Tag Archives: farmer’s market

fall’s a-comin’ on — and we’re a-sleepin’ in

At this morning’s farmer’s market, the vendors were petering out.  Gone is Lou, the tomato, melon, and pepper man; only one more week for the wonderful pear lady.  The berry vendor’s time is short, too.

Pumpkins and winter squash are starting to appear alongside peppers and tomatoes.  And suddenly, for the first time since we started marketing, I found myself wearing not only a sweater but also a fleece jacket to protect myself from the cold.

For weeks, when we had nothing to sell but greens, we had nothing but 100-degree weather.  Now, suddenly, September has turned the corner into Fall — bringing with her foggy mornings that stretch out nearly until noon.  It seemed so strange to watch customers arrive at the market all bundled up in sweaters, pants, and fuzzy hats — when just last Saturday it was a sweltering 100 degree day, and tanktops and straw hats were very much in vogue.

But there are two good things about Fall.  (Well, there are many good things about Fall, not the least of which is winter squash and its good friend, soup weather.)  But back to my top two:  it’s incredibly useful for keeping greens fresh.  No more battles with the umbrella and water spritzer to try and rebreathe life into wilted kale, chard, bok choi, or lettuce.  And it means that the sunrise is getting later and later.

These two items led to a small miracle at Foggy River Farm:  the night-before harvest.

Rather than harvesting with headlamps in the dark (which is pretty inefficient, not to mention not particularly pleasurable), Emmett and I tried a Sunset Harvest.  We worked hard, but the evening was so beautiful — cool, but not frigid, and with a gorgeous pink-glow sunset — that we barely noticed.

And best of all, we got to sleep in this morning.  Granted, sleeping in translates to 6:30: Emmett ran over to the field to quickly harvest corn and squash blossoms while I tended to the chicks.  But boy, did it feel good not to wake up in the pitch black — no morning rush, just an easy trip to the farmer’s market and a leisurely set-up.  Best of all, the greens were fresh, thanks to our all-natural, no-energy-required refrigerator:  they spent the night in harvest bins, topped with wet towels, cooled by the chilly Fall air.

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poor in pocket, rich in food

Farmflash:

  • The Canadian government supports organic food. (Don’t even get me started on our Farm Bill.)
  • Baltimore jumps on the local bandwagon.

Foggy River:

At the Windsor Market today, we made $100 less than we did last week, but right now we are wealthy in food. One awesome thing about the farmer’s market: the generosity of the vendors and the after-hours trading that takes place there.

Although we’re technically competing with one another for sales, there’s a great sharing spirit among vendors. Hey, we’re all growing stuff (except for the bakeries, which are baking stuff, which is in the same spirit), and for one day each week we’re neighbors, so we’ve got quite a bit in common to begin with. Add to that the fact that I have a ton of beans burning a hole in my pocket (errr… trunk), and you’ve got some beautiful apples: trading is the natural next step.

We’re not talking a stressful auctioneer-style barter system here. It’s more like “Can I give you some beans? Please?” “Sure, but only if I can give you some apples.” Everyone is always urging everyone else to take more, not less. “Just one more pepper. Really. Don’t be shy.” Yesterday, our neighbor at the Healdsburg market declared, “I’m not taking home any of these table grapes. If I want more, I can go and pick them from the vine myself.” She then set out determinedly down the aisle to give the grapes away to other growers.

At the end of the day, I delight in the free luxuries of a farmer’s market farmer. A fresh baguette from a local bakery, a walnut-raisin loaf, a roasted garlic loaf, Gravenstein apples, pears, peppers, grapes, and someone else’s gigantic yellow heirloom tomatoes can make a person feel pretty rich… even if she doesn’t happen to have a particularly cushy bank account.

Above picture: our current currency, purple beans. (Other denominations include Armenian cucumbers, mixed brassica greens, cherry tomatoes, and chard.)

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farmer’s market economics: late August

Farmflash:

  • Farming still dangerous, years after Robert Frost wrote “Out, out–“…
  • Meet Rise & Shine’s CSA in Rome.  (That’s Georgia.  And not the one with the Russia problems.)

Foggy River:

Change is in the air at the farmer’s market; the customers and the marketers both feel it, but in different ways.

