He circled my table twice before approaching. He is a veteran vendor of the local farmer’s market, I a rookie, at least at selling.
I agreed to participate in the market because I wanted to get a feel of what customers want. Knowing better than to cause friction with the veterans, I left Dad’s eggs at home. Besides, I have established customers for Dad’s eggs with a waiting list of people wanting more. I only brought seedlings, Elderberry, and other medicinal plants I’d grown with my own two hands.
“You plan on coming back next week?” he asked.
“No sir. Today only.”
He nodded, almost happy that I wouldn’t be back.
Others had asked me if I was returning to the market, if I had plans on becoming a regular. I can’t determine why my plans mattered, especially since the items I offered did not compete with theirs. I spend most Saturdays tending my garden or working at Dad’s. Weeding and working negates any need to make a profit on Saturday. Dad and I have a growing list of local customers who trust us to deliver tasty vegetables and organic eggs.
The morning passed quickly. I sold several items, but nothing to customers my age. It appears folk my age no longer touch the dirt. The seedlings found homes with customers in their mid-twenties whose excitement gave me hope. Packing my remaining items, I visited the man’s table where he boxed up a variety of herbs and spices.
“Are you growing lavender?” I asked excited to learn his secret. “I’ve been trying to coax some seeds to germinate, but I’m struggling.
“I don’t have dirt. I have soil.”
Puzzled, I asked how many acres he farmed.
“Beg your pardon?”
“Buy all my lavender in 40 pound bags,” he boasted. “Buy all of this in bulk and then bag it up. I don’t have a garden. I do all my work in a greenhouse.” The man lifted his chin. “Yes ma’am. I buy a load of hybrid seeds, plant them in the soil . . . even have a made-up name for the tomato variety. I call them Mountain Beauties, or Mountain Jewels.” His Yankee accent bled through. “Around here, people will buy anything they think is tied to the mountains.”
I wanted to punch him square in his turned-up face. This man wasn’t a farmer, he wasn’t even honest! He wasn’t alone. The woman selling holistic remedies, hadn’t grown a single herb. She merely purchased oils from God knows where, grown in God knows what kind of environment. She had no interest in purchasing an Elderberry bush for $ 5.00 because she hadn’t any property.
Friends, I have dirt. Dirt is my friend. I work the dirt. I pull weeds and beat dirt off the roots. Dirt gets in my boots, presses into the fibers of my socks. Dirt is in my hair and under my fingertips. I do not have soil. Soil is purchased in bag as a mixture of ground up trees and chemical-laden fertilizers bagged in plastic and then used by those intent on taking your money via dishonest methods.
This experience left me wondering, don’t consumers care where their food comes from? Or, do they naively believe the words of any old snake oil salesman?
The push to “buy local,” has created a culture of truck farming. We see a lot of social media posts with #BuyLocal #KnowYourFarmer #AppalachianGrown and #FarmersMarket, but is the produce offered at these stands really local? Take, for example, the roadside produce stand. There are two produce stands within three miles of my house. None of the produce offered for sale is grown locally, nothing offered is organic. Instead, someone drives a pickup truck to a Farmer’s Market located God-knows-where. They purchase cases of produce that are (most often) not grown within one hundred miles of the market. They drive boxes on the back of pickup trucks to their stands where they offer items for sale. This is the norm for most Farmer’s Markets. A prime example is the tomato. When someone posts “just got some great tasting tomatoes at [name of local produce stand withheld]” I know there is no way under the sun ANY Western North Carolina Farm, ANY Atlanta Farm, ANY South Carolina Farm has homegrown tomatoes in February unless they are hydroponic- hot-house plastic, tasteless globes.
Tomatoes in February, don’t be ridiculous. Your mama raised you better than that.
It is foolish to place this kind of blind trust in someone whose sole purpose is making money. Every time you purchase food, you place your health in the hands of another. One must ask, do you trust them? Do you trust them, really??
I’ll admit, I wasn’t all that excited to help Dad sell his eggs and his produce. Most folk don’t understand the amount of time it takes to plant, tend and harvest. Last year we sold beans, loads of beans, and tomatoes. When I tell customers our produce is superior to others I say those words sincerely. We pick only when we have a customer ready to purchase. We don’t spray. We plant every seed with out dirt-laden hands. We use seeds we’ve hoarded for years. We weed. We cultivate. We love our vegetables and we will use them whether we have a single customer or not.
Which brings me back to the question, do people really care where their food comes from?
I know I do.
Renea Winchester is the author of Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches and In the Garden with Billy. She is winner of the Appalachian Heritage Award and writes a weekly gardening column for the Sylva Herald Newspaper. She is proudly represented by Firefly Southern Fiction who will release her first novel, Outbound Train, in 2020.