We have been at this farmer's market for about six weeks. There is a mix of vegetable growers and other stands that make up the total market. Foot traffic is good, not great but good. There is a grower a couple of stalls down that is young and sells mainly corn, tomatoes and melons. I don't pay much attention to the other vendors because I read my insect book or am taking care of customers.
The day was beautiful, sunshine, light breeze, low humidity and we were seeing more and more repeat customers. One told us that the jam she purchased last week was the best she had ever tasted. At the same time another repeat customer was buying two more jars of jam based on his last purchase. We said thank you and I slowly patted my wife on her back. It was her idea. labor and her mom's recipe. It was turning out to be a good day.
We were selling organic eggs, our carrots had started to come in, the string beans bounced back and our raspberry plants started producing. So our offerings were diversified and plentiful. At one point in time I spotted a customer coming back to us with a box of our eggs. My stomach dropped because the look on her face was not pleasant. I was dealing with a customer so I got my wife’s attention and motioned for her to check out and see what the customer wanted. She had gone home, went to put the eggs away and realized she had only received nine. Of all the mistakes we make and have made, this one was the most embarrassing. Once I realized what had happened I excused myself from the other customer and immediately started asking her what she liked that we had. At the same time my wife was getting her more eggs. I asked about a couple vegetables and got to the potatoes. She said she didn't have potatoes so I gave her a pound of the German Butter Ball and apologized profusely. She left, hopefully satisfied and maybe to return.
Then at closing the young farmer from a couple stalls down came up to look at what we had. He asked about the German Queen tomatoes, we were selling. These things are huge weighing between 1.25-1.75 lbs each. They are by far the biggest we've grown. The skin is thin, seed pod small and flesh is sweet. As I'm telling him this I'm looking into his eyes and seeing sadness. We all look tired and worn down, that is part of the job. It is physically and mentally challenging. Your mind is always ready to give up before your body is but you know this and go on to the next chore.
I use the term heart-wrenching a lot when describing things on the farm because those words invoke a visceral reaction. We all know what heart break is in all its forms. But to use those words makes one understand the physical and emotional toll taking place within the person. What I was seeing and hearing from this young man was heart-wrenching.
He is at his cross roads. He works full time on a dairy farm; he grows five acres of vegetables in his spare time. He is having trouble making ends meet. He doesn't know if he'll be able to pay off all his bills by the end of the growing season. As he was standing there telling me his young wife came up and put her arm around him. I asked, "How’d it go today?" He started to grouse but his wife pulled his arm and he shifted some and kicked the dirt and said "not that bad". A customer came up to their stand and his wife went to take care of them.
I had stopped tearing down and was just talking to him. I could tell he was in despair and was looking for some sort of guidance or a kind word or words of encouragement. He told me that other people he talked to told him to stay in it that things would change. I didn't tell him they were right or wrong. I just said that this is an incredibly hard thing to do and not many people really understand the sacrifice and toll it takes on us. That he wasn't alone in his doubt and his struggles. The last time I stopped breaking down and talked to someone my wife got livid, at least at that time we had help. This time it was just her and I was torn. Should I cut him off and help her or should I do what many have done for me in the past and that was to lend a sympathetic ear and maybe some advice and encouragement.
She could hear the conversation and knew the plight of the young vegetable farmer. I empathized with him and told him about the MD Small Farm Co-op. I told him by joining he would meet people like us who pull our resources and are able to buy in bulk thus cutting down on overall costs. I gave him my name and number and told him if he had any questions to call. This all seemed woefully inadequate but it was the best I could do. For my wife's part she continued breaking down and when he left I helped finish up. She didn't say a word. We packed up and headed home. What should have been a pleasant trip after a good day selling was just silent. It seemed both of us were thinking about the young man and his wife.
It was a good day for us but when you see the pain, self-doubt and struggle that someone like you is going through you can't help but question why is this so hard and why doesn't everyone else know?
PLEASE-buy local, find a farmer around you, go visit them, try what they have for sale. If you don't like what you got tell them that and tell them why. Vegetable farmers live on feedback. If there is something you'd like them to grow, tell them. It can only help with their future plans. The more sustainable farmers we keep in business the healthier the environment and all of us will be in the long run.