Updated: May 14
Often known for its wild Oktoberfest, La Mesa is gaining a reputation for its colorful weekly Farmers Market where life slows down and the community comes alive. Every Friday afternoon, kids come to search for Rodney Rooster (a stuffed rooster, that hides in a different vendor booth each week) and are rewarded for unplugging and trying healthy foods. They play in a tent known as “Fort night Friday” or make nature crafts. The weekly kid count (Rodney’s followers - aka his “Peeps”) has grown from 15 to over 70 in 3 months. The idea took off immediately and what was going to be a one time a month deal, turned into a weekly occurrence as kids were so excited and the community got behind it.
“It’s a simple idea. The Market is a safe place where kids can run around and have a little adventure each week. It offers the opportunity to carve out some unplugged time and create a weekly routine”
The idea may be simple, but the impact is great. Shy kids like, San Diego resident, Alphie might ordinarily be found sitting on a couch face down, playing with an iPad. Many kids who are shy or struggling with issues are crippled even more by technology (admittedly the easiest pacifier). And it’s not only introverts who are hurt by how much technology pervades our lives. Overuse of technology is a growing concern for families all over the world. Alphie is one of the lucky ones. Her parents opt for crayons over an iPad and get her out into the community where she has the opportunity to expand her experiences, try new foods, make friends and develop social skills. Alphie lives near the La Mesa Village so the family has a routine of walking to the market each week where she talks to farmers who tell her “I know what you’re looking for today!”. Her mom Sandra say it’s the highlight of her week and she leads the way as they look for clues to find Rodney.
It took Alphie a few weeks to be able to talk to me much less look me in the eye, but dog-gone it, she wanted to find that Rooster, so she got braver each time. Recently we have upgraded from fist bumps to hugs and smiles. When parents ask me why I do this every week and how I make money, I tell them "I am getting paid mostly in big smiles, meaningful hugs and brave moments”. I was extremely shy as a child myself, so relate to the power of these little moments.
Many a report card from a teacher would say "Claudia was a lovely girl, but I don’t think I heard from her all semester." Creating a safe space for kids to become more outgoing is important and something I’m really excited to be able to provide.
What’s good for the kids, is fortunately also very good for business. Market Managers and the Vendors give the idea two big thumbs up and the concept has caught on at 2 other markets in town. Hunter DePolo, a vendor from Behneman Family Farms, jokingly says he wants to tattoo the Rooster on his arm as a tribute, because his sales have doubled in recent weeks when he hosts Rodney. Hunter enjoys the sales and also helping families spend time together and reduce screen time usage.
According to Statista The amount of smartphone users worldwide has reached 3.5 billion. Americans spend nearly half their day staring at screens or interacting with media in some way. The Unplugged Village’s mission is to get people to power down screen time and power up real time focusing on fun things you can do rather than focusing on what you are missing out on.
Partnering with the National Day of Unplugging (NDU) for its 11th year series of Unplugged Events, The Unplugged Village is holding a kick off event Friday March 6th starting at 3pm at the Farmers Market where kids can search for Rodney, shop for a sampling of produce with Rodney Bucks, create a healthy dish, do garden crafts, play games, be an Adventure Taster, or help decorate the Fort Night Friday fort. Adults or older kids can try calligraphy or type on a typewriter, crafting a letter free of likes, shares or followers.
The entire town of La Mesa is getting onboard--Mayor Mark Arapostathis presented a Proclamation for NDU on February 25.
“As the Mayor and a schoolteacher, I applaud and support the efforts of programs like ‘Unplugged Village’ designed to create designated times and places when students, parents and families can unplug and spend time with each other”.
Other unplugged activities include searching for a cardboard cutout of Rodney in various Little Free Libraries (LFL) throughout La Mesa. LFL's are located all over the world and are a fun way to take a book, leave a book and enjoy reading. Maxwell's House of Books is offering a 20% off special (March 6) and Re-animated Records is offering 50% off paper goods (March 6-7). For those looking for unplugged dining, I recommend checking out the Aubrey Rose for tea, Trattoria Tiramisu or La Mesa Wine Works for their trivia nights, games, and live music.
People can unplug at Public Square Coffee House where there are designated laptop free tables and times when the Wi-Fi is down – encouraging friends and family to connect. Looking for a little education and to learn more about the issue of social media, mental health and resilience? People can catch the Documentary “Screenagers: The Next Chapter” on March 4 at Grossmont College. Get free tickets HERE.
The Farmers Market NDU event is being supported by Tracey Rivera-of State Farm Insurance and Cardenas Internal Medicine. "In recent years, brands have spent billions of marketing dollars on digital advertising designed to keep us clicking and scrolling. It is nice to see these local businesses supporting families spending less time on mobile devices and engaging in the community IRL (in real life)." says Kim Anenberg Cavallo, who leads the NDU team. In addition to supporting this event, State Farm has pledged 10 cents a minute to Text Less Live More (youth driven organization to end distracted driving) if we unplug from our devices. We are already ¾ of the way to our goal of 5000 minutes!
For more information on how to support these efforts or to bring Rodney to other markets or businesses, contact Claudia at email@example.com/ 619-248-6532. Visit www.unpluggedvillage.com for unplugged dining, tips or experiences. Go to www.NationalDayofUnplugging.com to “Take The NDU Pledge,” and download a free toolkit with tips and more.