Walking down the farmer’s market aisles, customers are overwhelmed with the sights and smells of summer.  It’s a shock to the senses:  the orange brilliance of a squash blossom coupled with wafts of Genovese basil.  Tie-dyed tomatoes paired with the delicate scent of Italian parsley.  Summer squash — yellow crookneck, golden zucchini, pale green patty-pans still small and possessing that gorgeous acorn shape — and is that a bag of fresh dill?  (Yes, picked this morning.)  And then there are the peppers, long and skinny, fat and round — and the tomatoes that look like peppers, but aren’t.  (Gotcha.)  Green beans, yellow beans, purple beans, eggplant, chard, kale, onions, garlic:  ‘Tis the season of plenty, and there’s plenty to drink in — or bag up, as the case may be.  At this morning’s farmer’s market I watched many a customer fill up canvas bags to their tippy-top, then groan slightly when hefting the load to a shoulder.

The farmer enjoys this scene as much as the customer — except at the market’s end, when it comes time to tally up the day’s earnings, fill out the load list, and pay the stall fee.  Some of us have noticed our earnings stagnate or drop, and we have a theory:  Econ 101, lecture 1, Supply & Demand.

At the moment, everything’s ripe.  Supply has expanded hugely.  Demand — while it may have swelled a little at the sight of all those heirloom tomatoes — hasn’t.  So, first of all, prices have dropped, and second of all, people might be buying less at your particular stand — because new stands (selling only tomatoes, for instance) have opened up, making your tomatoes (commingled, as they are, with chard and salad and zuchs and cukes and such) less exciting.  Basically, while you have lots more to sell, everybody else has lots more to sell, too.  And in the midst of a production glut, the specialized businesses definitely have the edge.

It’s a bit of a bitter pill to swallow for Emmett and me, because we’re essentially doing a heck of a lot more work — harvesting all the time to try and keep our plants in production in addition to the usual maintenance — but not making any more money. (At least, we’re not making any more money at the Healdsburg market.  We had a record week at Windsor last Sunday, but we have a hunch that it was due to the fact that a major vendor was missing — hence, we were able to garner a greater share of the market.  Apparently this vendor’s truck got in an accident, and so he had no way of getting to market.)

Anyway, we came home today utterly exhausted.  I flopped onto the couch and kept thinking “Must… bring… cucumbers… to… fridge…”, falling asleep, waking up, remembering the cucumbers, and falling asleep again.  Emmett (normally the upbeat, optimistic one), pronounced:  “It’s not working.  It’s too much work and not enough money.”  Part of this was simply tired I-was-harvesting-before-dawn-again talk, but there’s some truth to his statement: it’s a strange world where one works harder, brings more to market, maybe even sells more, and yet comes home with less cash in hand.  It made us both seriously consider starting a CSA.  (We realized that we could make the same amount of money by supplying approximately 25 people with CSA boxes, a system which seems infinitely more sensible than attending two farmer’s markets in a row.  But more on that later.)

On the bright side, it’s an absolutely awesome time to be a buyer.  You can nab heirloom tomatoes for $2.50 a pound, fresh-picked organic corn or huge gorgeous squash blossoms for 50 cents apiece.  Basil’s flying off tables like hotcakes and zucchinis are practically free.  So I encourage all of you to go out and buy — for your sake, and for the farmers, too’!

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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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the price of a radish: part two

Yesterday, Emmett and I ventured into the Big Apple… and stumbled across actual apples, not to mention apple cider (which we purchased and swigged straight from the half-gallon jug), apple sauce, and hundreds of varieties of non-apple fresh produce.

We were there on business, meeting with our literary agent on Fifth Ave. to finally put a face to someone we’d only interacted with via email or phone. She was the one who pointed out her eleventh-floor window down the block to Union Square, where literally thousands of customers were flowing in and out of a farmer’s market like so many tiny, hungry ants. After the meeting, we dove straight into the anthill — and were shocked at the wildly different prices we found there.

Let’s start with the radish. Our radish bunches were put firmly to shame: at the Migliorelli Farm stand, you could purchase twenty radishes for $1. (Remember, we charged $1.50 for half that many.) But the same stand was charging $2 for small and — I say this with all due affection and understanding about perishable greens and farmer’s markets lack of refrigeration — very wilted, sad-looking chard. So even if my radishes are overpriced, my chard bunches are a pretty good deal.

