I can count the number of times I’ve been to a farmers’ market this year. On my fingers. On one hand. (My time in Hawaii excepted, because the promise of tree-ripened mangos, papayas, and apple bananas can entice me into all sorts of things I wouldn’t normally do.) The discrepancy between belief and action surprised me until I realized that my appreciation of farmers’ markets is primarily intellectual. For all the good fruit, community-building, local-economy-supporting, environment-supporting vibes, I don’t like being there.
I took Beth’s Show Your Plastic challenge (well, at least the collecting part) this week, and found that most of my plastic waste is, in fact, packaging from delicate summer fruit: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries. It’s all stuff that I could readily get at the farmers’ market with significantly less plastic; I just don’t feel much motivation to go. First world problem? Oh yeah.
I’ve identified the reasons I don’t go to farmers’ markets more often. Maybe you can help me come up with solutions.
Problem #1: I hate crowds.
As in hate hate. If you can have claustrophobia about being enveloped by people (small spaces without people = no problem), that’s what I have. Being stuck in a sea of elbows, bad perfume + body odor, and double-wide baby strollers makes my blood pressure rise and my mood plummet. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that my local markets enjoy such good business. But that doesn’t change the fact that I can only be at the farmers’ market for a few minutes before I start to shut down and look for an empty corner in which to whimper.
Problem #2: The good farmers’ market is at the same time as my pottery studio time.
There are two nearby weekend markets. The Saratoga market, which has reasonable prices, manageable crowds, and really good fruit, is on Saturday morning. So is open studio at pottery. There is very little that I prioritize over being elbow deep in mud on Saturday mornings. Seeing friends? Sleeping in? Buying food? Meh.
Problem #3: The other farmers’ market has an unacceptable level of smug.
The Campbell farmers’ market: a little richer, a lot whiter, and a whole lot smugger. It’s like taking the entire weekly population of Whole Foods and concentrating it on three street blocks. Phenomena observed there: designer reusable bags, eco-sunglasses, bamboo baby strollers, crappy overpriced crafts, pedigreed dogs with non-toxic toe nail polish, yoga goddesses going on about their latest juice cleanse. I don’t particularly like the ambiance at Whole Foods, but the Campbell market is about ten times worse and just as expensive. Time it takes for this place to get my back up: 5 minutes. Time it takes for me to complete my shopping: 20 minutes. I’m rubbish at math, but even I can see that that isn’t a good equation.
Problem #4: I don’t like talking to people.
One of the touted benefits of going to farmers’ markets is getting up close and personal with farmers. Here you can talk to farmers about their growing practices, pest management strategies, crop rotation, colony collapse. It’s a terrific thing to know how your food is grown, but that doesn’t change an inherent personality flaw: I don’t like talking to strangers. I have a limit of maybe five new people a day, tops. So once I’ve talked to a few farmers, I’m done, and just want to mutely shove cucumbers into my reusable produce bags. In fact, I sometimes welcome the anonymity of buying from the supermarket, where I can’t be guilt tripped into paying $4 a pound for organic heirloom tomatoes that the grower wrested at great personal cost and effort from nematode-infested soils.
Problem #5: I can’t always justify the cost.
I would love to support my local farmers all the time, but it bumps up my grocery tab by as much as 50%. $3 for a small basket of strawberries, $6 for a dozen truly cage free, happy hen eggs, $2.50 for a pound of potatoes. Ouch. I still have no guarantee that they are grown more sustainably than the stuff at my local greengrocer. In The Conundrum David Owen has a rather harsh invective against farmers’ markets, but asks a question I would love to know the answer to: if lower efficiency farming uses more land to produce the same amount of food, is it really greener? It’s a complex question that has to take into account externalities from conventional high efficiency farming (higher levels of pesticides, nitrogen run-off) and whether the small organic farms take away land that would be otherwise available for wildlife (perhaps not), but once again, I find myself wishing sustainability were a quantifiable term.
What kind of relationship do you have with farmers’ markets? Got any clever solutions for me?
Photo credit: NatalieMaynor