If you want the same products week after week, always in stock and preferably on sale without any regard to how they were produced or where they were grown, shop at a corporate grocery chain, not a farmers market. Complaining to the farmers won’t get you fresh asparagus a month early or fresh pastured roasting chickens when the ground is frozen solid.
I’ve beaten this drum regularly for the last year while writing Dishing the Dirt, but we’re at the tail end of winter and I’ve noticed that customers are getting cranky. I recognize there are people on this earth that no matter how good they got it can only see the glass as half empty, however, I am a stalwart optimist when it comes to local foods.
Winter markets are tough on vendors as it is, these last several weeks being the most challenging start to a new year. Last Sunday when a customer complained about the “lack of variety” of fresh vegetables, he picked the wrong person to air his complaints. I was quick to point out his bag of three different colors of carrots, a few heirloom tomatoes, a bag of kale and bunch of tatsoi he had clutched to his chest.
We’ve been your farmers for how many years? Yeah, we know who the die-hard regulars are and these last few weeks have even been a struggle for them (and we dearly thank you). With the combination of no rain and mild temperatures, the markets were full and busy this past week, many forgetting winter market hours begin an hour later. Talk about hitting the ground running.
Having been winter farming for at least ten years, many of the farmers at Central Farm Markets have made significant capital investments in greenhouse and food storage technologies to bring customers both seasonal and extended season fresh produce in the winter months. Why? Because of how well-supported we are by a loyal customer base. If you grow it, they will come. This is our commitment to customers…we’re not here for the convenience.
Along that same vein, as farmers we have to keep our personal commitments. How many weeks prior to the end of the year did Rob Young warn his loyal greens lovers that during the winter he’d only be here every other week? Please don’t begrudge that man his Sunday mornings off with his family when there isn’t enough salad growth to warrant a trip to market. Worried about not having enough? Buy an extra bag; it will last just fine in the fridge. Trust me.
If customers knew how physically demanding field fruit and vegetable cultivation is, they’d welcome the down time to have a personal life. Don’t even get me started on livestock….
While markets have strived to add convenience for our customers in many ways—multiple communication outlets, lots of parking, market concierge, gift certificates—the truth is we are here because of our commitment to a robust local food system with an emphasis on sustainable farming and business practices as well as community involvement. And when was the last time you heard a talented musician playing a Leonard Cohen tune live while you shopped for groceries nibbling on a genuine French or Austrian pastry? That stuff doesn’t happen in convenience stores.
We’ve got five winter markets left in 2019. Let’s make the best of them no matter what Mother Nature hurls our way. Don’t forget to get your Winter Market Loyalty card punched because your commitment to Central Farm Markets from January to April earns a tangible return.