Sunday, August 10, 2014

Price Wars

You want to make a bunch of people mad at you?

Just try going to the farmers’ market with a whole load of stuff and selling it cheap, cheap, cheap.
You’ll have everybody after you.  I promise.  The customers will assume that you bought it for next to nothing at some produce auction or underhanded wholesaler with absolutely no knowledge or concern about the production methods…and you’re just trying to make a quick and easy buck.  And the whispers will start. The other vendors will be certain you’re trying to put them out of business because they know that their own production costs keep prices at a certain level.  So, they’ll go along with the whole “scandal” scenario in hopes that you’ll just go away and compete with Walmart and the other discounted venues in town. Definitely not the way to win friends and influence people.

No…trying for the lowest price in town is not the wisest marketing choice for farmers’ market vendors. You end up de-valuing yourself, your product and calling into question the ethics of the entire Market and undermining any efforts toward creating a feeling of community among the vendors. 
It is so frustrating when farmers don’t seem to appreciate just how very special they are and acknowledge that their products have enormous value.  Food grants us the energy to do all those other things we want to do. 

Food is life. 

Just two percent of the American population makes their living farming


And, far fewer make their living by selling at the farmers’ market.  This makes what we do a real specialty.  Personally, I see myself as an artisan, doing what few others can…or will.  It takes a special skill set to coax life out of the soil…and I (we) know how to do it. That gives our products great value.  And, they should be priced accordingly.

If I say this out loud at the market, someone is sure to say something like, “well…aren’t you special?  You must think you’re better than everyone else…charging so much.”

Because, nothing is more contentious in the world of the farmers’ market than pricing.


There are folks who won’t set foot at a farmers’ market due to their idea that prices are far too high. While this is not true (and I have photographic evidence from the grocery) they’re entitled to their own opinion.

Some time ago, someone noted that he bought an entire package of seeds for less than the price of one of our cucumbers.  And he got many cucumbers…and he GAVE them away.  Okay…great. Just because you can buy a package of seeds for 50 cents and get some sort of crop does NOT mean the entire crop is worth 50 cents.  …and can you do this consistently? Throughout the entire season? Year after year?

This is my occupation…my job.  Would this man be willing to do their job for nothing?  Would anyone work for nothing? How could they?

It is equally frustrating when consumers don’t seem to appreciate just how very special farms and farmers are and acknowledge that their products have enormous value.  Again, FOOD grants us the energy to do all those other things we want to do.

Personally, I have never understood why consumers (and I include myself here) complain about paying for food.  We don’t hesitate to pay top dollar for clothing for our bodies or gadgets to stimulate our minds…but, we grouse about the price of the food we purchase to feed ourselves? Where would we be without food?  I guess since we all need it, do we somehow feel it should be "guaranteed"…like air and water? (and are they really?)

For every customer I have who complains about prices, I have two who would gladly pay more for our products.  These are the customers who understand that in order to keep doing what I do…to be sustainable…I need to make enough for my own survival. I've written about price comparisons this.

More than 50 years ago, President Kennedy spoke about what farmers were up against in bringing their products to market.  Cost of inputs and production costs directly affect the end price.  This is still very true, especially for the small producer. Food produced on small operations can never be price competitive with that produced in massive quantities.(but that's an economics lesson for another day) 

Food has great value. 

And, personally, local food is of even greater value.  By supporting local producers, we keep farmers farming and a contributing as vibrant parts of the community.  Our beautiful Valley can retain its picturesque farmland. And, the artisanal food choices will continue.

As producers, we need to recognize that our occupation is one of great importance and value our  own labors and our products.  And, as consumers we should truly respect those who do the work that we either choose not to or cannot do ourselves.

Ultimately, farmers need to be able to make a living wage and keep farming so they can feed folks and consumers need to be grateful for all the amazing choices that American agriculture offers. In the end, it’s up to you to decide what the effort it took to get your food to your table is worth to you.

So, I’d like to end this National Farmers’ Market week with a special THANK YOU to all our kind, appreciative customers who value our work and make it possible for us to make a living doing what we love.

We couldn’t do it without you!

**thank you to T Leighton Womack photography for the images!**