13 year old son Jon noted the other day that nearly every vendor at the farmer’s market identifies themselves as “X Family Farm.” Why is that he asked? He’s obviously no stranger to the concept of family farming, especially this summer. But we don’t use that label.
I explained that in part it is because we are what is sometimes known as a “blended family.” Which family name to use? Between remarriages and several generations with only daughters, the family name attached to our operation has changed repeatedly over the 130 years. But mostly I said, it has to do with marketing. If you’re at the farmers market, would buy your produce from Farmer Bob’s Family Farm, or Foodco Farms?
“It depends”, he said. “Which one had better food? I’d probably buy from both, then next time I’d know whose was the best.”
You can’t argue with that logic.
A lot of things in our world are done just for show. Just about everybody has a car, and plenty of people have a dog. But if you go to a car show or a dog show, what you will see probably doesn’t bear a big resemblence to what’s sitting in front of your house. The fashion world can get even more outlandish. Every year the designers in New York, Paris and Milan dream up new styles, many of which can be truly bizarre and are never seen again. The average person can’t buy them; the average person wouldn’t look good in them, and they certainly wouldn’t want them.
Yet these types of displays continue to attract a lot of attention. Is it just voyeuristic consumerism? Or do they serve a purpose? Odd though it seems to be defending the world of fashion in a sustainable farming blog, they do indeed serve a purpose. Because behind the silliness and occasional bouts of self-importance, these shows measure and shape the desires of the vast body people who did not attend, do not care, and will never buy these products. Because I may not care what is hot in Milan this week, but it will shape my options a year from now.
And so it is with Farmer’s Markets. I’ve heard some of the “celebrity farmers” described as rock stars, but really they are supermodels. Farmer’s Markets provide a select group of chefs and foodies (and a few others) with fashionable produce. If it is hot right now, you can find it at the Farmer’s Market. Some produce will be a literal flash in the pan with a trendy LA chef, and go right back to obscurity. But some will make its way to Applebees and the supermarket, just like puffy sleeves or big lapels eventually find their way to Target.
So is it a bad thing if Farmer’s Markets don’t save the world? I don’t think so. Pioneering new crops is a tremendously useful role that these farmers play; Agriculture would be stagnant without them. Just like the fashionistas, they will continue to move ahead, looking for the next big thing, while more pedestrian versions of their creations hit the streets.
And at least with them, you can get a pretty good bite to eat.