The Ask

Saturday morning, I was riding bike downtown, and saw a sign. Donuts –>. Having just spent a bunch of money at the farmers market, I figured I was on a roll and took a quick right. Down the street a couple shops, there was an open doorway with a two-level glass case of what I presumed to be freshly baked donuts. The display was absolutely beautiful.

Upon asking some questions, I found out that the donuts were indeed freshly baked; donut holes are indeed actually the holes of the donuts; the lady had woken at 5 am to initiate this venture, and this was her third week of the Saturday donut experiment. I picked out more donuts than I should have, inquiring about the flavor combinations. She was equal parts self-deprecating and uncertain. Yeah, I’m not sure; I’m not really a donut connoisseur… Yeah, and they are only a dollar, so even if it’s not that good… I’m not sure; do you actually think they look legitimate?

“Do you take cards?” I wrapped up, and got my two packed boxes of donuts, donut holes, and a crispy fritter. I pulled out my card. My total was $4.20.

“$4.20?” I asked in disbelief. “You need to charge more.”

“Yeah?” she asked, somewhat taken aback.

“Absolutely. I wouldn’t have thought twice about paying $10.00 for these, or even more. I know you didn’t pay anything for these ingredients, but honestly, nobody really cares or thinks about your food costs. You’re the one who woke up at 5 am and baked these!”

“That’s true; I did…” She mused, seeming to gain a bit of assurance as I spoke.

“Look, nobody buying fresh-baked donuts downtown on a Saturday is in it for the bargain. We know you’re not Kwik Trip.”

“I’m definitely not.” she agreed.

“Just give it a try.” I reiterated once more. “Keep an eye on your sales, and I would bet that your numbers won’t even change if you doubled the prices.”

I need to learn to take advice like that. Bombing down the road on my wife’s small cruiser bike with my funny backpack, I reflected on my relationship with the goods that we sell. I thought about how much my heart breaks when some cheap old woman carefully picks three juicy, fragrant tomatoes that have called to her heart, places them on the market scale, and waits for her total. How she balks slightly at our $10 asking price. How she reaches for her $10, extends her hand forward slightly and pulls it back. How she leans in finally and says, with the tiniest bit of gleeful spite. “Actually, I think $10 is a little much.” and how she walks away from the best goddamn tomatoes she would have eaten all season.

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There is a vulnerability in the sale; particularly upon the part of the actual producer. The more of one’s heart and soul goes into a product or project, the more crushing the possibility of rejection. Back in March, I had texted my friend, who had signed up for an every-other-week CSA last year, asking if he’d be back. “Probably not.” He wrote back. “Lots of it wasn’t really up our alley, and ended up going to waste.”

Though this wasn’t a knock on our product or process, I still felt the sting of rejection. We had put forth bountiful boxes of fresh vegetables and it had been… too much.

In December, and again in February, I had gone through much of our list of last year’s members, calling to remind them we exist, and inquire about this season. I eventually worked out a canned pitch, which I hated, but tried to keep fresh and sincere with each voicemail I left. We do love our CSA members, after all. More human, less telemarketer.

With every live answer, however, my heart leapt with anxiety. Some emphatically ensured me they’d be back, and absolute love what we do; some said “no, it just wasn’t for us,” or “we’ll have to wait and think about it a bit…” or “we’ll be traveling this summer,” or simply, “I don’t think so…”

But what I always feared the most is that someone will brutally and honestly critique what we’ve done. “I would, but I remember that some of the first boxes were a little radish-heavy… also there was that one box in the second week of July that could have used some tomatoes to get it up to the $30 value we expected…”

This fear is ridiculous, but palpable. Like the lady behind the donut counter, I find myself thinking, I’m not the CSA connoisseur… do you actually think these boxes look legitimate? As the global food system crumbles, and anecdotes of closing meat plants and slaughtered, disposed animals rampantly floods the web and news lines, I wonder if we should point out the fact that we have pigs for sale. Hey, are you interested in some meat? It’s just kind of raised in a way that it’s not going to poison you, or the planet, if that’s something you think about at all… It’s $7.10 a pound, and my brother says it’s the best pork he’s ever tasted.

“$7.10 a pound!?” is my imagined response. “At the grocery store I can get it for $3.50!” But I am the one who woke up at 5 am to feed the pigs. I need to learn to own that. I need to trust that people know that we are not Tyson, or Metro Mart, or any other death dealer, and there is a premium on life-well-lived. I need to assume that anyone who’s ever seen a 53’ two-level cattle trailer stuffed to the gills with hysterical, filthy, injured pigs may still understand that there’s value in reasonable scale, community, and quality, and for that, there’s a price to be paid. Most of all, though, I just need to learn to ask.

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