Monday, August 5, 2013

Too Much Thinkin'...

Earl Bob and Taz 1985

Back in the day when the Boss worked for the power company, it was with a bunch of more than slightly red-neck, definitely blue-collar "band of brothers".  These guys had creatively derisive nicknames for everyone and the ability to put-down at the mere hint of a personal slight. They could be crass and crude and the hard physical labor of the job meant they got dirty, real dirty and sometimes…well, really smelly, too.  I take it back…they could be just plain STINKY. However, they were a tight-knit, talented bunch who put life and limb on the line to make sure that those in their jurisdiction had electricity in all sorts of situations.

Their nicknames and odd phrases will live on in infamy (at least in the lives of those involved).  I find myself quoting some of them YEARS after the fact.  There are phrases which defy definition, but ALWAYS fit the situation. When the “big boss” passed away some time ago, one of the “old crew” left a couple of quotes on our answering machine in tribute….and even our children knew their significance. These guys were like family, and while we’ve lost touch over the years, I am fairly certain if I made a certain type of cookies, pizza…and turnip soup…one or more of them would show up in the driveway. There are times when I truly miss the band of mis-fits.

However, things were not always sunshine and roses. There was always a bit of tension between engineering and craft.  The guys with the degrees occasionally thought they knew more than those “grunts” that had worked their way up through the ranks.  Often, discussion and debate wrangled on for hours, keeping any real solution from taking place.  Which, (and I’m guessing here)…led to the infamous, “….there’s TOO much thinkin’…and not ENOUGH stinkin’ …goin’ on!”  In other words, talking about the situation and possible, theoretical solutions was fine, but there were men with hard-earned experience that could fix the problem….so, cut the chatter and get to WORK! Do something…anything…RIGHT NOW! There were people in the dark, the cold, or the heat of summer…and they weren’t getting happier with the passage of time. In some cases, something had blown up and there was a huge mess that required cleaning hazardous material while switching the power load around so that electricity was available to the masses. It was stressful, hazardous work. If you don’t think those in the power company are in constant danger…let me tell you…

I realize you are wondering WHAT this story has to do with the farm, my life…well, just about anything…

The Boss learned a lot in that environment, so he and I tend to problem-solve on the fly.  One of us identifies a problem…we meet, discuss and get to fixing the problem, often while we are heading to the job.  When you live in a place where action can very certainly mean the difference between life and death, you learn to think fast…and IMPROVISE.  While it occasionally means that we have to go back and correct something we missed in the first analysis, we spend a lot more time “stinkin’” (doing jobs) that we do “thinkin’” (planning them out in great detail).

As everyone knows, there is always someone out there who wants to tell everyone else how to do things…and that someone rarely has the experience to back up all their theories and plans, but still expects everyone else to listen and implement their hair-brained ideas.    ….and, I don’t think I am alone in finding this truly aggravating.

Case in point.

There is a “food policy task force” in Staunton, the hometown of our Farmers’ Market.

 The original mission of the task force was to
“Make fresh, local food more widely available to Staunton citizens regardless of income, in order to foster local food security and support the prosperity and good health of all our citizens.” (proposal to convene food policy task force for the City of Staunton – Councilman Erik Curren)

That sounds good.  Honestly, I could support this in some way.

 But…recently, the task force presented its proposed policies to the public.  There were 6 recommendations, but one was a blatant over-step…

The “food policy task force” decided to propose changes to the Farmers’ Market.

The Farmers’ Market that has been a cornerstone of the downtown economy since 1993, the Farmers Market where the Boss and I have made our living for the past 16 years, the Farmers’ Market that has brought millions of dollars to our small town, the Farmers’ Market of which the Boss has been an integral part as manager since 2005. The Farmers’ Market that visitors compliment on a regular basis, the one with music and food and happy, cheerful shoppers and vendors.
The Farmers’ Market where none of the taskforce members even bother to shop on a regular basis.
Market shopping

Market friends

going upscale at the Market

ShenanArts performed Les Mis at the Market

Music at the Market

 They want to implement changes to that Farmers Market...OUR Farmers' Market.

Do ya think I’m bothered?

You better know it.    …and I am not alone.

As I said, the Boss and I have been making our living at the Market for the last 16 years from this little bit of earth.  It’s been harder than I could have ever imagined.  I have learned more than I ever thought possible. We’ve worked, cried, laughed, and had experiences of a lifetime. We have cultivated friendships in odd and random places…and I---no, make that WE---count ourselves incredibly blessed.

