I had a rather embarrassing experience at the farmers market this past summer and unfortunately, it was of my own doing. When we first started out farming, we had a lot of knowledge about growing on a small scale. If it was not for the more experienced people around us, I cannot image how steep the learning curve would have been during the transition from small to bigger than small.
Asking questions about growing, farm operations, animals, grants, programs, resources the list is endless. It always amazed me how you could call someone and they would give you their time to answer your questions and give knowledge gained from experience. We do this ourselves today. When asked we give our time and extensive failure experiences we have had. We do have success but that is not what most want to hear. They want to know what mistakes not to make.
Sure, I can say what tomato or sweet corn grows best for us, but I can also tell them what to do about detrimental bugs and when to introduce beneficial insects to counteract the thieves. Being prepared for the bad is what makes it possible to succeed. I might always have a negative to impart but it is a way of making sure they do not fall into the same trap. We all make mistakes no matter our level of experience and learn from any given season from one to the next. When someone is generous enough to answer my call and give me insight, it is greatly appreciated and warmly accepted.
Of all the farmers that have helped me, I looked up to every one. I treat them with the respect they deserve. They are working and doing an incredible job and for them to spare me the precious time they have is a testament to the type of people they are. I still look up to them and try to pass on what was given to me.
This past weekend I learned that one of those people turned to the dark side. It was by their choice and their plan. However when I say "turned to the dark side" I mean an ex-organic farmer falsely advertised their products as organic, even though we had asked him to remove his sign the previous week. We (the other organic) folks were given what we now know was a lame excuse to cover up his deceptive practice. What is worse he sends his help to the market and blames them for the deceptive advertising.
People are and can be disappointing, but when someone takes up the organic mantle that is a commitment akin to devotion. What organic farmers do is for the benefit of all, family, friends, community, animals, dirt, grasses, water and air. What he has done is the complete opposite; it is one thing to make the change, it is another to mislead and perpetrate fraud. He feeds his chickens with non-organic feed (which has GMO’s) and lets his customers think they are still getting healthy non-gmo chickens and eggs. If there is fraud in one part of a business as with his chickens, it makes you question other aspects of the operation.
When it first happened I went over to his stall and talked to the interns, and told them about the regulations and the use of the word organic, and asked that the sign be taken down I also called the owner to talk to him but had to leave a message. I left and went back to the farm, my wife stayed at the stand. Later the owner came to the market and came over and aggressively inquired about WHO COMPLAINED. The aggressive part is how my wife and others described his behavior. Odd, I thought he is wrong, he knows it and he put us in an untenable situation. Bottom line is the sign came down and he apologized blaming his staff. Which none of us believed but let it go just the same.
The next weekend came, we put the stand up, and I left to go back to the farm. When I came back to tear down and leave I was informed that not only was the sign back up, but they had doubled down by writing the following; “formally organic, using organic inputs”. When I learned that things went south instantly and the next thing I know I am yelling at the market master, I am pointing out the vendor is lying to the market master’s neighbors, that his actions this week is a blatant F-U to those of us who asked to have sign taken down and he is putting the integrity of the market in jeopardy..
I have made a list of all those I needed to apologize to, because of my outburst, I approached each one, and asked forgiveness with the utmost sincerity. The other list, if those people are honest enough to approach me, I have other things to say. It was not my proudest moment as a farmer and as I said, I am very embarrassed about how I delivered my message. The ex-organic person wrote everyone apologizing saying his staff made a mistake. Only problem was I talked to his staff, I went over to apologize to them that day because they are interns and it was not there doing. I also wanted to educate then on the regulation at issue and to make sure they understood when you could use the word organic. They were obviously not getting that education from their employer and they are there to learn.
What they told me was that the owner had changed the sign and told them to put it up. I could not help but respond back to his written apology pointing out the conversation I had with is staff. I was not interested in his feeble, disingenuous apology.
If someone uses the word organic, ask for his or her certification. They will be organic exempt or certified organic. That way you will avoid the people that mimic the industrial food complex. It is tough to see someone you looked up to turn to the dark side and now become the poster child for all that is bad with the charlatans at farmers markets. When I quit, we will just stop and grow for ourselves. I tell people we have two things going for us, one is integrity the other is taste, and sometimes we do not have taste but we will at least tell you that.
Buy Local but be smart ask questions and look for certifications