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The Cost of Community | Dr. Lindsay DeMarchi

The Cost of Community in the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve.

Written by Dr. Lindsay DeMarchi, The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve STEM Network’s Astronomer-in-Residence

I’m the first to admit I am giddy to scope out a Farmer’s Market in any given town. What could be better than getting a fancy drink in the warm sunshine and passing through booths of people’s greatest passions and nich hobbies? Perhaps the greatest draw, though, is the local fruit. Meeting eyes with people who are likely tired of the land I’m just getting to meet.  

At a Farmer’s Market I feel like I’ve just bought a ticket into a community, if even for just a sunny morning. In Ketchum, I was able to visit the other side of a booth for the first time. I sat in a lawn chair, called out to children and the elderly, that today was their day to adopt their very own alien. I slipped college students glow-in-the-dark stars and their eyes lit bright with nostalgia. It seemed that everyone had a story to share about the Reserve, the stars, or the full moon earlier in the month. 

As I waved to the people under the booth across the path, tucked away in dramatic bouquets of pink and violet. They were my AirBnB hosts, with bundled products of their small flower farm. A woman corralling two face-painted toddlers and a third strapped in her backpack asked if I knew anyone in town. And if I wanted to join her family for dinner. I guarded the booth next door with solemnity when the jewelry artist asked if I could cover her while she got lunch. Turns out, I would bump into her a week and a half later on a Saturday night in Stanley. She would greet me with a huge smile and a giant hug. 

I learned quickly that it wasn’t just ordinances needed to keep Sun Valley’s lights dim. Throughout the Covid-19 Pandemic, many new families moved into new constructions. Some opting for the Valley to be their “second, third, or seventh homes,” as a friend phrased it. In practice, this means that the new influx of people didn’t live through the celebrations of 2017, when the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve was officially established. They might not know what precious resource they needed to be protecting. I was there as a friendly reminder.

My tent at my second market in Hailey wasn’t a tent.

The day was sweltering and thankfully, Carol Cole had snagged the only tree with shade for us. Only about five setups stretched across the green. One run by a pregnant woman cheerfully selling gourmet cupcakes faster than their icing could melt. The Market had overlapped with the end of the Allen & Co Conference – a weeklong event for the richest people you can name. The wind bellowed from the nonstop private jets taking off across the street. It was enough to blow over all the canopy tents last year, and we weren’t allowed any this year. 

While I was able to don sunscreen and keep a lively conversation, fruit vendors and nearby farms couldn’t bring out their produce under the sun, so they never showed. There were talks about moving the location of the farmer’s market next year. Visitors kept asking me if they’d missed the Market altogether. 

While intermittently shouting over the jets, I met a man who grew up on an indigenous coffee farm in South America. He adamantly maintained understanding must precede knowledge. When the jets got loud, he pointed to the tree we were standing under– “understanding” was the roots, and it was impossible to have just a tree, or “knowledge,” without it. Nothing would hold it up. In fact, the rest of the tree – its branches, leaves, and fruit – were the byproduct of the roots. Not the other way around. 

It is more than ordinances preserving the Night Sky Reserve.

As I met faces that were new to town, they all stopped with open hearts to learn about the legacy they’d stepped into. I could see the understanding lock into place the moment they put together how the lights protected what they enjoyed. Some even asked how best to talk to others about it, how to buy the correct light bulbs, and one young lady promised to make it her Senior project at school. Our shared connection for the sky strengthened the intuitive understanding of its importance. Over time, this relaxes into a shared love and community identity. 

Community costs much more than a private jet or a Saturday coffee. It costs time: long time, short time, conversation time, checking your garage lights time.