As a local farmer-businesswoman who has made her living solely from growing produce for the Moab area for five years now, I agree with Sarah Perez-Sanz in her recent op-ed that all of us who value locally produced food can make a positive impact by regularly attending the farmers market (“Support your local farmers market,” Sept. 1-7, 2016, Moab Sun News). Whether as a consumer or vendor, showing up to market each week builds momentum, reliability and demand. But I have to disagree with Sarah that “change in our food scene will not happen because you did not go to market.” Change in our local food culture happens in many different ways, and the food scene is a continuum. Many farmers attended the market before I moved onto the scene, I had my little run, and many more will try their hand at it after me. There is much we can learn from each other about what worked, what didn’t and why not as we all strive together to create a stronger and more stable local food marketplace that keeps farmers in business.
Based on my experience over the course of my one season selling at the Moab Farmers Market, I do not agree with Sarah that “attending the farmers market is the easiest and most meaningful way to support local food and farmers in the Moab area.” There are many different scales of farms out there, many valid farming business models, and many venues each farm can use to get its food to the people. Each marketplace has its place. And as far as visibility goes, weekly “on-farm pick-up” CSA models are incredibly powerful in their transparency – more than farmers’ markets in some ways, as the customers see their produce growing right there on the farm, whereas at the farmers market, a middleman can pass off other farms’ produce as their own.
Also, while attending the farmers market as a vendor was very meaningful for me, it was certainly not easy. I struggled. I had to set up shop during the hottest part of the day, battle monsoon weather and pretend to be a chipper saleswoman when it is not at all my nature. Plus I regularly had terrible profits and lots of leftovers. Which I felt was due in part to the unstable number of my fellow vendors from week to week. There’d be just one other farmer-competitor at one market, and then seven would suddenly show up at the next. Customer attendance also wildly fluctuated. And at that time, Moab grocery store policies frowned upon buying market leftovers! So, because the farmers market model was not working for me and because I could no longer afford to wait around until it stabilized, I now no longer operate as an A-to-Z farm that grows everything under the sun (Asparagus-to-Zucchini). Now I raise larger quantities of fewer crops, focusing on those that excel in my soil and climate, and sell them to our grocery stores. When a friend asks me how they can support my farm, I tell them to go buy my veggies at Moonflower. And I also sell a good deal to Moab restaurants, because we all know Moab is blessed with plenty of hungry tourists, many who value local and organic food. This season I’ve even been selling a little through a farmer-owned distribution cooperative, so some of my food makes it all the way to fancy restaurants in Durango and Telluride.
Nothing but cheers to Sarah in her nudging forward of the Moab foodshed conversation begun at the August 23rd MARC meeting that was so gracefully hosted by USU. Let’s keep using friendly and positive peer pressure to support one another in our unified commitment to support the foodshed and truly “walk our talk!”