Inspired at 4:28 AM, the opening day of Farmers Market, 2001:
A neighbor of ours is fond of saying, no matter the subject, “Ain’t no short answers.” Well, between bagging lettuce and bunching scallions, searching for change, rubber bands or Health Certificate, today you might get a short answer. As a service to customers and busy marketers (whose trucks are probably loaded by now), here are some longer answers.
“Why is there dirt on this tomato?” Seriously, because it’s homegrown. Most hothouse tomatoes are grown, not in real soil, but in rock wool with soluble chemical fertilizers. (No wonder they taste like insulating materials!)
Next, health regulations consider washing to be “food preparation,” which requires an inspected kitchen! That’s a couple hundred dollars every year just for the certificate, never mind the triple-bowl stainless steel sink and other required doodads.
Finally, that “clean” supermarket cabbage was handled dozens of times in picking, shipping and storage. Consider visible dirt a reminder to wash all produce to suit your own health standards.
“You charge for wildflowers? Don’t they just grow?” Yes, they just grow – on land we bought, pay taxes & mortgage on, and bushhog to keep the wildflower meadow from becoming a cedar grove. Silly questions make important points. Getting paid to pick daisies is a reward for stewardship of land where daisies are safe from bulldozers: a kind of rural preservation fee.
“Aren’t herbs (garlic, potatoes) easy to grow?” That’s like asking an auto mechanic “$375 to tighten a few bolts?” Next time you’re out in your garden snipping sprigs of parsley into a cute basket, think about picking 2 lb of the stuff (that’s 512 sprigs. I counted.) Then there’s risk. If your home zucchini crop fails, you always have Market. If we lose a crop, there goes our investment of labor and money.
“Which herbs burn calories?” Between digging ground, setting out seedlings, mulching, hauling water, repotting, pruning, dividing, and moving the cutting beds every few years to eradicate quackgrass or escape bindweed, I have yet to find an herb that does NOT burn calories. Lots of calories.
In April, “Why don’t you have basil?” In July, “Don’t you have arugula anymore?” Supermarket basil might come from Hawaii or Thailand, arugula from Canada or Michigan. We sell what grows, when it grows. Enjoy what’s in season locally, instead of flavorless year-round basil. I love Christmas cookies, but I don’t make them in Summer. Seasonal food is more than nutrition: it’s rhythm and ritual.
“Do you have any lettuce with no holes?” Supermarkets have conditioned us to expect picture-perfect vegetables. So, as Wendell Berry reflects, the germs in our food have been replaced by chemicals. We have immunities to germs, and no one has ever shown that flea beetles, corn borers or potato bugs carry germs harmful to humans anyway. How long before we develop immunity to chemicals?
Remember that the bugs don’t avoid our plants just out of Disneyesque gratitude that we don’t spray. You have two choices – holes or chemicals. Our veggies have holes.
“Must be nice just to work in summer?” Sorry to shatter your illusions of rural life, sir. We work all year round: we only get paid in summer. In fact, many small farmers have off-farm jobs. Farming is our way of life, maintains our bond to the land and keeps our skills from being lost. Grim jokes about working to support our farming habit reflect a necessity, which your government’s long-term subsidizing of “efficient” agribusiness has forced on family farms.
Here’s our favorite question: “Did you grow this yourselves?” Please, do keep asking! Supermarkets manipulate your yearning for real food by calling themselves “marketplaces,” “gardens” or “produce patches” and their stuff, no matter how far it’s been shipped or how long stored, “farm-fresh.” Funny how we don’t need to call our farms “grocery stores”!
At some point everything comes from a farm. There’s only one fair place to draw the line: if you’re buying produce from farmers who grew it (and, our actual neighbors) this is a Farmer’s Market. Short answer: yup, we grew it all ourselves.