Perhaps the most shocking price of all could be found at Windfall Farms. (I found the name ironic for reasons that will shortly become obvious.) They were charging $6 for 1/4 pound of baby lettuce heads or mesclun mix! And $12 for 1/4 pound of arugula or mesclun with flower blossoms! I mean, sure, I’d been thinking about growing some flowers and adding them to our baby greens mix and maybe bumping the price up a buck or two. But our starting price is $3 for a bag that has at least 1/3 of a pound of greens. That means Windfall is charging 3-5 times what we charge. Even for “unconventionally grown” produce, there’s no way you could charge $12 for 1/4 lb of anything in Healdsburg and have anybody buy it. Is it just because they sell in New York? Or because they have a bit of a monopoly on baby greens at this particular market? Who knows…

There were other interesting things at the farmer’s market: dragon’s tongue beans, which are unbelievably cool looking. These guys made my purple beans feel mundane! Dragon’s tongues are flecked with yellow and purple in a psychedelic spattered-paint theme.

Other interesting items: stinging nettles (which had a sign suggesting that potential buyers handle them carefully, as they can cause itching), the foodie-chic sometimes-weed purslane, heaps of purple basil, and squash runners. The customers I talked to had no idea what to do with the squash runners, so I did a bit of research on the topic. According to the Bureau of Plant Industry, squash runners can be eaten as a vegetable. Back home, our squash plants are invading our walking paths between the rows. Instead of hacking them back and putting them on the compost pile, apparently I could be converting the runners into cash at the farmer’s market! I guess I’d better try cooking them first, because I doubt customers will buy them if I can’t suggest a good recipe…

One last humbling thought: one of the farmhands we talked to said that on a good Wednesday market day, they’d sell $5,000 worth of produce. Saturday markets can bring in $7,000. (Suffice it to say that Emmett and I are so far from even cumulatively earning $5,000, it isn’t funny.) The seller also suggested that the biggest stands can bring in $25,000 on one day — but of course they also employ something like 60 workers, so while their income is sky-high, so are their costs.

If all of this makes you want to get into the Union Square market to sell baby greens for $12 per quarter pound, good luck: getting a stall is practically impossible. It’s a very carefully-managed market, so there are are rarely more than 2 vendors selling the same specialty item. (Course, lots of folks have tomatoes and zucchini right now, but try finding multiple cider sellers or goat cheese vendors.) According to some of the farmers we spoke to, the only way to get in is: come up with something that nobody else is selling — again, good luck — or start selling at other Greenmarket farmers markets around New York (there are 46 locations, with over 250,000 customers each week) and wait, hoping that someday one of the Union Square vendors (some of whom have been selling for decades) decides to call it quits and you can sidestep in.

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do your farmers a favor

 

I want to bring up the idea of food consumers doing things to help their farmers.

Why should we help our farmers?  What’s at stake?  The fundamental answer comes in two simple parts: 1) the global food system is fragile; and 2) food is vital to human success and happiness.  Relying on a complex and unstable global food supply is risky business, so we should do what we can to help build a strong web of local food suppliers in our local regions, wherever they may be.  As oil prices shoot up, food from far away becomes less viable.  We need strong local seed banks, a diverse seed-saving network, and a deep local knowledge of how to grow our food.  So support your farmers, especially the ones nearest to you.  It might make a big difference in your life in the not-too-distant future.  If you think about it, doing a favor for your farmers really amounts to acting in your own self interest.

What can you do for your farmers?

I use the phrase “your farmers” because anyone who grows the food you eat can be considered your farmer… in the same way that the person who delivers your mail is your mailman, the person who leads your yoga class is your yoga instructor, the person who collects your garbage is your garbage man.  Talking about “our farmers” encourages a closer relationship between food consumers and food producers (Slow Food’s Carlo Petrini calls consumers “co-producers“).

The first thing you can do for your farmers is get to know them. And if you find that this task is easier said than done, maybe you ought think twice about the food you’re eating. Where does it come from? Who grew it? Is it healthy? Reliable? It’s your sustenance, your routine nutrition, your daily bread–so it doesn’t make sense to rely on far-off, unknown agribusinesses to grow it for you.

