The farmer’s market season has returned in some areas and will be returning soon in other areas. For those of you new to the market, welcome and enjoy. Shopping at the farmer’s market is much like shopping the outside aisle of the grocery store. At the market you will often find, fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy, meat and bread. Some markets will have greater variety and other markets will have less.
What you will not find at the market is many items from the center aisle, and the ones you do find often don’t compare. I am talking jams and jellies, cookies, soaps and lotions, all items made in someone’s kitchen, not some far off factory.
The beginning of the season is always exciting, seeing customers/friends that I haven’t seen in months. Often I am met with handshakes and warm embraces, sincere questions about how I am doing and how my winter went. Compliments of weigh loss or disappoints about weight gain. Meeting new babies and discovering that new customers will be arriving in June or July.
No two farmer’s markets are the same; each has a distinct feeling and personality, and distinct energy that can be felt by all. Some markets have been stable for years, with vendors in attendance for twenty or more years, now serving a second generation of customers. Other markets experience large yearly turnovers.
Gone are the days when farmer’s markets are expected to be a bargain, where items are cheaper than the grocery store. No longer are wholesale prices seen. Farmer’s markets are now seen as quality and freshness above and beyond the grocery. Additionally factor in the seasonality and varieties not found in the grocery and you will know why farmer’s markets are so popular and the new standard for freshness and healthy eating.
If quality matters the farmer’s market should be your first choice, if price matters, there is a big box store somewhere in your neighborhood, where fancy pictures and slick Wall Street marketing is the norm. Quality comes with a price; there is a reason why Mercedes Benz is more expensive than Chevrolets. Granted not everyone can afford a Benz, but it doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally lease one for the weekend.
Let’s compare the big box store to the farmer’s market, I will not use names, but you may see yourself, hopefully you will not be upset with me, as I go through some questions.
How fresh are your eggs? This is the most frequently asked question for me at the market. Does anyone ever ask this question at the big box store? Even if you do can your check out clerk answer the question for you? The eggs we sell are never more than a week old, those in the big box store may be three months old when the eggs arrive at the store. And forget all the other questions the clerk can’t answer. What type of chickens are used, are the chickens free range, are the chickens organic are the chickens local? Nuf said.
Do you give discounts if I buy more than one dozen? Wholesale prices don’t start at two. How many eggs do you have to buy at the big box stop before you get a discount, I know it isn’t after the second one. If you are looking for the best eggs in town, talk to me, if you are looking for the cheapest, the big box store is around the corner. I challenge you to buy a dozen eggs from the grocery and a dozen from me, hard boil them and leave them in the shell, I will peel them and tell you which eggs are mine, and which are from the grocery. (Remember to purchase brown eggs)
I will offer you a discount on eggs if you want to come to the farm, gather them yourself, wash them yourself, and put them in your own carton.
When you are a new customer at the market and your first question is a price question, generally price is more important to you than quality, and unfortunately you will not purchase from me. I never plan to compete price for price with the big box store, I can’t compete on price, and they will never compete with my quality.
Remember I talked about market personalities, at some markets quality is the word of the day and customers appreciate what I and other vendors, produce for your families, other markets not so much. When someone offers me $7.00 for a $10.00 chicken I am insulted, and rightly so. Have you every tried to negotiate the price at the big box store? I didn’t think so. I really see this happening to my neighboring produce vendors.
Then this happened yesterday, a gentleman was looking for bacon, and the bacon was priced $6.04. The gentleman offered me $5.00, and I said no sir, I’ll go $6.00 to keep from counting change. He then told me I had to sell it (that’s right) I had to sell it to him for $5.00. I told him no, I don’t. I am not a commodity farmer; the purchaser does not dictate my selling price. Buy don’t buy the choice is yours, but this gentleman is not going to set the price. This man wouldn’t dream of doing this in the big box store, why would this be acceptable behavior at the market.
And then there is the classic, why is your **** so expensive, I can get it at the big box store for half that price? You are correct, go purchase your, arsenic from the big box store, I don’t feed my chickens arsenic like the industry, nor do I follow industry practices, my chickens actually see the light of day, and each one is processed here on the farm, not one million a day from a factory.
I take great pride, in trying to know each and every one of you, I try to learn your children’s name, I invite you to come to the farm, I answer your farm questions, I communicate as much information personally as possible.
Believe me my rant was based on one market and a very few select customers, but I get upset at times like anyone else. I am proud of what I do, I left my previous career to do what I love, and not be a drone in a cubicle. If you have questions about price or quality, come spend eight hours with me on the farm, and see if you feel the same way I do? Senator John F. Kennedy explained in 1960 during the presidential campaign that the farmer is the only person in the economy that sells at wholesales, buys at retail and pays the freight both ways.
A small family farm is not a factory farm; we don’t get millions in subsidies like the factory farms. We don’t have purchasing powers of scale. We don’t have multi-million dollar manure lagoons, we are small scale.
I closing let me sign off on this note. If the USDA farm bill was eliminated today, the low input small scale family farm would be the cheapest guy in town, don’t forget yes I sell $4.00 a dozen eggs, but how expensive is the big box store eggs that sell for $2.59 plus $1.59 in tax payer subsidies?