As it is Tuesday, I made my way down town to the farmer’s market to meet a friend for coffee and to do some of the shopping I failed to do Saturday as a result of the enormous crowds. It was Spanish Market weekend here in Santa Fe, which basically means a bunch of tourists come to the most confusing city in the country, get lost and basically cause general chaos. As a result the Farmer’s Market was a veritable madhouse Saturday morning and I bought nothing as a result….but I digress.
Since the atmosphere at the Tuesday market is much more laid back, it tends to be the day I buy my fruits and vegetables. For one, none of the meat or egg vendors are there, and secondly, because the crowds are so much smaller I tend to fell less guilty about sampling everything and asking questions about the produce.
As a general rule, the vendors are more than willing to let me try their goods. Many of the apple and tomato sellers have slices for people to taste, and in the event that I want to try a pepper to test it’s hotness, or a cherry to test it’s sweetness, I typically am granted the favor. I suppose even I would think it unreasonable to sample, say, an eggplant, but I actually don’t like eggplant so I suspect it won’t be an issue. In either case, it is my opinion that a vendor who is willing to let a customer try a piece of produce is more likely to answer questions about how it was grown, provide suggestions for cooking it, and nourish that relationship between buyer and farmer. They are also much more likely to get my money.
I was, therefor, rather surprised this morning when I asked to sample a raspberry and was told no. As I am sure you are all aware, a raspberry is a paltry thing – a small, single bite fruit. So why the unwillingness to allow me to try the $5 for a 1/2 pint fruit? I can only guess at the motives, but it certainly left a bad taste in my mouth.
It made me really wonder about the attitude of the farmer – a well known local, certified organic, mono-crop producer. The unwillingness to part with a single berry so as to potentially engender a relationship with someone who would, under different circumstances, become a regular customer, seems a poor decision. But perhaps he doesn’t think he needs to create personal relationships with his customers since he has an established brand. It is a rather peculiar kind of arrogance that I found quite disheartening.
The whole purpose, in my mind, of buying locally is to establish a relationship of trust between the farmer’s growing my food and myself. I want to know that the farmer cares about me; my health and well being. I want to know that the food grown is not sprayed, not processed, not pumped full of chemicals. I want to know that the grower is thoughtful, concerned about his or her community, and wants to provide sustainable food for that community. Perhaps this is too much to expect, but I find that so many of the vendors at the farmer’s market are like this.
Outside of local markets, this is absolutely not the case. Things are packaged to the point where it is impossible to open them even once you get home. Sampling the produce is frowned upon (some might even call it stealing) and the meats are frequently dyed or packaged in gas to trick us into thinking it is fresher than it is. It is an odd system we have that seems to encourage the idea that we should eat what is in front of us because it is there. The American food buyer who questions the source or, god forbid, wants to reassure herself that she is getting a good product, is seen by some as presumptuous – why ask when we should simply trust the labeling? As eaters, we need to take back control over what we eat, and the easiest way to do that is to ask questions and try things, then make purchases based off whether we like the answers to our questions.
So while the desire for raspberries was strong, I can’t in good conscience go back to that particular farmer and feel good about making a purchase. The experience illuminated for me that even local, certified organic farmers may, or may not, share my vision about local, sustainable, relationship based agriculture. There are many still out there who are more concerned with profit and loss (how much does one raspberry cost, anyhow?) and their government certifications than whether or not the people eating their food trust what they’re getting.
It was with a heavy heart that I turned away from the raspberries (which did look delicious) and continued my quest for fruit, finding some delicious apples from a farmer who not only let me sample them, but also answered my questions about his practices, explaining that he did not spray and that the blemishes on his fruit were from a hail storm prior to harvest. I bought ten and am so excited about the pie I’m going to make with them I can barely wait to finish writing this post.
The imperfect apples, with their pox marks and their variation are preferred by me any day to a 1/2 pint of uniform, certified organic raspberries that may, or may not, be delicious. Happy Eating!