The second thing you can do for your farmers is to buy directly from them whenever possible. Direct purchasing usually means more money going straight to the people raising and caring for your food supply. It also means you get to know more about the food you eat.

The third thing you can do for your farmers is to pay them fair prices. If you’re buying directly from the farmer, fair prices don’t necessarily translate into expensive food, since you’ve cut out the middle man. Without making a decent living, farmers are tempted to turn to other livelihoods. And each time this happens, our food supply is less secure. If it’s hard to pay those prices being asked by your local farmers, think about cutting out as much expensive processed food as possible. According to a Seattle Times article, shopping at the farmers market is cheaper than the grocery store.  And by building your menus around fruits, vegetables, grains and basic animal products, you can eat affordable, healthy, fresh (and tasty!) food. Oh, and you’ll be doing a favor for your farmers.

Finally, I have a personal favor to ask of farmers market shoppers. Stop and talk to your farmers! Even if you don’t buy anything, it makes my day a little bit better when you sidle over and say hello, have a chat. As a farmers market shopper, I used to hang back from the stalls and scope out the produce and prices from a distance, not making my move until I knew what I wanted.  I was a lurker.  But now that I’m a farmer–selling at the market–I know that I much prefer shoppers who come right on up and say hello, even if they don’t buy a thing.  So please don’t be a lurker.  Make a farmer happy, and don’t be shy at the farmers market!

-Emmett   (usually Lynda is the blogger, but I (Emmett) will chip in now and again…)

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the price of a radish

How much would you charge — or pay — for a bunch of freshly picked French breakfast radishes?

Pricing produce at the farmer’s market is always a tricky endeavor.  The case of the radish, I think, exemplifies farmers’ and shoppers’ competing cost value systems. I’ve parsed out the following cost value systems below:

1.  The Economist.  According to economic theory, the value of a radish bunch is simply whatever people are willing to pay for it.  Looking back on Econ 101, the price is a graphable element that can be found at the intersection of the cost-benefit curves.  In this case, a radish does not have any intrinsic value.  If the world’s radish crop fails and a desperate consumer is willing to pay $20 per bulb, so be it; if radishes suddenly develop a strange social stigma — oh, don’t sit next to her, she’s a radish eater — and nobody wants to buy them, your perfect little bulb might be worth a fraction of a penny.  C’est la vie.

2.  The Farmer.  A farmer (or at least this farmer) tends to look at things from the growing point of view.  Am I giving you an entire plant, or simply a renewable portion of the plant?  I’m willing to charge you less for a large bunch of Swiss Chard because the plant will grow back by the next harvest time.  (While people complain about the cost of our radishes, we’ve been told that our Swiss Chard is too cheap.)  When I sell a bunch of six or seven radishes, that’s six or seven plants — plants that won’t bear me seed.  You can also look at it from the space-time continuum:  it takes a radish 3-4 weeks to come in, and a decent amount of soft-soiled space.  They also require a bit of weeding.

3.  The Concerned Consumer.  A radish could be valued based upon things like calorie count, nutritional value, freshness, taste, or growing conditions (i.e., organic).  Radishes contain as much potassium as bananas, not to mention a healthy dose of vitamin C and magnesium.  Plus, if you buy at a farmer’s market, you’re supporting a local food economy — good for your ‘food security’ in the long run.

So, what do I charge for radishes?  I started out at $1.75 for a nice-sized bunch (six big radishes, or 7-8 smaller ones).  Some customers, a few of whom clutched $4 Starbucks coffees, literally turned up their noses and rolled their eyes — a couple even picked up a bunch and then put it down, saying loudly “Oh, I thought it was bigger!” before high-tailing it away from the stand.  (Since I lie somewhere between the Concerned Consumer and the Farmer’s point of view, I was particularly aggrieved by the fact that some of these folks would unquestioningly pay $4 for a cup of coffee — which has zero nutrional value to speak of — but outwardly express disdain at my nutritious radishes.)  After a couple of weeks, we lowered our price to $1.50 per bunch, which is what they were charging at the store for considerably less fresh radishes.  Still, eyes rolled.

The last time we went to market, we dipped to $1.25, our pride considerably wounded.  I doubt you can buy a pack of gum for $1.25.

Does anyone stand up for radishes?  What’s the right pricing system for veggies?  It’s back to the drawing board for this greenhorn…

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