Oh dear. I’ve had an unexpected change-of-mind. Having just spent some 5 years convincing the boss (my parents) that we shouldn’t be doing big city markets anymore, I have just admitted to myself that I don’t mind them all that much and it seems a little rash to remove them from the revenue stream.
Our farm was built and paid for with the money that city people have given us for potatoes. I have always privately bristled when non-market people have expressed incredulity that driving down there has been worthwhile. I am not sure what those people picture when they think of farmers’ markets. Probably not these commercial juggernauts with upwards of 10,000 people with money and shopping bags passing through every weekend, summer and winter. We could always count on about 10% of them buying our potatoes, which left the other 90% as our target market. Growth was not only reliable, but it also seemed inevitable.
COVID, however, did away with the crush of humanity and laid bare the fact that the emotional and physical toll of trundling down there has increasingly outpaced the need for that money. Finally, after several years of persistent campaigning on that point- several skirmishes, the odd big battle, very carefully crafted diplomacy, and the shameless exploitation of a global pandemic, we are all in agreement on the concept at least, if not the plan going forward.
Problem being, I went to the big city market yesterday (first one since March) and it was great. Loved it. I’m looking forward to next week’s installment. So nice to see these people, both customers and fellow farmers, again. It was satisfying to move a larger volume of potatoes, even though the capacity restrictions have reduced the commercial juggernaut to something of a more dubious nature. An excellent new stall location with both truck and trailer parked adjacent allowed me and my helper to enjoy the warmish sunny day with minimal heavy lifting. The city driving was easy.
Evidently there is more than money drawing me to markets and I am now effortlessly cataloguing the desirable aspects of the experience. Included are honest admissions and pandemic positives. For example, I have missed showing off our beautiful potatoes and the glowy feeling I get when they are admired. Another: city driving conditions have improved immensely. Volume exists at certain times and in certain neighborhoods, but overall, there are new and unexpected gaps into which my large truck and half-empty/half-full trailer easily fit.
Contributing greatly to my mood swinging from oppressively obsessed with work requirements to breezily musing on the charms of attending city winter markets, is the change in season. That is to say, the ground is now either frozen or too muddy for tractors, day-light hours are seriously reduced, and weather conditions require clothing choices incompatible with high productivity expectations: all this signals good times ahead. It’s a far cry from yester-week when I was roaring around the farm pursued by an aggressive to-do list.
I learned years ago to measure my work-life balance over nothing less than the course of a year. It is sensible to make hay while the sun shines, after all, as that is what we are here to do as farmers. It is equally important to cherish the impossibility of farming potatoes when there is 6 feet of snow on the ground, which is the lesser known corelated farming cliche. Leaving aside the fact that we still have almost the entire crop to wash, sort and sell I don’t have much to do. I guess I can’t leave that aside.
So, point being, a change is a good as a holiday.
Winter is coming! Markets are fun! Hooray for unexpected mind changes.
Anna Helmer is farming and doing other things in the beautiful Pemberton Valley.