When folks ask us how the farm is going, we usually tell them that it is exceeding our expectations for a first year. What we don’t always share is that our expectations continually sneak up as we have more and more successes. Thus, even when we are continuing to do well, we find ourselves sometimes disappointed.
An example would be yesterday’s market. Yesterday was one of our best days at market this summer and also one of the more disappointing. We broke our previous record for how much money we made by a significant margin, however, we still found ourselves a little sad at the end of the day.
The reason? This is August. Our fields are almost literally bursting with amazing, brief flavors. These are things that can only be experienced in August: perfectly ripe cantaloupe, juicy watermelon, fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, eggplant, and so on. Because of the abundance, we harvested significantly more food than any other week this summer. We took two full farm-car loads (albeit in a Honda civic). At market last week, we almost sold out of everything, so we thought: ‘yes, this is going to be a rockin’ market day.’
Well, either our expectations were just ridiculously high (very probable), or everyone was on vacation, because market was not the rockin’ place it was the previous week. And we, along with many other vendors, brought home quite a bit of product. For us, having vegetables we can’t sell is probably one of the more discouraging feelings on the farm. They don’t hold, but they are temporarily beautiful perfect delicious things—but only right now. That is a frustration with vegetable growing: the perishability factor.
We don’t want to waste food when there are so many hungry people in the world (that’s an understatement, really). And, it doesn’t actually go to waste, because we give what we can’t eat or find homes for to the St. Barnabas soup kitchen. We are most grateful for the services they provide and that they can make use of our extras. Truly. Extreme gratitude from us—they make our abundance worth it.
But still, I find myself frustrated. To us, late summer is such a momentary explosion that I feel like everyone should do nothing except eat and enjoy the pure pleasure of the season. But I know that we as a culture have become somewhat spoiled (or very spoiled, really) by the supermarket façade. When we become accustomed to seeing peppers and tomatoes year-round, the beauties of August lose some of their uniqueness and urgency. We see them and think, ‘Oh, those will still be around later’ rather than, ‘Wow! I need to eat these now!’
We really love this market—the other vendors, atmosphere, visitors, location, energy, almost everything. However, yesterday was also a bit frustrating because we are slowly adjusting and reacting to the realization that the Mac market is not a producer only market. I don’t think we even questioned whether it would or wouldn’t be producer only way back in the spring when we moved here—our experience was with producer only and I think that’s just what we assumed a farmer’s market meant. (Maybe most consumers assume this? Or are we just naïve?) Anyhow, we learned as the year went on that the market guidelines allow for 25% of a vendor’s product to not be produced by them (but it needs to be clearly marked, which is not always the case).
Our thoughts on the significance of this have been developing as we see the impact of the 75/25 reality play out this summer. Just from our observations, vendors who are reselling wholesale items (such as peaches or corn) tend to price them lower than those who have actually grown them. Whether in the end this hurts anyone is I suppose debatable, but we are still wondering about the purpose of that 25%? Is it to insure a well-rounded market offering? If so, then what about the vendors who are growing things like peaches? Anyhow, we don’t have the answers on this one, by any means, but it’s something we’ve been thinking about a lot as we watch market visitors compare the prices of our tomatoes (grown and harvested by us, like all our veggies) with tomatoes down the way (which may or may not have been grown by the vendor).
Speaking of tomatoes, I think that we can do a better job marketing ours next week. We brought a beautiful load of heirloom tomatoes yesterday that we priced much lower than the supermarket rate for organic heirlooms. But apparently we need to better explain what they are and why they look the way they do (and how good they taste!). Very few of our tomatoes are the deep red that people expect of a vine-ripened tomato (or a supermarket, ethylene-gassed version), so we had a hard time convincing folks that those yellow/green/pink/red things were indeed ripe and delicious. Today we’ve been processing some of the leftovers to dry (for yummy winter uses), and you can see from this picture how beautiful these tomatoes are inside:
Perhaps we should even cut one open at market? Samples, maybe? Obviously our leftover items are our fault as much as anything. We’re still working on building a reputation for quality and marketing ourselves through our booth. We are much more critical of our own product and methods than of anything else these days.
Ack! Constantly learning! I’m surprised our brains haven’t exploded yet this year. Really, this farming thing is at least comparable to the brain challenge of graduate school (which we did the last two years of our pre-Oakhill Organics lives). We are constantly reevaluating how we grow, what we grow, how we market, etc. And this is year number one.
In closing, I want to reiterate the positive of all of this. Every now and then we like to bring you, our community and friends, into the deepest darkest recesses of our farming experience. There are certainly trials and will continue to be. But everyday holds so many more joys and delights:
Eating sweet melon at every meal. Talking with our absolutely wonderful regular customers at market (thank you, thank you, thank you). Watching children play in our fields as we work alongside their parents to tend the plants we will all enjoy eating later in the season. Feeling incredibly supported and appreciated by the Mac community, through the CSA, market, and elsewhere. Knowing that we are becoming more and more rooted to this little corner of Oregon and that we truly have a future here with this business.
We are deeply grateful for these things and more. Thank you.