Nick Mullins wrote this article after a long bike ride through his new hometown. What would you include in a tour of your home city or neighborhood?
Berea, nestled gently against the western foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, isn’t far from Kentucky’s most central point. To its east rise the mountains and to its west lie the sprawling Bluegrass and horse country. From the interstate, Berea seems like any other rural town one passes by on a long journey. The exits leading to Berea are plagued with corporate commerce: familiar fast food restaurants, nationally branded fuel stations, hotels, and even a Walmart. But as you venture into town, you’ll find yourself departing the modern crisis.
One day I was on my bicycle running across town to Happy Meadows, our local organic food store, when I began noticing my tire was low. With no bicycle pump on hand, I found myself on an impromptu adventure through a community of wonderful people and places.
• Danosh Toys
My first stop searching for an air pump was the toy store located behind College Square in the center of town. Seemingly hidden from most tourists traveling through, Danosh Toys is behind the main storefronts, where most would assume to find an alleyway exposing the less attractive side of main street businesses. Walking inside I am reminded of how much I enjoy a toy store where the inventory speaks more to educating children through fun rather than entertaining them with bright plastics churned out in foreign factories.
The owner, a man with a respectable beard and not much older than I, greeted me with an eagerness to help. We quickly discovered my tires used a Presto Valve, something I had never paid attention to on my still newish bike. He didn’t carry the proper adapter, but his help didn’t end there. He directed me up the street to Berea Coffee and Tea where avid cyclist are known to gather.
• Berea Coffee & Tea
Berea Coffee and Tea’s back door access took me into the immediate aroma of fresh baked goods. Following the small corridor towards the front I became immersed in BC&Ts relaxing atmosphere. The low lighting and mellow music accented its unique décor with subtle hints of the orient.
The owner, Adam, greeted me at the counter. Eager to help, he had me take my bike down to the basement where he kept his air compressor. When he realized it had a Presto valve he began a search his store to find something that would adapt. It had become his mission to see that my tire was inflated, and I wasn’t even a customer. I was getting spectacular service at a coffee shop, not a bike shop!
We came up empty handed but he, like the owner of Danosh Toys, told me of another place in town where cyclists hung out: the Black Feather Café in the Old Town Artisan Village of Berea.
• Berea College
I walked my bike through the Berea College campus towards the Old Town. Despite not having attended the college, I feel a soulful connection with it. Starting as a town full of abolitionists led by John G. Fee, Berea was built upon compassionate ideals and strong values. Together he and his supporters started an institution with the purpose of educating newly liberated slaves.
The college holds to such values even today, granting free educations to promising but often impoverished traditional and non-traditional students. The school’s motto, “God Has Made of One Blood All the Peoples of the Earth,” encircles the name of the institution throughout campus as it should encircle all of humanity. Humbled, I slowly navigated the many sidewalks passing large oaks and beautiful buildings.
• The Ecovillage
After walking my bike down a steep set of stairs I reached the intersection of Jefferson and Ellipse, the beginning (or end) of Berea College’s Ecovillage. Although it looks like a typical townhouse development, the Ecovillage is a living example of how future communities can live sustainably. Berea College students with children live there.
I took the opportunity to journey down the center of the Ecovillage where walkways intersect this wonderful community. It has a small playground, raised bed gardens full of straw for winter gardening, and a few people have clothes drying on the line – evidence of energy conservation.
Towards the western end I came to the SENS (Sustainable and Environmental Studies) house, built to demonstrate various green building techniques as well as renewable energy sources such as the solar photovoltaic tracking array and solar thermal water heating panels on the roof.
I knocked on the door to see if perhaps one of the students living inside would have the pump and adapter I needed for my tire. They were very polite, but yet again I had no luck.
On my way out of the village I stopped at the Green Machine, a greenhouse looking structure, where the grey water from the entire village was once recycled. In recent years it has been converted to an aquaponics facility. Peering in through the glass I see the large tanks of water containing tilapia, catfish, and plant matter. It still amazes me how fish and vegetables can be grown in an enclosed water system smack dab in the middle of a city neighborhood beside the college.
• Old Town / Black Feather Café
Crossing Memorial park I turned onto Broadway from Jefferson and then into the Old Town, the small tourist district of Berea. Pottery shops, antique stores, a furniture maker, and even another fudge shop comprise this section of Berea.
The old rail road station was recently remodeled and converted into a welcome center. On occasion I’ve been known to step around to the old platform facing the tracks to imagine folks waiting on a steamer to come up the line.
A quick turn onto Adams Street across from the rail station and I parked my bike in front of the Black Feather Café. Except for the placard hanging out front it would appear to be just another residence lining Adams Street. Like many other places in Berea, the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” applies. A gentleman sat reading the paper while another had his laptop with connected musical keyboard and was working on a mix.
A quick word with the cashier in regards to my search for a bicycle pump brought forth the owner. Again I was astonished by the enthusiasm to help someone who didn’t seem to be an interested customer. Again, I had to remind myself I was at a café, not a bike shop. The owner disappeared into the back and reappeared with two pumps. We went outside and he helped me pump up my tire, even offering to give me one of the pumps that he didn’t need.
• Happy Meadows
With freshly filled tires, I finally made it to Happy Meadows. The running theme I have become accustomed to in Berea still holds true here. From the outside Happy Meadows doesn’t appear to be much, but as you walk through the entry way you are greeted with the pleasantly pungent smell of foreign spices. I take a moment to shop around enjoying the aroma of healthful foods before grabbing a bag of buckwheat flower and some eggs. As usual the cashier offers a genuine smile while we go about the business transaction.
Riding back home I crossed the interstate overpass watching as hundreds of people rushed by underneath. Peddling in earnest I allowed my mind to drift back to the day’s events and how much I love our new town. I think about the impromptu fiddle lesson my six year old daughter received on the front porch of the Boone Tavern Inn a few months ago, and the solar panel array under construction by Berea Municipal Utilities, and realize that many thousands of people who pass by this exit will probably never know the wonderful things they could experience if only they turned on their left blinker and slowed down for a bit.
Post by Nick Mullins.