Wednesday, July 31, 2013

On the Frontlines

Are you organic? WHY NOT? Are you “sorta” organic?
Do you spray? With BAD stuff?
You don’t use pesticides, do you?
Are your chickens free-range, hormone free? 
Is this from a factory farm?
Is your lamb 100% grass-raised?
Do you use chemicals?
This meat has been injected with steroids, hasn’t it?
Do you love your chickens?
Do you use GMO’s in production?
Do you wash your produce?  Can I eat this right away?
Did you know they kill laying chickens after 72 days?
I just got back from a visit to a “factory farm”….ewww!
It’s nice to see someone selling REAL food…not that stuff from the grocery store.
Did you know that all meat is treated with a "solution" prior to sale?
I told the kids it’s better to have slugs in your food than all the pesticides that is used in the industry!
Monsanto is evil and out to kill us all.
Do you know where this stuff came from?
These vegetables are beautiful, how did you get them that way?
Why are these zucchinis yellow?  Did you do something to them?
Do you have any idea how I fix this vegetable/meat for eating?
You must feed your chickens “something” to make them this big.
Pesticides are bad!
The food at the grocery is full of GMO’s and “they” are trying to hurt us.
I am allergic to GMO’s.
Why are there bugs in this corn/broccoli/whatever?  Don’t you use pesticides?
Your eggs are so big…they’re brown… you must medicate your chickens.
...and so on...

Welcome to the Farmers Market!  …from the farmers’ side of the table.

Each of the statements above is a direct quote from some conversation we have had at the Market in the past six months to a year.  Except for that Monsanto one…I cleaned that one up so it was a little more “family friendly”. This is just a sampling.  I’ve got more…LOTS more.

When a Market conversation starts in a somewhat confrontational way, I find it more than a little distressing. I’m never sure if it’s because I am sleep-deprived (we get up at 4am to get ready for Market), caffeine-deficient (most times I miss my second cuppa in my race to check on all the critters before leaving for the Market), or maybe the Boss is right and I am “just too sensitive”…but, some of these people seem upset! REALLY upset! The upset customers often make us feel as if we are under attack, doing battle of some sort on the frontlines of the food debates.  As the fearmongers in the media continue to whip consumers into a frenzy, the rhetoric is getting more shrill and divisive and making food buyers more frightened and confused.

In our direct marketing ventures, I am the customer service rep, the complaint department (sometimes the one doing the complaining), and quite often the “face of the farm” at the Market and online. In many cases, I am what one of my customers referred to as “the closest thing I’ve met to a real farmer”. (uh, excuse me…I AM a Farmer…and yes, I AM very real!)

Over the years, we’ve gotten fan letters and had folks pledge their steadfast loyalty.  On the other hand, I’ve had people tell me to my face that we do things wrong and make unkind and false accusations. Those are the extremes, most times our Market conversations are short and sweet…and that interaction is what makes the Market an experience that both the Boss and I enjoy immensely.

ALWAYS a pleasant conversation
The pleasant conversations stroke our ego, make us feel good and provide us with insight as to how best serve the market customers.  While the un-pleasant, confrontational conversations can be hurtful and distressing, they too offer us insight as to our Market customers.  In the end, customer satisfaction is the key element to our success.

To that end, I’ve spent countless hours reading and researching areas of customer concern. I can give advice as to food preparation and preservation. I’ve cultivated relationships with folks outside of my comfort zone so that I can understand the food issues of the day. I have read books from all points of view and even watched “those” movies.  I have asked more than my fair share of odd and random questions in hopes of gaining insight into food production/farming practices that differ from ours to share real facts with my customer-friends. And, yes…I have some very strong opinions on every single subject, based on my hard-earned knowledge and personal experience. But, I won’t share them unless you really want me to.

All Market conversations require some thoughtful interaction on our part.  (except for that Monsanto one…I just looked at that guy and the conversation ended.  I will talk to anybody about anything...but, be nice!  no cussing!) Since it is not always prudent or possible to take the time to have an in-depth discussion about myriad food issues while conducting business, I began our farm blog in hopes that our customer-friends and others would read and understand some of what goes into food production.

