I have had people periodically make a comment that they would like to see more pictures of the farmers and workers on the blog. I don't hear it all that frequently - but often enough to take note of it.
I actually understand where this is coming from, it can be a bit easier to feel a sense of connection if you can actually have visible evidence of the people with whom you are hoping to make a connection. I also understand that many people would rather see one or two pictures than five hundred words - no matter how personal those words might be.
But, what do you do when you have a couple of people who are not inclined to pose for pictures or take "selfies?" What if you are not inclined to stop work to take pictures? Or more likely, you think about taking pictures early and late in the day, but your mind is on other things at all points in between? Besides, I tend to find a picture of zinnias or frogs or butterflies to be more appealing - but I know not everyone sees it the same way.
Well, the answer in the past was to host some sort of work day or host a gathering and ask someone else to take pictures for you. Amazingly, a few pictures of the farmers pop up now and again!
But, that is not really the point I was hoping to make.
It seems to me that expectations for farms that hope to sell locally are a bit out of whack sometimes. It is almost as if we need to be performers more than we need to have quality product. Being friendly and approachable is good (and necessary), but it almost feels like you must be the equivalent of a friendly, approachable, non-threatening, dancing bear - who just happens to grow some pretty incredible veggies.
Yes, I understand the realities of business. If you have a product and you want to sell it, you must have salesmanship. That's fair and expected. Though I suspect many veteran growers would like their experience and solid reputation to speak for them a bit so they can have a little room to breathe!
But, over the years, I have noticed there are a subset of people who act as if they should be given an award for supporting a local producer of food. "Look at me! I went to the farmers' market and I bought $10 worth of produce! Woo hoo! Now I can tell everyone I support local food and rest on my laurels for... oh... a few years. Then, I'll go back again... if they have some live music... and special sales.... and a food truck. Because I think local food is important."
Just last season I had an "ardent local foods" supporter tell me that they were surprised that they did not see us at the farmers' market on some random Saturday. In the past, I have been polite and conciliatory (remember - friendly dancing bear!). This time, I was polite, firm and I did not brush it off.
I informed them that we had not been selling at farmers' market for the past five (or so) years, pursuing other, hopefully more fruitful, approaches to selling our product.
Did you really expect any farmer to consistently attend every Saturday, in all sorts of weather, year after year... waiting just for that moment when you tell yourself you might like a fresh tomato from a local farm...in May... when it is way too early in Iowa? Eventually, the bear stops dancing if there is no one in the audience to applaud and toss it treats.
My apologies if you were the person I talked to that day and I characterized you with this broad brush. Perhaps you support local foods via a CSA or U-Pick or On-Farm sales - all things I could not know. But, I suspect you would be the exception (good for you!) and I bet the person I am referencing will not read this and is looking forward to their next appearance at farmers' market in two years time - looking for spinach in August because they saw a neat recipe on some cooking show that told them farm fresh spinach is the best.
So, what got me started on this rant? Well, it has nothing to do with our farm specifically. Instead, I am aware of several other small farms that sell locally throughout the Midwest. Many of them are very engaging with their social media posts. They hold events at their farms. They reach out and interact in all sorts of creative ways. Good, hard-working people. Many of whom are far more outgoing and willing to photograph themselves than I ever will be! They also don't write blogs that periodically chastise local food supporters! (oops)
They get plenty of reactions and "likes" on social media. Lots of positive strokes from people who buy $10 of produce from them every three years so they can bask in the glow of doing something good. But, I am sure these "local foods supporters" also tell themselves how much good they are doing for local foods by liking and sharing social media posts.
Folks - your local farmers are often doing things to show their personal side - and you reward them with the most impersonal and the least useful support you can give - because hitting a "like" button is incredibly easy - and means so very little in the end. What means more are personal recommendations for a product and, more important, your own patronage.
Do you really want to make your support worthwhile and personal?
- When a local business you support offers something do more than "like" their post. Link a friend to the post and publicly state "Hey *person I know*! This is where I got those great tomatoes I told you about. It's easy to get them yourself - here they are!"
- Every so often, give a specific piece of praise to your local grower. Give it to them face to face, on the phone, text, email or social media. "Hey *local business person we appreciate*! I really like how clean your produce is, you must put a great deal of effort into that. Thank you!"
- Honor them with kind and useful feedback - especially when it is requested. "I liked it when you had lettuce nearly every week in the CSA, but I might like it better if you had two heads of lettuce every other week or every three weeks. But, by all means, keep getting us that great lettuce!"
- Consistently support them with your own purchases for as long as the product fits your needs. But, if life changes and you must move on - be forthright and honest. Do your level best to promote that business to someone you know who is at a stage in their life where the product does fit so your loss for the local business is balanced by a new customer who could replace your support as you move on to a new phase of your life.
- Be persistent and consistent in your support.
- Be honest with yourself. How much do you actually purchase from local sources? Could you do better? Is it the right thing for you to be doing or is there something better you can expend your energy on? In the end - do something good!
- Let the dancing bear have its human moments and extend grace when it is needed.
Thank you so much for reading our blog. I suspect, if you read this, that you probably already do some fine things to support local businesses of all sorts. But, we can all do better in all sorts of things in all sorts of ways - myself included.
Let's all do what we can to take care of each other. See - we even shared a farmer selfie with you all!