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farmer’s market etiquette

Farmflash:

  • Sonoma County‘s Press-Democrat dives gradually into Slow Food.
  • In California, farmworkers continue to die of heat; OSHA law not helping workers due to lack of enforcement.
  • American man forced to sell Canadian farm that has been in the family for 99 years.

Foggy River Philosophy:

A word of warning: for a while, I’ve been debating whether or not to publish this particular post. I’m a bit afraid I’ll alienate some of my readers here. Some of you, I imagine, will feel the way I do. Others might actually be farmer’s market “offenders.”

But heck, the internet is so blissfully anonymous, I figured why not? Even if you’re one of these people who, in my mind, infringes upon common-sense farmer’s market etiquette, I’ll never know who you are! And maybe it’ll be refreshing for you to hear a farmer’s perspective, even if you dismiss me as easily offended and somewhat huffy. Regardless, I hope you’ll pardon my attempt to lay down the law.

(Translation: My inner sass won the to-post-or-not-to-post battle.)

And now, a few farmer’s market rules of the road:

1. Don’t steal. This should be obvious, but on Sunday I watched people sneak cherry tomatoes out of our selling basket — and then slink away guiltily when they noticed I noticed. We do have samples of cucumbers and apples out for customers to try, bristling with health-code-required toothpicks in an obvious sample bowl. If you ask to try a tomato, I’ll absolutely respond with an emphatic yes. But don’t take them without asking. You wouldn’t bite into an unpaid-for apple in a grocery store, would you?

2. Control your kids. We love children, and I think it’s awesome that parents take kids to the farmer’s market — what a great way to get them excited about eating healthy foods! (I bet you didn’t know this, but I was on a pretty strict picky-eater diet of meat and potatoes until I went to college. When I became a vegetarian as a sophomore, my mom asked pointedly “What are you going to eat?” Anyway, the point being: it’s taken me a long time to learn to eat a healthy variety of vegetables, and if your kids are eating them now, I applaud your parenting skills.) Still, it isn’t okay when one kid eats the entire sample bowl’s worth of apples…. or starts popping cherry tomatoes into his mouth like it’s candy, when we said feel free to take one. So: keep an eye on your kids, encourage them to use ‘please’ and ‘thank-you,’ and we promise to shower these healthy-appetited children with attention and free samples.

3. Don’t treat us like Costco. In my family, “Costco” (or Sam’s Club) basically translates to: free lunch. We hit up all the samples, sometimes a couple of times. But Costco operates on a slightly different scale than we do; it should come as no surprise that the farmer’s market ain’t a bulk warehouse store. Obviously, samples are still free. There’s no requirement to purchase a cucumber once you’ve tried the sample. But it’s not entirely friendly — or in the farmer’s market spirit — to beeline for all of the market’s samples in a slap-dash taste-and-run. Think of farmer’s market sampling as an event along the lines of a fine wine tasting. Hold the Armenian cucumber morsel up to the light, examining the color and consistency. Take a deep whiff, looking for notes of caramel and bouquets of citrus. Swish it around in your mouth five times before swallowing. OK, so you don’t have to take the cucumber that seriously, but a little “mmm, that’s tasty!” or “huh, interesting” goes a long way to making your farmer feel good. And a farmer who feels good is more likely to put out more free samples!

4. Don’t roll your eyes. Ever. Even if my radishes cost more than radishes cost in New York City, it’s not okay to roll your eyes as though you are way too good to buy my ridiculously overpriced, exceptionally unworthy radishes. Remember, I’m not a used car salesman who happens to be hawking roots at the farmer’s market. I grew these things, and growing (e.g., sowing, sprouting, weeding, watering, and harvesting) is hard work!

4a. Don’t mention that grocery stores may be selling Vegetable X cheaper. Safeway’s Vegetable X probably traveled hundreds or even thousands of miles to the store, is probably a week old, and was definitely grown by some highly mechanized corporate behemoth. Yes, my vegetables may cost slightly more than Vegetable X, but you get what you pay for: freshness, organic growing procedures, and environmental sustainability. I’ve got photos of the farm on display, and you’re also welcome to visit Foggy River Farm at any time to see where and how your veggies are grown… can you say the same for Vegetable X?

5. Don’t pee on buildings. Walk the extra five minutes to the nearest public toilet. I’ll admit: the person I think I caught doing this was a fellow seller. I won’t repeat who it was — but still, come on, people.

6. OK, time to tone down my sass. How about introducing yourself? I love knowing your name, and I love repeat faces at the farmer’s market. In fact, Emmett and I get ridiculously silly about repeat customers — we’ll save extra beet greens for a regular we know who really likes them, we’ll throw in an extra cucumber destined for the salad of a regular lettuce-buyer, and if we know you have kids, we’ll inquire after them. Be friendly to us, and I guarantee we’ll be friendly in return.

–Lynda.

P.S. I had a great “weekend,” mostly spent grocery shopping, writing, and catching up on errands. We still haven’t unpacked our luggage from the trip, a load of laundry still sprawls across the living room floor… but there are Cheerios in the cupboard, and O.J. and beer in the fridge, and that’s pretty much all a twenty-something needs in life, right? I did enjoy a delightful swim in the Russian River this afternoon, and most excitingly of all, the brooder is ready to go for the arrival of 30 chicks tomorrow morning! (Expect a deluge of cute baby chicken photos in the near future.)

