Thursday, May 20, 2010

News flash: Your local farmer might not want to get to know you

Sitting down with a local farmer recently, I had to laugh when she lamented the fact that so many customers wanted to chit chat.  She said she's too busy farming to get to know her customers.  She's too busy making sales at the farmers market to answer the same questions again and again.  She wants to grow really great food and sell it.  She does appreciates our business, of course, she just isn't into the chit chat.

"Getting to know your farmer" seems to be the mantra of the local foods movement, from Michael Pollan to Ag Secretary Vilsack.  But did anyone ask farmers if they want to get to know us consumers?  It's a lot to expect that they grow great food and also become my personal farm educator, answering my naive questions about farming.

I know that everyone is different, and I'm sure many farmers like the chit chat and want to share what they know.  But others aren't people people, or are maxed-out by farming itself, and they still produce great food.  I won't hold it against them.  I'll still buy their products.

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  1. Hi Alison - funny; this thought has occurred to me before when there are throngs of people at a farmer's stand and someone is talking the farmer's ear off, oblivious to the line four-people-deep waiting to purchase something! I'm sure it's a hard line for them to walk -- wanting to be open and available to answer questions but also needing to sell their products, too.

  2. That's so true! It's also a tough line for consumers -- I want to know more about the farm and the farmer, but it often seems awkward and time-consuming.

  3. I was actually really put off by a certain CSA in town b/c they were so unfriendly. I didn't want to be bff, but I did want to make a courteous and friendly connection. I'd like to say hello, how are you doing at CSA pick up and then give a friendly wave when I walk by at market on Saturday, but instead I felt really snubbed. Needless to say I changed CSA's. Farmers are running a business and their is something to be said about friendly marketing skills. No one goes to a restaurant that isn't friendly and people don't recommend businesses with bad customer service. Farmers are not exempt from this.

  4. Good point, Anonymous. I agree that friendliness is important, especially when it comes to CSAs (I recently switched my CSA too, for a number of reasons). Of course, the long drawn out Q&A during the busiest market hour is different from a friendly hello.

  5. I work for an IFM vendor, and last year, it was very hard to keep up with all the customers and answer questions at the same time. The vendor really wanted to be able to spend more time with each customer, so this year she changed the format a bit so that more items are wrapped at the farm rather than at the stand, saving time and allowing her more time with the customers. I think it's been working so far, though there are still lines!


  6. Nice, Alexi -- that sounds like a great way for the vendor to handle things. It's pretty tough to be all things to all people, and I'm sure most vendors don't have a ton of extra help at the market.