Market Crash

Our second crash of Thursday came shortly after I arrived at Rising Sand in the afternoon. We happened to have a lot of additional folks on-site that day, and vehicles lined our whole parking area behind the barn. I snuck my Corolla into the less-than-prime spot next to the compost pile, changed clothes, and met Oren hooking up the tractor to the flat-rack for some hay doggin’. He crept ahead through the tight space, keeping an eye on the tracking of the trailer as he eased the front end of the tractor as close as possible to the car ahead of him. I stood behind, watching the rear end of the trailer inch closer and closer to someone’s vehicle. “Whoa!” I yelled, a split-second before the squeal of wood on metal and the crunch of a bursting tail light. Fuck.

Oren walked back. “I thought you were watching back here.”

“Well dude, I yelled…”

“Yeah, that’s an inconvenience.”

And with that, we continued on our paths, grateful that Kyle (the owner of the car) is relatively chill, and realizing that, ultimately, we’d just fallen victim to another classic country dude situation.

Our first crash, however, was of an entirely different nature. Here I must go back in time, and say that after our first Portage County Healthcare Center market experience last Tuesday, we decided to go in a different direction, and sell our produce to Bob at a fair and discounted rate, to sell at his stand at the market. This seemed a sensible solution, based on the various factors involved. First, Bob is already set up and selling in the afternoon, and by sending our produce with him, overall efficiency is increased from both sides, and more food made available for the entirety of the day. Second, we can cut him a good deal, based on the nature of the time commitment that our physical presence would have required. Third and fourth, the good food will still be available to the clients and providers at the healthcare center, and Bob can hopefully make a little money in the process as well. The extra field time is a blessing, and Danny W., Logan Brice and I pruned and trellised some wild and unruly outdoor tomatoes on Tuesday afternoon, while our food sold at the market.

On Thursday morning, however, crash one came like a blow to my solar plexus, as I was made aware of a berating social media post from a market customer who had been offended and angered; presumably by our absence from the market. The post made it clear that, beyond disappointment, she felt that we’d made a mockery of her as a customer, and that our conduct was unbefitting of an organization she would ever again support. I read the wording again and again, in near disbelief. Having experienced the food-loving nature of this woman, I lamented the loss of an informed and enthusiastic customer, and the breakage of a fruitful and positive relationship.

I thought back to what we may have done to garner such an adverserial reaction. Maybe she perceived our physical absence this week as dishonest or misleading. It is entirely possible that Fanni and I had said outright or implied that we would be at the market weekly, and we certainly could have communicated our change of plans more effectively. Maybe she had read my post and took my tone as belittling, which could not be further from my intention. Maybe the concept of one farmer selling another’s produce is unsettling and unseemly to some. And this, I feel, is understandable. Part of the essence of community and local food is farmer interaction with customers. We, as farmers, love nothing more than to be out selling our food to people who appreciate our work and our craft. It’s a great pleasure.

It is, however, a lot of work to grow this much food in this fashion, and those tomatoes were well out of control by the time we finally tackled the task on Tuesday. This is the case with more of our fields than I’d care to admit, and a couple extra hours of field time is a big deal — particularly in this season of market and harvest requirements. And the reality is that farmer-to-farmer sales are not all that uncommon, and we have a regular wholesale arrangement with a few different farms. Some crops don’t work out for some farmers, others are inherently limited by scale, and by bolstering each other’s market stands and CSAs, we can move more good food through the community, and work more collectively.

But, of course, there is a line to be drawn. Some may argue that selling another farmer’s produce is a step down the path toward the corporate food system of producer/consumer alienation, and the slope is slippery. Others would say that, within a community, a little farmer-to-farmer partnership is okay and, in fact, beneficial to all. I would say that we are making the most of the limited resources that we’ve got, in the best way that we can. Because we’re growing so much food, we can help out other farmers, while accessing additional markets for our produce, and, in this case, freeing up some field time in the process. I regret the fact that we have alienated a respected customer, and just hope that the complexity of the situation can be given honest and open consideration.