Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Face Value

We live in a world where it is possible to see images from across the world instantly, learn about babies being born seconds after it has happened (with photos!), find out anything about anything the instant we conceive of wanting to know it. We can pretty much get a hold of anything we want if we are willing to pay for it or take a moment to seek it out. We can know where our children are at any time of the day if we hook them up with gadgets. Information is readily available. What is scarce? Face-to-face time with people.

Over the course of the last few months, my husband and I have been hashing out scenarios that would enable us to go to the Farmer’s Market this year without losing our work/life balance. Going to market every Saturday is the best thing about farming for me. Where on earth can you go, once every week, and interact with hundreds of human beings who are…always…ready for it? Happy. I mean it. I couldn’t have found a grumpy sort if I tried.

The appreciation, and willingness to support our efforts, the interest and engagement about our products, the flow of conversation about what we grow, what you can do with it, how we could do better, new ideas for preparation. These things knocked my socks off every time. I would leave feeling tired, fulfilled and incredibly satisfied every single week. The world made sense every Saturday.

So what was the problem? Preparation. The late Friday nights of packing greens until the wee hours. The readying of bushels and bushels of beans into quart baskets onto bread trays at 5am so that we could prepare for the hand-over-fist selling without a moment to spare. The poking of children awake to make them eat some oatmeal and get clothes on. The packing of sunhats, sunscreen, rain coats, boots, swim suits, sleep wear, toques, mitts, snacks, games, bikes, helmets, toy cash registers. The seemingly endless mental check lists. Table cloths, baskets, which new products needed a display, price stickers, information pamphlets, special orders, banners, tents, scissors, labels, the trays from here, the tables from there. Then there were the morning chores before we could leave. Last year that meant pig-feeding, cow watering, chicken feeding and moving the pasture pen, dog securing and bone-offerings. All of this before we started the van at 7am to hitch on the trailer and pull out of the farm driveway. It was a full day before we even left. I began to dread Friday evenings.

Upon my return to work in the city, I knew that coming home after a full week to prepare to go to market would be a stretch. Could someone else go in my place? Could I stay home with the children while husband went alone? Would he enjoy doing it all alone and not seeing us for the majority of our weekend home from work or school? Could we take separate cars and meet up later?

None of these options seemed feasible. Yet leaving market altogether to focus solely on the mid-week deliveries to restaurants and stores seemed too great a compromise. We deal with many loyal establishments who will take whatever organic vegetables we can grow at a fair price. But when you pack a 100 pound box of green beans for a restaurant, there is something far less intimate about the process. You do not hand pack a quart of beans for the person who will be eating them. They are boxed up and weighed and shipped out on delivery day. Done.

You know how great it feels to hear that your tomatoes were a real hit at someone’s dinner party? To have someone from Europe who fancies them selves a food connoisseur nod approvingly after grabbing a bean in one hand and breaking it in two with a satisfying snap.
To hear that your arugula has just the right amount of bite, the perfect sized leaf and lasts in the fridge for weeks? To know that what you are selling is some of the best stuff you can find anywhere. To have someone come early and fill up three shopping bags without a single question week after week. That feels awesome! It really does. Nothing more satisfying than this. To work hard for something you believe in AND be able to serve others. What a combination.

In the new context, however, going to market every Saturday in the city for 6 months was going to kill some aspect of us. So we thought about compromises. Maybe a shorter season? We could show up late in the year and leave before the end of the season. Perhaps we could grow specific things and time our visits with certain specialized crops. There did not seem to be a way.

So we lived with our decision to give up the market and turned our efforts to other things. My husband ordered seeds that would complement his wholesale market better. He planted more of some things, less variety, fewer market-friendly items.
Then some time passed.

It just wouldn’t do.

We made a new plan. We would go just once a month. This way we could see all of our regular customers, friends and family members who come to the market without losing our minds in the process. This way we could expose our children to what I think is such a valuable process to show to a child. How do people buy food and where does it come from? How do your mommy and daddy earn their living? Where does what we do meet the world out there?

And how many sunflower plants does a kid have to sell before they can go and buy a cookie?

We feel good about this compromise. It won’t be entirely comfortable. Surely an onslaught of peas will come on the week after our one market day and we’ll be scampering to find a place to sell them. Some days we will go with less than we could have if we were committed to going regularly and growing for this purpose. But no matter what happens we will show up with a smile and make the best of what we’ve got.

So off we go to our happy place. Blessed we are to have this opportunity.

We live in a world where it is easy to get anything you want, whenever you want it. But sometimes all you really want is a direct exchange with another human being. Taking the time to do things more carefully, mindfully, wholeheartedly, with presence and intention. To see with your own eyes where your efforts make an impact on the world.

And when the work you do leads to passing goods along with your own two hands to a smiling face that can give you direct feedback?

That has immeasurable and unique value. The value of a human voice. Another human’s story. A human face. My kind of face value.


  1. Love the new look!
    You've demonstrated a perfect example of setting boundaries and compromise for balance in life. Thank you.

  2. LeeAnn said it perfectly. Thank you for another dose of inspiration!

  3. Wow ! this is a timely post as I have been wrestling with this very issue myself for the past two months or so. I LOVED going to the market Saturdays last year but hated the Friday crazy to get it all together.I had to work overtime every other day throughout the week( at my " away" workplace) to be able to have Friday off to get ready- at times I wondered what side of sanity I was on.
    I had played around with doing a limited CSA with loyal customers from last year and the egg clients I have picked up over the winter, but I would REALLY miss the sense of community I had at the weekly market. Not only with customers and neighbours but other vendors as well.
    I have committed to going weekly from late June until October only this year and have my 14 year old daughter coming along to share in the work and profits as a summer job for her. With my change in health status I have to be aware that I can't do it all- even though I would like to think I still can!
    With all your little ones to get ready and tag along it MUST be a huge production! hats off to your commitment


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