How dare someone with absolutely NO personal knowledge of the inner workings of the Market or any inkling of farming think that they can sweep in and demand some sort of change…some sort of “food justice”?!

Here is the current proposal.
Expand Opportunities for farmers markets
Benefit to City -
- modifies Staunton City Code Chapter 12.35: City Market to help any markets licensed by the City to better serve the public interest by encouraging citizen participation, encouraging outreach to underserved populations thus increasing food security and enabling markets to sell a greater variety of goods.
Benefit to markets and vendors –
Ensure fair treatment of vendors and more customer-friendly operation of markets with the goal of providing a greater choice of inventory, expanding customer base and increasing sales.
Details –
Drawing on models from other cities, allow markets to sell locally made crafts, ensure 51% representation on oversight board of Staunton residents and provide for clear and transparent governance and financial management. (see Market Makeover: 25 Best Practices for Farmers’ Markets from Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture project  want to read it? )

Have these people ever visited the Market?

Do they have any idea what the City was thinking when the City Code was devised?

Have they ever tried to make a living? …and farming, ever even heard of THAT?

Do they have even one iota of commonsense?
(SiL #1-the beermeister—keeps telling me that no one has any commonsense anymore.  You’re right, son. This one proves that!)

If you want to affect change…you should know your subject. 

Clearly, these folks do NOT.

I know I’m being redundant, but here we go…again.

The Staunton/Augusta Farmers Market has been a part of the Staunton downtown scene since 1993.  We have personally been a part since 1998, missing just one Saturday during all that time.  The Market has grossed over 4 MILLION dollars in that period of time, bringing countless folks and dollars into the downtown economy.

Personally, we have raised our family, built our business and grown our farm on our earnings…no loans, no grants, just a lot of really hard work.  …and somebody wants to think that we don’t understand customer relations and increasing sales?  Give me a break!

I know there are other vendors who make more money than we do, who work more hours than we do…who have done the Market longer. ( so, I’m guessing they’re even madder than I am)  But, the Boss and I came to this empty piece of land in ’97, desperate, broke and scared out of our wits.  We knew we had to do something.  While I may never be able to explain why, with no previous marketing experience, no idea what we were doing, we chose the market….but, choose the Market we did.  We earned just $66.50 that very first day.  But, we felt a connection with the customers.  The challenge of learning to market and learning to grow…making friends, understanding food trends, growing beyond our comfort zone and being appreciated for our efforts…that was exhilarating. In addition, our daughters learned some amazing lessons and valuable life skills. I have written numerous articles detailing the importance of the Market on oh, so many levels. But, this is probably my favorite.

In the past 16 years, the Market has controlled our lives.  I don’t mean that in a bad way.  Okay, some days…it was bad.  But, when you know that folks depend on you…that you have some control over your own destiny…you got friends of all walks of life who will be there when you need something/anything (yes, we know from personal experience) and you eat the most awesome food ever…life is good.  But, not a day goes by that we haven’t done something for the Market.  Planting, weeding, harvesting, hauling lambs…hay…feed, doing research, writing, consultation and so on…

We end up doing the thinkin’ and the stinkin’ in this operation! 

As the Market manager, the Boss handles the weekend operation, attends meetings, answers endless questions, takes photos and maintains the Market’s facebook page and website in addition to our personal farm stuff.

So, for someone with NO personal knowledge to think they can make proposals and changes….I say NO! Back off…’cause this is NOT yours…and you just don’t care. 
You don’t even have a clue.

For the record, every single suggestion in that “Market Makeover” has been done in Staunton.  I know…this is my business, this is my life. You want transparency and openness? It’s there. Try checking out the Market on the internet. Here's the web address.

Don’t you dare sit in  your office…your board room…your ivory tower…wherever…and think and think and THINK, coming to some silly conclusion with absolutely no personal interest, investment  or effort and assume that you have the right to change my business and my way of life.

If you want to affect change…you get down in the trenches…you work and you sweat and you worry through sleepless nights and events demanding superhuman effort…when you’re tired and dirty and …yeah…STINKY…then…then…will you have earned the right to even suggest change.

However, the difference between the power company story and the whole Market situation is this…the Market isn’t broken, nothing is wrong, and help was not requested or required.

In this case, there’s no need for thinkin’… (or stinkin’)…


                          …if it ain’t broke…don’t try to fix it!

1 comment:

  1. Oh Barbara, your post could equally have been written about here. As soon as something is going really well, somebody gets a 'grant' or gets a 'mandate' or some other grand word, to change everything or up-date it. I agree with every word you say.