It’s Farmers’ Market week!
This is the week set aside to mark the important part that those 8,000+ farmers' markets across the country play in their communities.
I thought about writing one of those posts extolling the virtues of Farmers’ Markets. How they benefit everyone in the community, enhance the economy, provide for the needy and make the world a better place…blah, blah, blah. But those have been done to death. I know, I’ve written more than a few…check these out:
https://homesteadhillfarm.blogspot.com/2016/08/farmers-market-week-2016.html (this one has links to all the others)
Still, it is Farmers Market week.
I really ought to write something about the market.
The Staunton Farmers' Market has been a fixture in our lives for more than 20 years now. Twenty years! That’s a long time. And, that alone is some sort of accomplishment.
When we started as vendors, it really wasn’t because we were concerned with the community or the local economy. We weren’t looking to be food warriors or even save the earth. We were scared and broke and hoping to provide for our family. In reality, it was a move that was equal parts desperation and determination.
But, it’s Farmers’ Market week and I’m not here to tell you some sob story.
I’ve been thinking how farmers’ markets farmers are far different from other types of farmers. How some farmers even put air-quotes around those who grow for market. You know what I mean? They refer to us as “farmers” or say that we “farm”. I don’t think they’re trying to be offensive. Or at least I hope not. Because that’s kinda mean. However, I do understand where they’re coming from. Compared to big grain/cattle/crop producers, the vendors at our market have small operations.
And, this place does not look like your typical farm. It’s tiny, it’s hilly, we actually BUY hay, and we don’t have any cool equipment.
But. We have managed to grow and produce food on a marketable scale for a long time now. That should count for something.
We work hard. We grow a good product. And, like the saying goes… “size doesn’t matter”. The mere fact that we’ve taken 12 acres of basically nothing and turned it into a thriving entity, providing food for ourselves and others is nothing short of a miracle.
There are those who say the only reason farmers’ markets work is because they charge exorbitant prices. Again..kinda mean. And, SO not true. While I admit we do not charge “loss leader” type of prices, those are just to get you into the store anyway… We don’t have the benefit of massive discounts for buying in bulk. Our production costs are far higher per single unit that big operations that produce huge quantities. But, our prices (and the rest of our farmers’ market) are generally in line with those at the grocery store. I know. I shop the grocery stores and do regular price comparison research.
Once a guy told us that since he could buy a package of cucumber seeds for 50 cents, grow a whole bunch of cucumbers and GIVE them away, we should be able to do that too. I forgot to ask him if that’s how he paid his bills. I’m pretty sure the guys at the feedstore would just die laughing if the Boss rolled in with a truckload of zucchini to pay for feed. And, I’ve never tried to pay the electric bill that way. For online payments would I just throw the produce at the computer screen? And, just for the record here, everyone deserves a fair wage for their labors. (and excess produce doesn’t count)
We grow for the Market because that’s what works for us. Not because we think we’re right and everyone else is wrong. And, we certainly do not think anyone else should do things the way we do. We may have a small (okay, minute) operation. But, we’ve produced delicious food for ourselves and others for years. (and made enough cash to pay the bills) We are indeed REAL farmers. Yep, once had a lady tell me that she figured I was as close to a “real” farmer as she was ever gonna get. Still haven’t quite figured that one out. I’m pretty much as real as you get… (definitely no air-quotes)
That being said, the Farmers’ Market is an amazing place. You can find all sorts of food products, meat, eggs, hand-crafted items and more. Live music adds a vibrancy to an already interesting and eclectic experience.
Over the course of our 20+-year tenure, we’ve met folks from around the world. We’ve been exposed to thoughts and ideas that we would have never known otherwise. We’ve found ourselves challenged to learn and adapt in order to keep our business viable in an ever-changing world. Our children learned valuable lessons that they took into adulthood. We may never have met some of our friends if it weren’t for the farmers’ market. Dealing with the concerns of the public has made us far more empathetic (and only occasionally frustrated) that we would have been if we were just to stay here on the hill. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves and our world and we’ve honed our message and found a voice for our concerns.
Our journey as farmers’ market vendors is unique, as I suppose each and every vendor’s is. There are those who set out to be the biggest and the best, and those who seek to fill a special niche, some are looking to use the Market as a stepping stone on the way to something bigger, a few do this as a hobby and still others would be hard pressed to pin-point why they have decided the Market is their venue. The stories are varied, the experiences myriad and the differing world visions both interesting and enlightening. That’s just part of what makes the Farmers’ Market so interesting.
A trip to the Market is far more than going to buy produce. It’s a visit with friends, support for folks you know and admire, and you’re almost guaranteed to learn something. And, I, for one, am privileged to be part of such a vibrant and interesting occupation.
Happy Farmers’ Market Week, y’all!
See you at the Market!