Know Your Farmers…and Appreciate Them

A friend shared a post from a farmer  friend of hers and it is important to read.  As you know, I feel my ability to grow anything is challenged…..no green thumbs. I do like good food, however, so I honor my farmers not only with my business to preserve their surplus and give them another income stream, but I tell people again and again that the best they can do with their food dollar is to support their local farmers.  If you personally do not know where that steak came from, that tomato, or that egg, you are missing out on the best the agricultural work has to offer.  And you probably really do not know the real taste of the food you are eating. 

Soul Food Farm is quietly tucked into the rolling hillsides of Northern California. Since 1988, the Koefoed family has continued the legacy of this historic farm, and today it is bountiful with both wild and artisan flowers, lavender fields, and an estate olive orchard where,  every year, the local community gathers to help with the harvest. Happy chickens sunbathe in the fields while the sheep, goat, steer and cow nurture the soil with their grazing. Whether you’re visiting the farm for one of our many workshops or attending a farm-to-table dinner or special event, Soul Food Farm will leave your heart enchanted and your soul nourished. Read more about our story here.

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Over the years I made a deal with myself to stop apologizing for the price of our farm products. It took a long time to develop that frame of mind, but eventually, I understood that hard work needs no defense. End of story. But, yesterday at a Farm to Fork event I had an encounter with a couple that stopped me dead in my tracks.

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A couple walked up to our little Soul Food Farm table and so naturally, I expected them to be interested in our olive oil Why else approach the table? Instead, I got this look of suspicion while they picked up a bottle and turned it over and then it came. They looked at me and said, “we don’t want to be rude, but why is it sooooooo expensive.” And then I was face to face with a choice. Try once more to explain what it takes to farm or dismiss the question. The irritation this dilemma caused in the past crashed through my memories and in a moment I decided to answer her question. Deep breath, positive expectation, begin. I started to explain that I prune the trees myself, and we pick the olives by hand, and we pay the mill upfront to press the oil, and as I ’m talking, she waves her hand in my face and says’ yeah, yeah, whatever” and walks off.Image may contain: table and outdoor

Instead of getting mad I was left wondering why is there still this lingering suspicion that farmers are price gauging? Customers would never walk into a grocery store and expect a discount before they bought an item or demand a sample. The utter contempt that’s conveyed not only by demanding to know why farm food is priced the way it is but just the plain rudeness of walking away when someone is speaking to you astounds me. Now, I could brush this off as a one-time occurrence but I know it’s not. I have many farmer friends who are up against this every time they sell at a farmers market. The constant and varied questions about price that always fall just short of an outright accusation of trying to cheat the customer.

As I walked around the farm today putting animals away, collecting eggs, filling water troughs, my frustration started to compound. What is it going to take for us to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers? When are small farmers going to be treated with respect? Not only from folks shopping at farmer’s markets, but the restaurants that buy their food, and the farm to fork dinners, festivals and conferences that are continually popping up. What do I mean by respect? I mean not haggling with farmers at the market over their price per pound. Do folks think farmers are running some racket? A get rich quick scheme with carrots and tomatoes? Restaurants need to start paying farmers at the time of delivery, COD. Farmers already cover the total cost of production; it is simply wrong to expect farmers to wait thirty to sixty days for payment after deliveries. And all those farm to fork events, how about actually having a good representation of local farmers at these events. Better yet, stop asking small farmers to donate food items to events that charge a ticket price.Image may contain: plant, fruit, outdoor, food and nature

We have to let go of the imagery that farmers are part of a pastoral fantasy. Farming is not a fable but a job, that’s necessary to the very fabric of our existence. Farming is often soul crashing hard work. Long, lonely days in the field. Planting seeds. The sun beating on your back. Nights comforting animals. Cold, early mornings, to harvest, pack and get to market. The burden of the cost of production yours and yours alone. Farming is not only a career it’s a service to the surrounding community. In return, only one thing is asked or expected, that the work is appreciated and treated with respect.

One rude couple, won’t make or break a small farm, but it’s a good reminder we have a long way to go.

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