Aug 16, 2009

True Value Garlic

Cheap bastards. Unappreciative of the hard work and sacrifice we noble organic farmers make. They all want local, organic, earth-saving, healthy, nutritious, delicious produce, but expect it at mega-mart underprices. No-one values an organic farmer.

That's what I was bracing myself to say about our maiden produce-peddling expedition into Vancouver. With a big gulp and a bit of research, we had set a price of $2.50/head of garlic. I was fully expecting gripes about the price, and building up a screaming response in my head about how underpaid and undervalued we would still be at double the price: HOW DARE YOU bargain with me, HOW DARE YOU pretend to support local organic farming then try to pay less for all that went into this beautifully imperfect bundle:
  • purchase of seed, organic fertilizer, property, rototiller fuel and repair
  • ground clearing (can you say "thistle-prickle" five times fast?), rototilling
  • collecting maple leaves (dragged repeatedly by the boys on a tarp up the driveway) and seaweed for fertilizer and mulch
  • weeding, spraying organic fertilizer near the end
  • harvesting (and eating) double-curled scapes
  • harvesting the garlic, laying it out to dry, hanging it in bunches from the barn rafters to dry some more, cutting the "beards" (hairy roots) and sculpting the shoots, bundling into attractive bunches for sale
  • marketing, arranging orders, transport from the island to your door
With this rant polluting my mind, we put out the call on Facebook. But rather than wrath or silence, we were greeting with enthusiastic orders. Each delivery today brought a bath of gratitude, appreciation and camaraderie. Two friends refused to pay less than full price when I tried to give a bargain. One woman I'd never met before had picked some of her cherry tomatoes as a thank-you, another sent me home with a box of goodies from the discount/free pile at her organic warehouse (urban gleaning!), and the boys and I were welcomed into a playgroup potluck somewhere in there.

We've come home with enough money and support to allow and encourage us to continue. But there's still the question, was this a price that truly values this work and time? If I tried to charge $20/hour for my time they'd be $10/head. So we basically follow along what the market is saying, based on how much it costs the mega-farms to produce it then adding a bit of a premium for the small-scale local value-added, and hope it adds up to something worthwhile.

It's easy for me because I'm not doing this to pay the mortgage. I'm farming to teach my boys and me about our place in the natural world. To contribute to food security and decrease environmental degradation. As an act of solidarity with the rural farmer folk I've been working with all my career. And because it feels darn good. I love working my land each morning, and loved bringing big wild handfuls of garlic to my city friends, knowing it would bring spice to their lives through the winter. These life lessons and contributions are worth more than any price tag.

And I loved the exchange of the fruits of my labour for some of the fruits of their labour (in the form of money, tomatoes and crackers). In the purest sense of fair exchange, we all gave and received something we value, so we all came out feeling good from the deal. As long as I resist the urge to translate that into an hourly rate (and as long as we can rely on Sarah's business and my consulting for our main money source), this will be a healthy process for all.

So thank you to all of you who walk the walk - who are willing to pay a premium for the organic local food system we all believe in. We organic farmers need to trust in you even more: enough to collectively set prices that truly make this an honoured profession with enough financial reward to attract new young farmers and support veterans. For now, I leave your city feeling that we are in this together, and I bring your smiling sunshine and currency compost back to WildSide farms to enervate another bounty to share.

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