Last month two men, who did not speak English, came to my booth at the market. One pointed to the picture of my free range chickens, so I showed him a dozen eggs and a vacuum packed chicken. He pointed to the chicken and then held up 2 fingers. I got another one out and he put his hands close together, so I got a bigger one. I showed him the price, he gave me a credit card, and the transaction was complete.
When I go to work off the farm, I interact with people of different ages, races, countries of origin, religions, politics, sexual orientation, income, and culinary skills. In Houston, one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in America, I sell at the vibrant and diverse Eastside Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. Everyone is welcome to shop and join in the civil discourse about life, farming, and food policy. A conversation about the herb rau ram, with a woman from Vietnam, leads to a new recipe to try at home. A Romanian customer and I share sauerkraut recipes. The Indian couple and I discuss the difference between tulsi and African blue basil. Later a young woman tells me she has never cooked a chicken and asks for a simple recipe. I am learning the Spanish words for cuts of lamb but am not so adventurous as to learn any of the other 145 languages that are spoken in Houston.
The vendors at the farmers markets, and all small farmers, are independent beacons of capitalism. While industrial, corporate giants control most of the food chain, we are entrepreneurs running family businesses. The organic product that you so love at the supermarket is probably owned by a corporation whose web site will tell you that their mission is to “maximize shareholder value”. Most of the farmers I work around would agree that our mission is to provide the best, freshest food we can deliver and hope to make a living doing so. We represent the closest thing to free market capitalism in America.
As small independent businesses, including farms, close year after year, we need the support of everyone, and we will, in return, support the community. Much of our money (that was your money before you bought from us) stays in the community supporting local processing facilities, butchers, and restaurants. We owe our farm’s existence to the loyal, single family customers.
While the number of butchers, bakeries, fishermen and cheese makers dwindle, and most Americans cannot tell the difference between the taste of chicken or armadillo, because salt, flavoring, and sweeteners cover the fact that there is no flavor in much of the industrial foods, our customers go out of their way to get the perfect chicken, egg, chèvre, kale, or bread, because they can tell the difference.
We are stewards of the environment, we preserve heritage breeds and seeds, we risk our own capital to do these businesses, and we seldom get the subsidies that support our wealthy and politically influential competitors. Of course, they are not really competitors because they make something completely different. There is a reason our products are called food, and theirs are called commodities.
The greater Houston area eats, or wastes, about a million pounds of food an hour. We local farmers will provide only the prime part of that to anyone who wants to visit a farmers market or a farm and support real food and real farmers.
We are a diverse group of farmers. We love our diverse group of customers and welcome the refugees and immigrants.
P.S. I was told a story about a man that was buying trapped armadillos and selling the meat as chicken with no complaints.