Friday, January 25, 2008

More seeds

Well that last blog even surprised me by its rather precipitous ending. Apparently the Frog of this Log decided to reach out its long tongue and snap that little blog right up. That's all, rivet rivet. And he was right; without knowing or planning it, I had arrived at my conclusion.

But I'm returning to circle 'round the word pond, hopefully avoiding his greedy tongue until I'm ready for the last period. Or not. My frog muse knows better than I, methinks.

So continuing with the last blog where I had ordered Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food, and then moved on to making our seed order. Well, the seed order was tough this year. Not only are we ordering as much organic seed as possible, which is expensive, all seed seems pretty pricey. We look at a tomato variety, decide how much we need and then look at the price. And then stop. "How much??" "Can we really do that?" "Hmmm, I guess we have to." Okay, gulp, next!"

We order a lot of seed because we grow so many bedding plants for our customers' gardens. And it's fun to get folks started right with well-selected tasty varieties. But it's not fun to raise our prices.

One of the joys of direct marketing is that we can look our customers in the eyes and exchange information, gardening and cooking tips, thank you's, and, yes, energy! One of the difficult parts of direct marketing is telling those good customers what the price is. In the supermarket, all the produce is displayed in a jumble of "by the pound" prices. Shoppers load their baskets, never knowing until checkout just what that tomato really cost. They do find out at the checkout counter, but the prices usually go by pretty fast and few customers want to shout, "Stop! That's too much!"

At our farmer's market stall, each tomato, each bunch of lettuce or box of beans is priced by the each or box. No surprises, no camouflage. And nowhere to hide when we look our customers in the eyes and tell them the total. I know we're fair; but still, it's hard.

Later on that day I was listening to NPR while driving to the dentist. It was Terry Gross -- FreSHAIR! And her guest was Michael Pollan! He is a very down-to-earth, straight-talking journalist; he really was a breath of fresh air. He ranged through his favorite topics about the industrialization of the food supply and the "scientification" of our relationship with food. He talked passionately and compassionately about the plight of the American consumer, staggering through the bulging aisles of the standard supermarket, baffled by the myriad choices of non-food. And somehow, despite undergoing processing akin to an elaborate science research project and often traveling thousands of miles, this "food" is cheap! Or as Michael Pollan succinctly stated: The industrialization of food has artificially lowered the price charged for food. The industrialization of food has artificially lowered the price charged for food. (He said it twice.)

Maybe a lower price for food sounds like a good thing, but he said "artificially". Consumers don't see the costs in terms of soil erosion, increased greenhouse gases, questionable genetic modification, tainted water. They just see cheap packaged processed food or world-traveling produce.

We don't industrialize our crops, but we are industrious. We earn what we ask with sweat and hard work. Our customers for the most part understand this and I hope that this summer our exchanges at the stall will continue to be informative, friendly, and fair - all the way to the total.


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