It’s another cloudy gray day with spitting rain off and on. That means the combine remains parked and there will be no harvest activity again today. So the guys will spend the day in the warm shop working on maintenance and repair projects once again. Not me…it’s Saturday so I was off to the local farmers market.
I’ve been a vendor at the Woodstock Farmers Market for the past ten years. I have a freezer truck that I drive to the downtown square area each Tuesday and Saturday, May through October, to sell individual cuts of our beef. Quick note: The Woodstock (Illinois) square is where the movie Groundhog Day was filmed. The season is now extended to year around, Saturdays only, thanks to a relatively new winter market. During the winter we meet at our county Farm Bureau building, so that the majority of the vendors can be indoors. Unfortunately I need to remain outside since my product is stored inside the truck. Thus I brave the elements in my layer upon layer of Carhartt, taking on the “bulky” look. By December I’m in full “Michelin Man” mode.
Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of farm products available during the winter months. At our market we have a good selection of vegetables, many of the hardier varieties like root vegetables and squash, and some grown in greenhouses. There’s also another meat vendor selling pork, lamb, turkey, chicken and eggs. We also have fruit; there are frozen blueberries and an orchard selling apples, pears, and fresh apple cider. Plus cheese, honey, and many value-added items like jams and jellies, breads, pies and other baked goods, popcorn, soaps, yarn and woolen products. I’m proud of our market – we don’t allow any distributors or re-selling. You can actually find farmers here (unlike some markets I’ve been a part of in the past) and they are available to answer questions that a consumer may have about how their food is raised.
I’ve mostly enjoyed participating in the markets over the years. I’ve met some wonderful people who have become good friends, and have learned a lot along the way. Markets can be challenging, the weather is unpredictable and will make or break a market, but as a farmer I’m used to dealing with that variable. Balancing my beef supply with consumer demand can be tricky, and also a challenge is working with the public. Anyone who has worked in retail, hospitality, or customer service will know exactly what I’m talking about. And retail sales of food brings on another dimension. A growing number of people are passionate about food and are not afraid to tell you all about it. Many market shoppers are amazed, and sometimes mortified by the fact that I’m not a food snob or fear-monger. I’ve lost more than one sale when I refuse to agree with the assertion that, “All food in the grocery store is poison.” It would be easy for me to tell folks what they want to hear, but that’s not how I operate. I consider education a part of my job at the market and work to refute the misconceptions about agriculture that are so widespread, thanks mainly to the internet. My belief is that we are extremely fortunate in this county. We have a food supply unlike any other in the world: it’s safe and abundant. Consumers have lots of choices in different price ranges, and that’s how I would like it to remain. I won’t put someone elses product down in order to make a sale.
The popular items at my booth today were no surprise. On this cold gray day customers were taking home lots of roasts and fixins for chili and stew. The grilling steaks that were so popular all summer long are now forgotten. It’s time for comfort food!
Interested in knowing what’s going on at other farms? Many bloggers are taking part in Holly Spangler’s 30 Days Challenge. For a complete list, check out Prairie Farmer: