We began our farmers market career 6 years ago with a goal of becoming full time farmers. Farmers markets seemed the logical thing to do, after all they were the star of the “farm to fork” movement and every down on his luck farmer was talking about them. Better prices, wealthy consumers, such were the buzz words…well, why not try it? Such self-serving motives, I’m ashamed of us!
Scarcely were we “going to market” when we began to realize there is something much larger at work here. Something much more goal worthy! Suddenly those “wealthy consumers” became real people (like us) who are seeking the best food possible for their families. (like us again!) Many were middle income families (like us) shopping on a budget (like us again!)
Over the course of time our priorities shifted. Yes we became full time farmers but that had ceased to matter. J What mattered was that our customers were real people who were depending on us. If we failed to come through, we were letting them down. The thankfulness, loyalty, and admiration for farmers that our customers brought to us was humbling and inspiring. Now we were learning to know their names, learning to know their families, most important, learning to know their needs and how to meet them. The most amazing relationships began to develop.
There’s Carol who buys ground chicken bones to feed her very large German Shepherd. Dewey is her best friend and companion.
There’s Elaine who is on a very tight budget and struggling with a husband’s stroke and personality changes. She buys eggs to share with an elderly neighbor and once in a while a piece of meat as a splurge. Too proud to accept a gift, she would rather do without meat. She mostly needs a friend and encouragement.
There’s Karen and Chuck, longtime supporters of sustainable agriculture, they’ve become friends that invite us to their children’s graduations and send us Christmas cards.
There’s Mark and Lori who helped clean up after a messy customer appreciation dinner, called and asked for prayer when they became pregnant after 2 miscarriages, and prayed with us through the difficult pregnancy and birth of our son. Originally they came to us in pursuit of clean food after a sister with cancer passed on.
So many faces, so many different reasons for coming to the market.
Then—phase 2 of our priority shift … In our old profession, it was all business, never share a trade secret with your competition, in fact, view your competitors with an air of suspicion and maybe outright hostility. Not so with our fellow farmers and market goers. We’ve found that if we extend our hand in friendship our competitors become a network of shared info, labor, and resources. We’re all in this together for a common good. Only in our church family have we found a sense of community equal to the one found at Farmer’s Markets.
On another front, farmer’s markets provide opportunities for many people who don’t personally go to the market. Consider these:
Ray and Kathryn Herschberger, local farming family, Jonathan’s uncle. We buy many tons of grain from him each summer. Jon grinds chicken feed from bought grain because our farm and Dads are both planted in pasture.
Virgil and Susan Herschberger, cousin and local farmer, friends of ours. Virgil has the Mama pigs and grows the baby piggies to weaning age and then we buy them from him to finish growing out.
Samuel and Ruth Ann Miller, neighbor, dairy farmer for Organic Valley, he runs a small supplement store on the side. We buy all our vitamins, minerals, etc. for the chicken’s feed from him. Also, kelp, sea salt etc. for the cattle and horses. On the rare occasion that an animal needs medicine, Samuel’s usually the place to go.
Ivan and Mary Gingerich, Jon’s parents, they’re getting close to retirement age and the rent check each month helps support them. We rent 30 acres from them and Dad helps take care of the beef herd.
Perry Coblentz, Ed Bowman, farmers that we buy steer from. We feel fortunate to have found farmers that we can buy grass fed steers from.. Grassfed beef steer are few and far between in this part of the country.
This Old Farm, Buetlers, J & M Poultry Farm the processing plants we send, pork, chicken and beef respectively to. All of them are family run operations. Clean and efficient, they do a good job, treat animals humanely, and we’re blessed to have them.
Kathryn Hochstetler and Leona Gingerich (Jon’s sister). Two single girls that work for us several days a week, mostly in the commercial kitchen and also at markets on Saturday. Jobs for single Amish girls are a little scarce, since there’s the transportation issue with jobs outside of horse and buggy distance.
Pam Bradbury and Mary Beth James, both customers turned friends. They’ve been excellent market help, they mostly work for food. Pam even butchers chickens!
Miller’s Variety Store—Ben and Naomi (Miller) Gingerich, Jon’s brother. Ben manages the store owned by his father-in-law. We buy a lot of ingredients from the kitchen from them. Ben’s good about sourcing those hard to find organic ingredients.
Arlene Tschiegg-secretary and friend. We would be lost without her organization skills and faithful, dependable, order taking. Newsletter printing, promotional papers, labels, you name it, Arlene does it!
In summary, what farmer’s market means to us is a wheel of sorts in which farmer’s markets are the hub. Each spoke in the wheel is one of the issues that concern all of us today: the health of our families, the health of our planet, sustainability, fair trade, buying local….whatever the subject Farmer’s Market embodies them all. And what’s best, the rim of the wheel; a grass roots effort, both urban and rural, to join hands and hearts and make the wheel go round.
Valuable lesson “Make your customer #1 and they will take care of you!”