Thursday, June 20, 2013

Saying NO to Farmers Markets

The display above is of the soap I make here on our farm. This was taken a couple of weeks ago at the Farmers Market in Fairbury sponsored by The Stewards of The Land, a group of farmers Keith and I are very proud to be a part of.

We were members for many years and then to make more room for new farmers, our "status" was changed to Advisory Board Member. That's OK with us, the group helped us get started with direct farm to consumer marketing and now it's our turn to help other newbies.

For two years we very religiously set up our soap and meat and honey products at this Farmers Market every Saturday morning. It takes hours to get ready the day or two before, a hour or two of set up time (tents, tables, signs, products) and more time at home to put it all away.

Some weeks we sold only $4 worth of product.

But other weeks we sold much more. Regardless of the end sale amount we always came out ahead. Time spent with our fellow farmers chatting in between customers, time spent with the locals chatting about our products, our farms, time spent in the Antique Shoppe owned by the very gracious Kathy and Daton who lent us their parking lot for the market....all of this was time well spent.

But, this year, we decided to shift our focus. Again. Four years ago we stopped selling our milk to a co-op and shifted to on farm sales only. Three years ago we opened our Farm Store to further advance direct farm sales. Two years ago we pulled out of the Chicago restaurant scene ceasing the delivery of carcass pork. This year...we're greatly limiting our Farmers Market presence.

Don't get me wrong. We love Farmers Markets and support them, shop at them often. We will be at The Stewards of The Land Farmers Market in Fairbury at least twice this summer doing our share as "Host" farmer, but our focus will be right here. Do you understand what that means ?

It means we need about three more loads of gravel for our driveway, THAT's what it means! We have a lot of traffic up and down the lane these days.

But that's what we want. The more people can actually SEE their farmer at work, and SEE the animals at work and play and SEE the way good food should be raised, used to always be raised, the more likely we are to facilitate the growth of new farmers in our country.

Children need to hear the cow bellow, watch the pig burrow, feel the peacock feathers swirl by their feet in order for them to want to be farmers. Not all farmers are set up like we are for constant visitors, many of them must work off farm jobs and are not even home during the day doing all their farm work late into the evenings.

But for us, for us right now, on farm visitors are the key to our "success" and the success of farming in this country. In an era where farm displays in large metropolitan zoos will not even allow the child to touch their token animals or where milking is done on a life size fiberglass cow, farmers who can take the time to share their livelihood with visitors...should.

It's not easy. It sometimes interrupts our supper or breakfast or our bookwork but the payoff for our own little farm and for those kids who might never have experienced the joy of a piglet nibbling on their shoes, is really worth it. And 99% percent of our visitors are very gracious, respectful of our privacy  and thankful for the few minutes of our time. We have also learned to set limits. No tours on Sunday. And we do not offer Bed and Breakfast...yet.

So this year we are saying NO to our own participation in Farmers Markets and instead saying YES to bringing the public to our farm even more than before.

If it gets too intense we can always hide out in The Secret Garden. No one knows about that, do they?


  1. I'm with you!! Only 7% of Americans shop farmer's markets. As much as I love them .... there has got to be another way to reach the public.

    And you have found it!

  2. The commitment you have made to farming life is outstanding and I hope it inspires others to do the same. Everything you do is with such passion that I am sure everyone who visits your farm and sees what you do will leave with a unique insight into how worthwhile and meaningful farming can be.

  3. A good idea, me thinks. I WISH Paul would allow people down here to see our farm & buy our stuff, although limited to eggs, milk, cheese, soap, breads. Well, maybe I'm glad he won't let people down here....I'd miss the privacy. But I do applaud what you're doing by allowing people to REALLY see what a farm is and hopefully they'll grow to appreciate where their food comes from. Your's truly is a Farmer's Market!

  4. I work at a farmer's market selling soap. I like it, but won't quit my day job.
    I love farmer's markets. But until they become a HABIT and less of an ANOMALY for most people to shop at them every week, I think they may not be meeting their objective.

    Some people go every week. Most only go once or twice a season - when the day is sunny, they have extra time or are looking for something "folksy" to do. Maybe that's pertinent to my area alone, maybe not. I definitely see it.

    Also, dammit, the ones in my area need to get less jewelery vendors and more produce!!!!

    I love and SO AGREE with your statement about getting kids on the farm to want to be farmer's. Couldn't have said it better! Our farming population is aging and we need fresh blood to keep it going!

  5. I set up at an artisan, farmer's market last week. You have to make it or grow it to be there. The sponsors are so warm and accommodating I will be back, although my take was only $11. I spent more at other vendors booths.
    They have asked some not to return if they find out you didn't make or grow it which keeps the quality better I think. Loved your display box for soap.

  6. I have a slightly similar attitude towards painting. I have an agent, rather than a gallery, and I encourage people to wear-out my drive. Sadly it hasn't helped fill the coffers; but then I've never been in it for the money.

  7. Needed to read this today. Had lost focus a little bit, but we are sort of wanting to do the same as you, but slightly differently. But sometimes one has to read about other people's experiences to get back on track. Thankyou.

  8. Miss Eff. YOU should know! Which reminds me, its time to visit your farm again!!!

    The Broad. I am passionate, And Loud and bossy and pushy. My blog keeps me out of peoples faces and for that we are all grateful!

    Carolyn. It's not for everyone. One day we'll own a tiny farm and you'll have to portage over three streams and walk across a mountain to get to us. One day

    Lindsey. Thanks for doing so. I love attending the markets but the work involved as you know, is very tough.

    Anne. We also feel that although we may not make much at the market we do help spread the word about our farm and somedays I get to read a book while waiting for a customer. Not a bad thing at all.

    Cro. Do you have a website for your art? Or must I make that trip to France I've been planning?

    Vera. I am often unfocused myself. Just twirling in the yard covered only in raw milk. Ugggg.

  9. Our dreams of owning property and starting our own farm are in the cross hairs. The thinking and planning and dreaming stage have always come back around to getting people TO our farm. Like you said, to see, touch, smell and taste.

  10. I think it's wonderful that you are bring visitors to your farm to see what goes into producing food. Too many children don't know where food comes from, what it takes to grow food. Schools here are starting to go back to having school gardens to help children understand this.
    When I was at school we still had the school garden but it was becoming a thing of the past, which was a shame, but my grandmother was still into growing our own vegetables so I learnt from her. Children now don't have that, so it's great to be able to see by visiting farm and getting up close to animals and talking to the farmers.

  11. I think bringing people to the farmer must be a 'win win' for you and for them. How do you 'man' the shop though? Is there an honesty box or do you have tight opening hours or are you always within earshot?
    I've had 2 enquiries recently from businesses doing food tours /tourist groups re can they bring people to see our farm. Would that be something that would work for you?