Adam’s always saying, “Why don’t you write a blog?” And my response? “Because I see and talk to people all the time—they don’t want to hear from me.” Yet here I am, writing a blog, talking more.
Each and every Saturday, I see and talk with hundreds of people. Customers, CSA members, fellow farmers, idea seekers, perspective farmers and business owners. They’re at the market, buying or selling local goods, and from a glance, everything looks good. Farmers are selling, customers are buying, and everyone’s smiling. It’s a bustling marketplace where farmers are earning a living and customers are supporting their local economy, knowing where their food comes from, on and on—all the things you’ve read in marketing pieces (even those shared by myself) written by those us naive enough to believe our “movement” has as sound economics as it does altruistic values.
(Here comes my cynical side, and the startling reality as I see it.)
Local farmers aren’t earning a good enough of a living from selling their wares at a farmers market, and customers need to buy more of their weekly needs from those farmers. Instead, farmers leave with boxes and crates of left overs, and barely enough money (if even) to cover the labor, gasoline, insurance, and other expenses of the farm. In the most honest sense, we talk about why people don’t buy more, we complain about those who complain about our prices, and wonder what the in the world will it take for a city of more than 1 million people to do more than talk about supporting their local food producers?!
And then, building on one another’s frustration, we get mad and head down a tangent. We start talking about all the people and businesses who take advantage of the opportunities previously offered to small farms. They sell themselves as “local” or “organic.” They use words like “Community Supported Agriculture” to describe their business of buying food from distributors who buy produce from auction houses, then package and deliver it. They talk about their “farmers” in a way that sounds good to the customer. One would assume they’re the same types of farmers like Wayward, or Sippel Family Farm, or Toad Hill Farm, except they’re not. They’re large operations that grow a few products, conventionally, and sell to Kroger and Giant Eagle. Is that what you think you’re buying when you buy into one of those “CSAs”? I bet not.
But for some strange reason, those businesses keep growing and small farm CSAs like ours struggle to keep pace with previous years. Our sales are slower and we’re constantly hammered with questions about why we don’t deliver or offer the same week-to-week ordering system of their bigger and better CSA option from _____ (I’ll let you fill in the blank here). And why if they don’t like it can’t they cancel? And why is it so expensive? _____ (again, fill in the blank) offers a share for half the price, why does your share cost so much?
(I warned you that I’d go cynical on you…)
Adam and I pay ourselves what we can. We invest our resources in fixing trucks, tractors, insurance, farm rent, labor, seeds and fertilizer—all the things needed to bring the food to market that is “so expensive.” It’s called the real cost of food, and people generally don’t like it.
So I digress a little. I had no intention of being so frank (or negative), but then I get started and it’s hard to stop. I want customers to do what they say they’re going to do. For those who really know me, you’ve probably heard some of this before. For others, this may be a surprise considering my generally happy-go-lucky attitude on Saturday mornings. Point is, I want more from people. I want you to buy a CSA share from Wayward Seed or Sippel Family Farm, or some other small farm like ourselves. I want you to demand more and ask more questions. And then I want you to tell your friends, and explain to them why buying a CSA share from Wayward won’t look like your Kroger shopping trip. It looks better. It tastes better. It lasts longer. And your dollars didn’t support some middle man distribution company. Your dollars pay our farmers and enable them to steward the land that is so incredibly precious.
We are producers in a consumer world, but the secret that isn’t so secret anymore is our quality. The chains can steal our language of marketing, sustainability and locality… They can’t touch our diversity, our quality, our energy for this great craft. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to get dignity for one’s work, and who deserves it more than a farmer?
Until the next time Adam makes me write something…