At a meeting the other day, I was fortunate enough to be in the same room with a some wonderful organic farmers from the CRAFT network. Like most farmers, organic or not, they are hard workers, dedicated to wholesome food and healthy farms, and willing to take time out of their busy schedules to help others who share similar goals.
The topic of the meeting was Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)--What Works and What Doesn't. I really enjoyed listening in on the conversation and found it super interesting to hear about the struggles that these farmers have with customer retention, optimum box sizes, keeping the vegetables fresh, season-extension, etc. I kind of felt like the proverbial fly-on-the-wall. Except, of course, that instead of cleaning poop off my wings and leaving brown spots all over, I got to ask questions and make comments once in awhile. Fun!
Something from the conversation struck me, though, that has been on my mind ever since. A few farmers were very frustrated with a lack of participation at their on-farm events. These farmers want their farm to be the place where people go to find good food, make friends and restore community. Or maybe this is what they think their customers expect when they subscribe to their CSA?
Fostering community is all good and wonderful, of course, but it also seems like a lot of pressure. So not only do these vegetable farmers have to perform back-breaking labor, 10 hours a day, 6-8 months of the year for nominal pay, they now have to organize social events, provide a relatively clean space to socialize, remember everyone's name, and provide the entertainment, the education or both. I think I'd be in a coma before anyone even arrived.
To me, this doesn't sound like the community is supporting agriculture; it sounds like agriculture is supporting the community.
Which brings up the question: Is this what people want and/or expect from farmers? Because if so, then gosh I'm failing miserably. Our yearly farm tour is hard enough and all we have to do is show people the animals and pastures and be available to answer a few questions.
On another somewhat related note, I've recently read a few thought-provoking articles--rants, really--on the state of the good-food movement. You can read them here and here. In the first one, the author is obviously a meat-farmer like me and lays out what really needs to be done to change agriculture for the better. And yet the article is a veritable smack-down of people who act all uppity because they've participated in upscale farm-to-table dinners, purchased a few pounds of grassfed beef, or bought organic veggies a few times at the local farmers market. Yikes and readers beware.
The second is written by a columnist for the New York Times and touches on whether our 'I-eat-local' snootiness is off-putting and hurts the very movement we've embraced.
If you have time, read the articles and let me know what you think. I can relate to their feeling of frustration with so called food-snobs, but I find it interesting how they seem to come to different conclusions. The first author seems to be saying "Do more!" The second, "Don't lecture me if I don't do more!"
And if you have a little more time, please tell me: What do you expect from your farmer?