P.P.S. — Gosh, I wish the color quality of uploaded photos weren’t so awful. In RAW format, or even in iPhoto’s exported JPG, these Sungella tomatoes are a brilliant deep orange — picked at the pinnacle of ripeness, I swear!

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live-blogging from the sustainable sonoma tent

The Sonoma County Fair has wireless… who knew?! Emmett and I are here staffing a local food both in the Sustainable Sonoma tent, chatting with folks about local food, farmer’s markets, seeds (we had a seed ID game going for a while), and whatever else comes up. We’ve also gotten the chance to run around the fair itself, which is a great and wonderful and crazy conglomeration of all that Sonoma County has to offer. Since I grew up in suburban San Diego and didn’t really know what 4-H and FFA were until, well, college, it’s been awesome to run around and see the beautiful cattle, lambs, goats, swine, rabbits, owls, llamas, geese, ducks, and miniature donkey — and the kids who are proudly showing them off. I admit, I still didn’t know what the green tie-with-white-clover meant, and asked Emmett “Does that mean they’re from Cloverdale?” (No, it just means 4-H, silly.)

I was also really intrigued by the fair’s giant pig, supposedly 7 feet long and 4 feet tall, but it cost 50 cents to get in and I was saving up for the ridiculously overpriced but delicious-looking Johnny’s Garlic fries. Since when do French Fries cost $6?! (Since you have no other option, I guess, just like at baseball and football games.)

But on to the less-happy part of the fair. I admit, the local food booth has been a bit depressing. I had imagined it being like the farmer’s market: meeting people who are excited to talk about local food, our produce, their gardens, and anything else on the topic of sustainable agriculture. And while I did meet a number of people who were friendly and interested (a huge thanks to those of you who offered a smile and picked up the blog address!), there were also a few things that cast an unfortunate shadow over the all-American glory and hopefulness of the Sonoma County Fair.

One woman said (and I quote), “Not to offend you two or anything, but I just can’t shop at the farmer’s market. The produce looks terrible.”

I was a little taken aback, but managed to say, “Well, sometimes our produce has holes because many small-scale farmers don’t use pesticides…”

She interrupted me. “No, it’s just that sometimes the produce looks like hell. Just like that,” she said, pointing emphatically to the Swiss Chard we had displayed in a vase. Now I admit the chard is a little wilted — we’d harvested it for the Sunday market, so it’s a few days old — but why go out of your way to say that our produce looks “like hell?” And as for her theory on farmer’s market produce, I always thought that generally farmer’s market produce looks considerably better than the produce in your average grocery store. It might come in different sizes, strange colors, and occasionally have holes in the leaves, but it’s usually harvested fresh that morning and picked when ripe — not like the grocery store, where produce is days, weeks, even months from the field, and is often harvested unripe (especially true with tomatoes!) and then sprayed with ethylene to ripen it in the store. Furthermore, we farmer’s marketers don’t grow the types of veggies that are bred specifically for transportability and longevity. (E.g., thick-skinned, acidic tomatoes that can be stacked high without smushing and last a long time.) We grow veggies for taste, and bring them to folks ASAP!

This is a bit of a rant, but I have to get it off my chest. Note to the world: prefacing a comment with “Not to offend you” does not mean that you can then go ahead and get away with being extremely offensive.

That was just one story out of a few. In short: a handful of bad apples were making our day feel a bit spoiled. Then, while someone else was using half our booth (and three people don’t really fit), Emmett and I wandered around the fair. When we came back to the local food booth, all of the seeds we had put on display had been either taken or knocked off the table and trampled: a fairly devastating loss. (The seeds were in cups, and part of a clearly-labeled ID-that-seed game.) We lost an entire packet’s worth–and our last packet at that–of lacinato kale, a good bit of rainbow chard, and a heck of a lot of bunching onions, blue lake beans, and jack-o-lanterns. I was a bit disappointed that the man sharing our booth hadn’t watched over our stuff better, since we let him set up a half hour early and gave him the run of the place for an hour and a half. His response: at least he prevented someone from walking away with one of our two garlic braids. Why would someone take what was obviously a display item? (And my summer’s worth of personal garlic, by the way?) It just made me feel a bit down about humanity in general.

After that, Emmett & I packed up our things and only left out a bare skeleton of informative materials out at the booth. My heart wasn’t really in it anymore. My body still is, though: Now I’m typing on my computer, a hermit in the crowd. A woman just came up, drummed on the table, and said loudly “The bags! The bags! Where are the bags? Do you have the bags?” No, I do not have the bags. If she had asked more nicely, maybe I would have mentioned that Sonoma County Water in the Grace Tent has them. (If you haven’t been to the fair yet, check this out: You can get a free tote for suggesting one way to save water. I mentioned that we use drip irrigation instead of overhead sprinklers to water our crops, and got one.)

A final last note: the evening crowd of people seem much more interested in my Kleen Kantene water bottles (for personal use, unrelated to display) than in local food. Folks keep picking them up and asking about them–I finally had to put them under the table, because it’s a little weird to have a bunch of strangers handling the bottle you drink from. I wish they’d pick up a Buy Local guide, one of the farmer’s market brochures, or a little card about the blog instead!

Time for some garlic fries — and after that, a Heidi Newfield concert! Hopefully some good, local country music will lift our spirits. Even if it does, though, I don’t know if I’ll take a day out of my life to volunteer at the fair again… But I’ll definitely visit, and I’ll be extra nice to all of the people staffing the booths. Heck, maybe I’ll bring them coffee.

I’ll post some pictures of our booth once I get home…

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