We got our first complaint this week. Actually, from the sound of it, it was at least three complaints. We have had things rejected before by retailers because they were expecting heads of lettuce and we brought bunches. Never have we had vegetables returned or complaints after purchase. We did have one person complain about worms in her corn the first year we grew corn. I explained that we did not use sprays or chemicals and gave her six free ears that week. In four years of growing certified organic veggies and fruits, we have not had a complaint. Being organic there is a procedure to follow and documentation to create when we do get a complaint. It is something that needs to be recorded and produced during the organic audit. Even if that requirement were not in place, we would still address the situation and make it right.
Therefore, it was a surprise to us when we got notice that there were too many holes and slugs in our mesclun mix. We do not wash our mix because it hurts more than it helps. After a rain, it is too dirty and we do wash it but the tender leaves can break, washing adds time and expenses to the process.
When it comes to amendments, referred to as organic herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, in liquid and powder forms, we tend to shy away from their application. First off, they are not that effective unless you spray often and almost daily. Secondly, it is expensive to do it that way. We rely on integrated pest management techniques like trap crops, purchasing beneficial bugs and nematodes, physical barriers such as floating row covers and glue traps. Sometimes they do not stop infestations but they do work better when compared to doing nothing.
Take for instance our Mesclun mix. It has gotten a lot of holes, pinholes, but holes no matter. Funny thing is I think it actually helps hold more dressing but that is a different point. Most importantly, the taste is not affected and the safety of the vegetable is unsurpassed. I would stand tissue samples of our mix up against any other for comparative analysis of foreign substances. However, looks count and we were on the losing end of that equation.
From a culinary standpoint the Chinese learned thousands of years ago that we eat with our eyes first. That is why classically trained Chinese chefs prepare the most fantastic looking dishes. Some of the dishes, I have seen, could pass as art they are so beautiful. From garnishes to actual dishes, Chinese cuisine is just stunning, which brings me to our dilemma.
Organic fruits and vegetables sometimes are not pretty. Look at some heirloom tomatoes, they have some funky looking shapes and sizes, but the taste of those ugly things are unequalled. Our mix had tiny holes in them but they had nothing sprayed on them and they tasted good. As consumers’ we have learned that if, the fruit or vegetable does not look aesthetically pleasing we pass it by.
Look at tomatoes, the IFC (Industrial Food Complex) has engineered tomatoes such that they grow almost perfectly round, withstand shipping long distances and have longer shelf lives. I do not know of a single person that would pick a store bought tomato over a home grown or local one when it is identified as such. Of all the people, we meet and talk to when you ask that one question, no one has ever said they prefer the store bought tomato. Yet, if you let that same person chose between the two tomatoes without them knowing which one is local, most times they will pick the one that looks better. It is how we have been conditioned.
It is a hard sell when the look of the fruit or vegetable is not perfect. When we give tours, whatever is in season we usually stop there and I will let people eat what it is. The first thing I do is pick it and eat it. Then I explain why I can do that here as opposed to doing the same thing in the clean environment of a grocery store. Most people would never eat something directly out of the ground (I would not have in the past). This too has been drilled into us, that we must wash our food before eating. Moreover, given the illnesses and worse, which occur, from the IFC, this is a good safe practice. You just cannot wash off the trace amounts of carcinogenic chemicals used in its production. Now if there has been a recent rain we do need to wash the soil off, but for the most part we eat it right out of the ground. I want people to learn that our food has nothing on it, that you can pull it out of the ground and eat it there with no ill affect, short or long term
Besides, the taste of what they are eating usually blows them away. It is the freshest vegetables most of them have ever tasted. They learn that yes, there are imperfections but the look quickly is dismissed by the flavor their palates are experiencing. Looks will be an uphill battle for us however, it is more important that the vegetables and fruits we sell are the safest, freshest and tastiest then the prettiest.
Our goal is not looks but health. The health of our customers, ourselves, our animals, the precious resources we use and the environment we inhabit. Besides, in many ways looks are deceiving.
Buy Local: Try ugly sometime, remember you cannot judge a book by its cover.