Tuesday, November 06, 2007

An inconvenient shopping experience

Farmer's Market by Linda Carter Holman
Farmer's Market

To be encouraged to go to a Farmer's Market is likely to be difficult. There are obstacles and there are always going to be obstacles, and in all honesty it probably is a lot more convenient to go to the supermarket: I know this for a variety of reasons and yet I am passionate about overcoming the obstacles because to me it matters.

Its too far !

I realised today that Farmers and I have things in common : they produce in the privacy of their land and I write in the privacy of my home, and both of us like to remain private and not make a fuss.

I do not speak often about why it is difficult but I have a disability which limits the energy I have available and the obstacles that are most difficult relate to mobility : I cannot drive easily and I cannot walk far. So, in practice a supermarket with a disabled car parking space and battery operated shopping trolleys does a lot to make shopping for food convenient. So why on earth would I want to undertake a journey of 15 miles each way to go and purchase food, as well as growing vegetables in my garden. The reason is that I notice the difference and the benefits I personally have from locally produced food. I do no longer have the luxury to be able to eat just anything, I have developed allergies and food sensitivities and local food does not contain many of the preservatives that activate these allergies within me. Food traceability is important to me : at the Farmer's market I can talk to the producer directly and ask them what they feed their animals on for instance because indirectly, whatever goodness they receive so do I. What I get from talking to producers is their pride in what they do and between us there is an understanding about the difficulties each one of us faces. Mine is getting here to the farmers market, theirs is being visible and accountable for what they produce. Both are uncomfortable new states of being and make the initial contact clumsy, but when you take the courage to ask the farmer about the product, and you can get him talking about it, you get a glimmer of the pride, the enthousiasm which is lacking when you get your apples or beef from the supermarket. Their strength is to produce the quality but sales training bypassed many of them.( Sorry chaps!) At some level I empathise with that. Yet when you engage with the farmer about his product, you get straightforward answers. He can tell you exactly how long the meat has been hanging, where in his pasture he animals grazed, how long the cheese took to mature, what they use to press the apples, whether the bread is made with fresh yeast, with locally produced wheat etc.

It costs more!

In many cases it just looks that way. Its an argument between quality and quantity. There is a reason why champagne was expensive....it was rare, had an exclusivity about it but when sparkling wine came along, did we want to pay for champagne ( I think not). It is the same with locally produced beef. When you go initially, you may be shocked at the price but it is a realistic price at which the farmer can make a living and grow his product to the standard as consumer we would like it to be. Surprisingly, I have noticed that I need less of protein in weight from a farmers market than from a supermarket, and so the price becomes immaterial. I also know that when I have beef from a particular farmer at the market I do not suffer agonizing bellyache, as where I do when it comes from the supermarket; to me in any event, there are very real, practical reasons for buying fresh, locally, traceable, sustainable food. ( I am still working on reducing my dependency on animal protein but having less of it is my starting point)

They have limited availability?

Granted, we cannot eat strawberries in January from the farmers market locally and cabbages and apples may become a tad boring over the season. Again, if I buy my apples at the supermarket I get a few varieties that I can get all year around and that is a shame but convenient. There is food succession even in apple varieties.....you can get them from August to January but you have to look, and they have odd shapes, they can be smaller or larger than you are used to, but the taste is...spectacular and not bland. Through making a menu over a period of 12 months, and looking at it again, I realised that in practice the types of food I was eating were very limited. If you do not know what it is, just like when I introduce something new to the children, they look, they smell and some may not even have a go at trying it. I am forcing myself to try some new foods at least once.

Its too cold to go to the Farmer's Market in winter

Sure. It is a lot easier and more convenient to get the supermarket to deliver. Initially unable to leave the house, I liked the idea of a personal shopper doing it all for me and getting it delivered to my house. After a while I started to resent having peppers that looked a little past their best and products changed for other brands( as they were not available and conveniently more expensive). I did have the choice to send them back but in reality that was a lot of hassle. What I gained in convenience, I lost in my ability to choose what I wanted. Going to the farmers market enables me to ask the producer......hmmmm do you do basil? When he tells me that it is not the season I can only take his word for it ( and I feel stupid because I should have known that). I grumble mildly but notice my surprise when in August he calls me and says, Anne, if you want Basil, it will be here next week.

When I started using butter instead of margerine, my children asked why and I said I trusted cows more than scientists. ( no offence meant!) In reality, I trust the farmer more than the supermarket but I suspect that the farmer has no idea what I think unless I go out there to meet him in the rain, with a small bag, an umbrella and my walking stick and ask him embarrassing questions as to what I can do with a neck of lamb and why he does not have Basil.
The farmer tells me that he had no idea.....he trusted the supermarkets to tell him what the consumer demanded and he did his best to grow the stuff only to be told that when it was ready, the consumer demanded a lower price and they had bought it in Spain.

It reminds me about how children cruelly tell tales about eachother and how convenient it can be when there is no direct communication.

When it rains, and I stumble to the car, drive 15 miles, grab my stick and bag, walk the 50 yards from the nearest parking space and grumble about the wet weather, the numb fingers and how awful it is going to be to stand there, slowly opening my purse and counting coins, slowly and clumsily,handing them over for an item that is going to be heavy, that is going to make my arms ache, and returning home will mean I need to rest for 1 hour in bed, I can see entirely that I would be mad to go to a Farmers Market and instead it would make a lot more sense to go to the supermarket where it is warm, I can park and the trolley awaits me. What choice would you make?

When I am at the Farmers Market I have to do a scary thing, I have to become visible, I have to talk, I have to ask questions, I visibly struggle with my shopping, with cold hands, with dripping hair and yet the benefits are immense.......

It is inconvenient but I promise to keep trying because it matters.

So instead of taking on the logo ' every little helps' mine is ' every little change matters'.

1 comment:

Willow said...

I am an avid farmers market shopper, every Saturday I'm home. I agree, the fresh produce just tastes better! Of course, it is easier for me to shop weekly in California, not as cold in winter.