April 27th and Saturday, April 28th at Balance Bethlehem. Call to book your appointment today! This non-invasive screening utilizes a thermal...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Balance Bethlehem
2087 Main Street
Bethlehem, NH  03574
View map »


Sponsor: Ann Barker
Telephone: 603-897-9645
Website »

More information

India Discovery Center is pleased to announce the next seminar in the “Let us explore the Cultural History of India.” The fourth event entitled “Seminar on the Golden Period,...

Cost: $20

Where:
Bemis Hall
15 Bedford Road
Lincoln, MA  01773
View map »


Sponsor: India Discovery Center
Telephone: 781-259-0029
Contact Name: Bijoy Misra
Website »

More information

World Qigong Taichi Day is celebrated globally, and at Eastover, it is a day of free presentations, demonstrations and mini-classes offered by nationally recognized leaders in Taichi, Qigong,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Eastover Estate & Retreat Center
430 East Street
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Sponsor: Eastover Estate & Retreat Center
Telephone: 866-264-5139
Contact Name: Yingxing Wang
Website »

More information

April 28 - 29, 2018 Led by Marconics Teacher Practitioners:  Josh Brotherton and Nadine Muhammad To register:  From US:  Tel: 774-987-9449 Email: yourhealinglight@gmail.com...

Cost: $450

Where:
Suffield Massage Therapy and Wellness Center
230 Mountain Rd
Suffield, CT  06078
View map »


Sponsor: Marconics
Telephone: 774-987-9449
Contact Name: Josh Brotherton
Website »

More information

With award winning author Nancy Smith. Starts April 28th, 7-month certification program about Akashic records. One Saturday a month, 10am - 4pm. womenofwisdominc.com

Cost: $860

Where:
Women of Wisdom
North Easton, MA


Telephone: 508-230-3860
Website »

More information

Be a part of healing history! The last saturday of April each year in hundreds of cities, spanning over 80 nations, people come together…to breath together and provide a healing vision...

Cost: Free

Where:
Elm Park
Russell St
Worcester, MA  01609
View map »


Sponsor: Kung Fu & Tai Chi Academy of New England
Telephone: (774) 321-6611
Contact Name: Sifu Gary
Website »

More information

2018 Eclectic-Fest! Our fourth event that is building community, celebrating all spiritual beliefs and practice. Free parking and free admission. Featuring aura photography by the...

Cost: Free admission

Where:
Taunton V.F.W.
82 Ingell Street
Taunton, MA  02780


Sponsor: The Enchanted Forest Taunton
Telephone: 774-208-6195
Contact Name: Brother Granite
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags