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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Farm Tales

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.)

1 Comment

Filed under Farm Philosophy, Farm Tales

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’!

Leave a comment

Filed under Farm Philosophy, Farm Tales

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!

2 Comments

Filed under Farm Philosophy

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Farm Tales, Farming Info

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…)

Leave a comment

Filed under Farm Philosophy

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…

4 Comments

Filed under Farm Philosophy

growing fancy: quinoa

It’s not something I ever would have thought of growing myself. But when Emmett and I were wwoofing on a small family farm in New Zealand, our hosts had a few quinoa plants going. They were healthy, bushy, beautiful things, and their grains were just starting to dry.

So, when we were on our online seed-spending spree a few months ago, we thought ‘why not?’ and ordered some Temuco Quinoa. It sounds fancy — and I went most of my life never having heard of quinoa — but it’s pretty practical stuff. It’s one of the few plant-based complete proteins — a protein that has all 8 amino acids. As such, it’s especially useful for a mostly-vegetarian like myself. (Other sources of complete protein include: spirulina, amaranth, soy, buckwheat, and hempseed, but I’m really not too sure how to serve some of those guys, besides blending them into some disgusting protein shake.) Quinoa’s also really pretty when cooked. The little hard seeds, once boiled/simmered sufficiently, burst open into tiny white spirals. They’re a pretty and healthy addition to soup–just throw ’em in 15 minutes or so before your soup’s done–and can make a nice side salad on their own, with some seasoning and veggies thrown in.

But back to the growing side of things. So far, so good: the plants have proved quite hardy. Sure, the cucumber beetles munched the leaves a bit, but let me tell you these plants looked absolutely wretched when we transplanted them. They were victims of our seed disaster–stunted, tiny things with only a couple of leaves apiece–and it was only Emmett’s deep-rooted sense of optimism that led us to put them in the ground at all. Good thing we did! They’re now hip-high bushes, vigorous and a pretty shade of grey-blue-green, and they’re starting to form buds. We’ve barely had to weed them–once they got going, they quickly shaded the weeds out–and water them about once a day. They haven’t minded our slightly soggy clay soil one bit. My only complaint: the stalks are on the brittle side, and break easily. But really it’s our fault for planting them too close to the chard row, which we harvest a lot (which means I sometimes back into the quinoa while trying to snip chard leaves and avoid stepping on the chard’s floating row cover, which we take off and put on the ground).

I’m excited for a quinoa harvest. If it’s successful, this might be something I plant in bulk in future years. It’s not too often you see grains at the farmer’s market, and I’m guessing people might be excited at something unusual like locally-grown quinoa. (I also have a hunch it might make an awesome protein supplement for chickens, but I’ll have to try that out first.) It’s a good storage crop; we’ve kept store-bought quinoa for close to a year without any sort of problem. Since most of our sales right now are in salad and chard, I can’t wait for something that doesn’t have to be harvested day-of-market!

4 Comments

Filed under Farming Info

farmer’s market recession

For the past 6 weeks — since we first started attending the Windsor farmer’s market — we’ve made more money each subsequent weekend, because we’ve brought more (and a greater variety of) produce each time. Every weekend, we sold out of our pre-bagged baby red-and-green leaf lettuce mix before the market closed. We kept telling ourselves, Gosh, we really need to bring more!

This weekend, things changed.

It started yesterday, Saturday, at the Healdsburg market. Now last weekend we brought several harvest-tubs full of Bright Lights rainbow Swiss chard to the Healdsburg market, and sold every bunch but one. This weekend, we brought the exact same amount of the exact same quality produce, and we sold maybe 1/3 of what we brought.

We were pretty shocked, not to mention distraught over the thought of all of this highly perishable food–well, perishing I guess, and in particular perishing without doing anybody any good. Emmett ran the excess chard over to the local food bank, only to learn that it’s open just 2 days a week: Mondays and Fridays. Then he did a “drive-by charding,” leaving his office refrigerator full of chard. (His boss, an environmental writer and publisher for whom he works part-time, has pigs & chickens, so anything not eaten by humans will still find a belly-home.)

But one refrigerator can only fit so much. A pile of sad, sad chard still sits on our kitchen floor. (See above picture, taken last night. It’s still there, only it looks even worse. We’ve been too busy to pick it up.)

Then came today. For the first time, we were prepared for our red-and-green salad onslaught. We brought 49 bags of the lettuce mix….

…And sold considerably less than we’d sold in previous weeks. At the end of the day, we had a bit under thirty bags left.

We drive-by lettuced fellow sellers at the farmer’s market, giving away $3 bags of salad mix to neighbors, volunteers, and people we’d never met before. Still, it was depressing: all that lettuce bed weeding and early-morning-snipping-and-bagging and hoped-for income just disappearing into thin air.

To make matters worse, it was just one of those days. Over the course of my 14-hour workday, I stubbed my toe twice. I slammed my finger between a car door and a support beam. I whacked my head getting into the pickup truck. Even caffeine couldn’t seem to rouse me from my stupor.

And the insult on top of the injury: I’m pretty sure that today I made the same amount of money as the young girl with the lemonade stand at yesterday’s farmer’s market. How do I know this? Having sold out of her lemonade, the little girl walked by our stand to bring 10% of her day’s earnings to the manager for her stall fee. (It was an adorable sight, and even without knowing her, I felt proud of her.) Clutched tightly in her little hand I could make out a $10 bill and several ones — less than I paid to the market manager yesterday, but about what I paid to the market manager today.

(Let’s not even go into how many more hours it takes to grow organic vegetables than to boil lemon juice, water, and sugar to make lemonade. Clearly, I’m in the wrong business for working a sane amount of hours while still earning money, and this depresses me. Ah, if only I were cute and young, maybe with freckles, I’d totally jump ship and get into the lemonade business while the gettin’s good!)

One more sad story, and then I promise I’ll draw this tragic tale to a close: at the end of the day, when we were pretty beaten down at the thought of all our un-purchased bags of lettuce, Emmett was told by someone what he would be paid for our produce. This person, a well-dressed older woman with coiffed hair and pretty necklaces, said, “I’m only paying $1 a pound for zucchini. That’s what they’re selling them for at…” [At this point, her voice trailed off; neither Emmett nor I could figure out what she said. Whole Foods? Safeway? Wal-Mart? Who knows.] Then, a command: “Here, weigh these.”

This, despite the fact that we don’t have a scale and do have a sign posted with fixed prices for “small” and “large” zucchinis. We price the really small zucchinis higher than $1/pound, because they’re more tender, are tasty eaten raw, and are harvested as a special item, sometimes with blossoms attached. There’s an opportunity cost associated with these guys: we could let them grow into ginormous one-pounders and get our money’s worth out of each female blossom, but we like to offer customers a variety.

It seemed a little absurd to watch the woman walk away with 6 beautiful, perfect baby zucchinis (a couple with still-fresh, edible blossoms!) for a dollar. At that price, it isn’t really worth my effort to harvest them, let alone grow them. But honestly, we were too tired to fight it. And $1 is better than nothing… although I’m not so sure about that, actually.  Sometimes dignity is better than $1.

Sigh. We got home after 7 p.m., having left the house in the 5 a.m. range. We cooked our classic Sunday dinner, which is (if it isn’t burritos from the local Mexican joint because we’re too pooped to cook)… drumroll… whatever’s left over from the market!

Over our dinner of market leftovers (lots of salad!) we discussed ways of genuinely making money as a farmer. I’ll keep you updated if any actually work.

Now, it’s time for bed. As always, tomorrow’s a new day.

1 Comment

Filed under Farm Philosophy, Farm Tales

table, check. umbrella, check. quarters, ones, check…

Today [June 22] was our first farmer’s market, and I’m exhausted.

We’ve been preparing for the market for the past three days. We managed to locate, borrow or create most of the necessities: a wooden sign with our farm name, paper signs identifying the veggies, a table, tablecloth, coolers, ice, baskets, chairs, umbrella. We packed everything in the Subaru the night before to make sure it all fit. (Yes, barely.) We wanted a scale, too, but local stores quoted us $300 for a certified, farmer’s-market-approved scale. ($300?! We decided to wait and keep an eye on eBay.)

Then, this morning, we rose at 6 AM. We spent two-plus hours harvesting and washing. First the radishes — the oblong, pink-and-white french breakfast ones and a traditional deep fuchsia spherical variety — which were double-washed. One bucket to get the gobs of mud off; one to make them shine. Then we moved on to the bok choi, which only took one rinse — a bath that was mostly intended to rid the greens of flea beatles. My little brother identified our bok choi as a Swiss variety. As in holey, like the cheese. (We didn’t realize the flea beetles were bad guys until it was too late… actually, we didn’t even know what to call them until we read about them on the seed packet two days ago. They’re tiny, iridescent little black beetles, and the name “flea beetle” made perfect sense. For our second round of bok choi, we’re going to try and use a row cover to confuse/deter them.)

Then we turned to the baby brassica greens that we were selling as a lettuce mix (one that could also be tossed into stir fries or soups). We snipped, soaked and, lacking a salad spinner, shook them as dry as we could before bagging them. Emmett was the official Salad Dancer, and will likely continue to salad dance until we’re really rich and can afford a gigantic, commercial-sized salad spinner — which judging by the cost of the scale will probably set us back at least $150.

Then, off to the market! It was satisfying to set up our little stand and put our hard work out there for others to enjoy. While Emmett and I were a bit embarrassed by our bug-eaten produce — the arugula and bok choi were a tad on the green lace side — many of our customers didn’t seem to mind at all. “As long as it tastes good,” one lady said. A man sympathized: “Oh, I’m in the grape business, trust me, I know how it goes.” We’re grateful for their understanding — and were thrilled when people complimented our produce or bought multiple things. Two bags of greens, a bunch of radishes, that’s almost $10 in one fell swoop! For us, that’s a dinner out — two burritos and a shared drink.

Other things of note: The radishes were a suprisingly big hit. I thought Emmett was silly to plant them, since I consider radishes to be a fairly dull affair. And to add insult to my radish injury, when we were re-reading the seed packet yesterday, we noticed that both varieties suggested that children plant them. “Fun for kids to grow! …almost disease free.” (In other words, our most successful crop so far is one that’s pretty hard to screw up.) Radishes: was it the color that attracted people? The fact that they’re so mundane, they’re rarely seen in the farmer’s market? We also put out fun radish recipes courtesy of the Radish Council, including a hot-and-sour-soup and a southwestern cobb salad. Maybe our customers were impressed by their versatility.

Did I mention I’m exhausted? My body is tired from harvesting, watering, and hauling all of the farmer’s market “stuff.” I’m a bit sunburned from several hours sitting in the half-shade of our too-small umbrella. (It was me or the salad greens, and being a true farmer I let the greens have the shade.)

Total market proceeds: $98. $9.80 went to the farmer’s market to pay for the use of the space and the organization. Another $25 went to pay our annual dues, since it was our first time at the market. Which leaves us with $63.20.

Considering that we’ve worked (between the two of us, extremely conservatively), 80 hours a week for 3 weeks, and Emmett put in a couple of 60-hour weeks before that, our earnings come to about 17 cents an hour. (And that’s not taking into account our significant start-up costs: seeds, irrigation, soil amendments, manure. But I don’t feel like going there right now, so I won’t.)

And besides, we also got one beautiful red onion, one butter crisp lettuce head, two squash seedlings, and two bowls full of lovely orchids (of a species from Madagascar) from our neighbors at the farmer’s market, so really, we’re doing pretty well.

I may be tired, but really, I feel great.

Leave a comment

Filed under Farm Tales