5 Tips to Thrive at a Farmer's Market, Week #3: Give a little Grace

Today’s discussion is a natural extension of last week’s advice, which focused on ensuring the provenance of the food available at farmer’s markets.

In case you haven’t noticed, there is often a difference between ideas and reality.  Ideas can easily outrun the natural pace of life, and occasionally a little friction occurs as a result. 

What does this concept have to do with a farmer’s market?  Everything.  When we read about local food and the movement that, happily, is sweeping our nation, writers tend to paint the picture of a quixotic environment that exists within the bounds of community sales areas.  Readers, pursuing the printed design, flock to find what they ‘discovered’ in Food Network Magazine, often to realize the lexicon of farmers is different from that of food writers.  The idea doesn’t match reality, and frustration ensues.

The issue is gigantic: people want better food, and the only thing they know to seek is what they read about, which is often a few steps ahead of reality.  Discrepancies resulting from preconceived notions discredit the authenticity of local food, often driving potential customers away after a few exasperating and unsuccessful trips to a farmer’s market.  The most demanding shoppers – those trying to precisely follow the recommendations of trendy food writers – regularly complain about their struggles to ‘actually find something good.’  The underlying message is they can’t find the exact product featured on their favorite fitness blog.

Much like a building renovation cannot exist without old construction, a food revolution cannot begin without the existing food paradigm.  Remember, many farmers are learning, too, and their practices may not have fully caught up to consumer desires.  These folks are trying, and the only way to make progress is to provide a little grace at the market.  Though the two may be rearing a similar breed of chicken, a pastured poultry farm using modern meat bird breeds is exponentially better than industrial houses; grain fed beef from a single family is so superior to commodity beef that the two almost cannot be considered the same product.  In short, you’re getting a superior product from farmers, even if their offering isn’t quite what you expected.

By briefly setting aside your quest for, say, heritage turkeys, and purchasing what the farmer currently has to offer, you’re forming a relationship that can, in the future, yield the precise breed of bird you want.  When the farmer learns that you’re a committed buyer, she’ll become more inclined to hear and accommodate your requests than if you arrive with a checklist of hoops to jump through on your first visit.  Think about it: you probably don’t think twice about giving a friend a ride to work if their car breaks down, but you’d likely reject the same request from a total stranger knocking on your door.  The same logic applies in the food arena.  Become a customer first, and then follow with your requests.

In conclusion, make sure your expectations at the farmers market do not curtail your opportunity to support local farmers.  First we must infuse our rural landscape with food dollars that provide some much needed breathing room to the families working the land.  As the influx of money stimulates farmsteads across our region, the specialty products like quality grassfed beef and exceptional heritage turkeys will follow.  The process builds on itself, and we have to patiently support our current reality to realize the ultimate end goal.  Your food dollars are renovating an old paradigm, and your patience is allowing the new reality to take form.