By Terri Smith —
I have had the most difficult time getting started on this article. I know what I want to say, but delicate phrasing isn’t exactly one of my strengths and I don’t actually want to offend anyone. It doesn’t seem like I should have such a hard time being nice when the topic I am to write on is that of local economies, and the benefits of supporting our community through buying local and sharing with our friends and neighbours. This is actually one of my favourite topics. But sometimes, especially at the end of another summer of farming, I must admit that I do occasionally become a little bit jaded and cynical.
Confession, they say, is good for you. It feels good to admit we are all human. It can be a relief to be able to speak of our shortcomings, our humbling moments. So, dear readers, I have something to confess. Sometimes, (not usually) it’s really hard to be nice all the time while trying to explain that, in fact, my vegetable prices are not really all that high, but actually (barely) reflect the true cost of growing food. Sometimes I think my smile may crack. Sometimes the nice words I am choosing to explain why things cost what they do are not at all reflecting how I really feel.
Here’s an example based on true events from this past summer. I’ll call the aggravating customer, whom I do not know, WINS as an acronym for Woman In Nice Shoes.
WINS (snottily): These carrots must be organic with prices that high.
Me (smiling): Yes, all my produce is non-certified organic.
WINS (annoyed): Well, for $2.50 I can get a 5lb bag of carrots at Save-on. Your carrots are only a pound and a half.
Me (still smiling): That’s true. However, because grocery store carrots are harvested by machine they’re bred to be tough and woody and so they really can’t compare with the flavour of a delicate and tasty variety that was harvested by hand and that’s grown in good soil.
WINS (clearly not comprehending a word I have said): But why are they so expensive?
Me (glancing at her perfect shoes, still working on smiling): My prices reflect my cost of production. It takes a lot of time and labour to grow real food with real flavour.
WINS (still not really caring or even really listening): But how do I know you’re actually organic if you’re not certified?
Me (beginning to tire of the conversation, but still smiling): You don’t. With so many different certifying bodies now, organic doesn’t even necessarily mean what we think it should mean and my customers have said they don’t care about the label. I use organic methods because I believe in growing great soil, which in turn grows great food. I believe in not hurting our planet and in eating and selling the best food I can produce. (Right about now I’m really starting to get into what I’m saying. Soapbox, please?) I only sell locally so my customers can get to know me and what I stand for. I believe in transparency, and in knowing your farmer and knowing where your food comes from, and anyone is welcome to come visit my farm and see how…
WINS (interrupting me): I’m too busy for that, and your prices are still too high.
Me (but only in my head): Um, you’re actually wearing shoes. Nice ones. I’m not just a weird, barefoot hippy who doesn’t like wearing shoes (though I am also that); I actually just can’t afford any shoes right now.
Me (out loud, smile cracking now): Well, that’s fine. Have a great day all the same.
These moments at the markets are thankfully relatively rare, but they are deflating and they do happen too much. Many people still have not made the connection between a healthy local economy and actually going out and buying local. The world is changing more rapidly now and people are starting to place more importance on supporting their communities.
Supporting local is fun and it helps build relationships with our fellow humans. Buying from local producers means you get to talk to people in your community. Over time, you become friends. Soon you find you know people who know how to do most anything you could need doing in your life, or people who make/grow/produce/sell almost anything you really need.
What I love most about the farmers’ markets is the friendships I have built within my community. I love the trades and gifts that start to happen, too, as people build friendships. I have traded vegetables for all sorts of things: truck repairs, coffee beans, sugar, spices, fruit, baking, preserves, clothing, books, kitchen utensils, and even presents for other people in the form of jewelry and art. I have given away a lot of beautiful food just because I can and like to, and I have also received so many things that I treasure from the people I have met through growing and selling vegetables.
Just last week I ran into a customer at the coffee shop who lamented that I wasn’t at the market when she’d looked for me.“I know!” I lamented with her. “I had a herd of cows break into the garden and they completely destroyed most of it so I didn’t have enough left to sell!”
She commiserated with me on this (and, yeah, that was a pretty awful story, but for another day), then said, “I’m glad I ran into you, I have something for you and your Mom.” She then brought me out to her car and presented me with two beautiful hand-covered, cloth journals she had put together for us, just as a thank you for the food we produce that she has so loved! These small gestures have big impacts.
And so, to the woman in the nice shoes who just didn’t know any better: you are missing out. You may have nice shoes, but how are your relationships with your fellow humans?
Terri Smith is an organic vegetable farmer in the Cariboo with Road’s End Vegetable Company. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Literature and a diploma in Art.