You might want to read these.

The folks that shop at Farmers’ Markets are looking for fresh, healthy, local, nutritious food to meet a number of health concerns. They want the “best” for themselves and their families and they are convinced that all the information they have heard through the media, their health care provider or their second cousin is absolutely accurate and that they have every right to be worried.

The constant onslaught of “information” is overwhelming.  Social media , the mainstream media, the not-so mainstream media, the “shock jocks” who are out there to sell a book or a new diet plan or product, the celebrity farmers, the activists all fan the flames of fear and hysteria.  Much of the information is just plain wrong! When combined with the fact that most folks are three generations removed from the farm, the rising fear is completely understandable.

I understand the concern…the very real fear.  I was there once.  Remember the Alar Apple Scare of 1989? Read this. 

In 1989, I was a new mother.  Our beautiful baby girl had just begun to eat and drink “real people food” and loved apple juice and applesauce.  It was good for her.  Or, so I thought.  The stories that made the news were terrifying.  Here I was doing something I thought was good…and I was very possibly hurting my child in the process.  I was worried, I was outraged…I didn’t know what to do. The nameless, faceless apple growers were just trying to make more money and threatening MY baby in the process, or so said those talking heads on the news.

I talked to the pediatrician.  He thought it was media hype and that the benefits of juice outweighed the possible harm.  Besides, what would I substitute?  How far was I going to carry my concerns? This was before everything was labeled and ORGANIC was the rage.

The Boss concurred, but also suggested that I find out BOTH sides of the story.  That’s always the Boss’ directive…get ALL the facts. He suggested I could go to the library and do a little research. He would even watch the baby.

In the age prior to the internet, research was hard to do.  It involved far more effort than the click of a mouse or the scroll of a cursor. I made more than one trip to the library.  Perhaps it was better in the age before the internet…the constant sharing and re-sharing of “information” didn’t happen quite so much as it does now. 

It would have been a godsend to find a farmer (or someone) who was willing and able to civilly and rationally discuss my fears and direct me toward good information. If I had only known someone with personal knowledge or some connections!  I did have a little knowledge of orchard crops…but, my distant childhood memories of peach trees in the front yard or a trip to a pick-your-own weren’t really helpful.

I eventually cobbled together enough facts and a fair amount of faith to find some peace and surety regarding the food choices I made for my family.  While I am certain my choices were not perfect (and probably never will be) they worked for us. Today, I share our customers concerns about the food supply...and research the "issues of the day" on a regular basis.

This is one reason I fully support the whole “know your farmer, know your food” campaign…although perhaps not for the reason intended.  Once you know a producer, the fear of the unknown is gone.  That producer has a network of friends and acquaintances and a source of information that can be invaluable. 

The ability to talk directly to another real, live human being who is willing to make an emotional connection is powerful.  When that person is involved with your food, knows and possibly shares your concerns, the sense of empowerment is priceless.
It is with the recollection of my own past fears and feelings of vulnerability that I face each Market week with the hope for an opportunity to forge new connections and in some small way grant someone else the comfort and empowerment is personal knowledge.

To our customer-friends and anyone else who is truly interested in obtaining all the facts when it comes to today’s food issues, I say…

If you want to know more about food production and handling, ASK A FARMER! I would like to help you answer your questions.  If I don't have personal experience or know the answer...I know people who do. I’ll be glad to help you find the information you need. But, please…be polite.


  1. Fascinating Barbara. People can be so rude and also so ill informed. I eat very little meat and when I do eat it I want to know exactly where it comes from, so I buy from the same source which all comes from a local farm.
    My mother in law, who died some years ago, kept hens, as I do. on grass. She entered competitions with her sandwich cakes and once had a cake disqualified because the judge said she had added yellow dye. You can imagine she was absolutely furious - our egg yolks are always golden - made so by the lovely grass.

    1. I have hens at home that get to free roam and eat what chickens are supposed to eat. I share my eggs with my co-workers and everyone has stated how great the eggs are and how dark the yolk is compared to store bought eggs!