Wednesday, June 18, 2008

June 14 - Why don't I feel better?

A few weeks back I went to the Edgebrook Farmers’ Market for the first time this year. Even though it was mid-May and we weren’t starting our experiment until the middle of June, I wanted to start to get a feel for the lay of the land and start to explore our options. I was also planning to ramp up and start getting as much local food as possible, even before we began and I figured that by June, certain things would already be past their season so if I wanted to put things up in the freezer for winter, I’d have to start earlier.

There were only three vendors with foodstuffs and several more with flowers. It was early in the season so about all there was to be had was green onions, rhubarb, and asparagus. I stopped at the first table and bought several bunches of green onions for $1 each and two bunches of radishes for $1.25 each. He had asparagus for $2.25 a bunch (seemingly a pound each). I went to the next table with food and he had some lovely spinach for $1 a bag and an assortment of the same types of things as the first booth. He had bunches of asparagus for $2 a bunch. Well, I was thinking about trying to put some up to have in winter when I am sure we will be craving green so I asked him if he would cut a deal on a quantity of asparagus.

Well, he told me that by Wednesday he didn’t usually have much left as he harvested on Mondays and Thursdays but that on Fridays he is at the Colonial Village Market and would be willing to sell me quantities for $1.75 per pound; I should just look for Bill and his burgundy suburban. Great! I assumed he would prefer this because I could buy him out at the end of the week.

So, two days later I made my way to the Colonial Village Farmers’ Market. Now I had never been to this market because it’s a good drive from my house and there are two others in closer proximity but I was willing to do it if it meant I could get 20 or 40 pounds of asparagus. That morning a storm blew through early and but then I couldn’t go right for the start of the market because we were having some trees delivered that morning (beautiful redbud, bur oak, river birch, and swamp white oak from AckAck). I drove through a little rain on the way out but it stopped when I got within a few miles of the market. I arrived at 11:45 am, over an hour before scheduled closing time. When I rounded the corner and came in view of the market I found only two vendors, both selling plant material. No sign of the burgundy suburban to be found. I had wasted a 30 minute trip (each way) across town – there would be no asparagus to process this weekend. I assumed the vendors had decided it wasn’t worth their time as I imagine fewer customers come out on a rainy day.

The following week I decided to skip Edgebrook on Wednesday because I would instead go to Colonial Village to buy Bill out at weeks’ end and I had also ordered three chickens from Kathy at Open Range Products in Pecatonica (she has a booth at Edgebrook) and they were to be ready for pick-up on Friday at her farm so I would be driving out there. Friday dawned and Kai and I headed across town again. When we got there the market was full of vendors as it was, happily, a sunny day. I stopped first to buy some beautiful squash plants to add to my home garden and then went to see Bill. I inquired about his asparagus, reminding him of our conversation the week before, and he said, “You didn’t come last week.” I explained that I had and he said he had packed up early when the winds picked up and a tree fell down across the street. OK, so can I buy a large quantity of asparagus? Well, he said, he couldn’t sell me any for $1.75 because everything was going to a restaurant. Oh, well can I buy just a few then? Sure. I bought three bunches for $2 each. I asked if he would have larger quantities next week again and he said that the asparagus was almost done, that the weather would do it in and it would be going to seed.

I was disappointed because I had really planned to freeze and dry some, would he have any yet on Wednesday. Maybe a little, how much did I want? Up to 20 lbs. I don’t think I’ll have enough. So I asked him if I could call him closer to Wednesday to see if he would have any more to sell. He gave me his card and told me to call after dark since he spent his days in the garden.

On Monday I worked in my own garden until I couldn’t see well enough in the dark and went in and called him. He asked how much I wanted and I said 20 to 40 pounds. He told me that the asparagus was at it’s last so he would only have 5 pounds. OK, I said, I’ll take it on Wednesday. Should I come right at 9:00 am? He said I should try to be there by 10:00am.

Assuming that he was only going to hold the remaining asparagus unitl 10:00 am and then sell it to someone else, I was sure to get the kids together and out the door on Wednesday. Neva, Kai, and I got to Edgebrook and headed straight for Bill’s stall. When I got there he had a TON of asparagus! I was confused, thinking he had told me that he only had been able to harvest five pounds. So I went up and when it was my turn, his wife waited on me and I told her I was there for asparagus. She asked how much I wanted and I said I thought I might take it all (there were probably 20 pounds on the table and another 20 in a pile in the back of their vehicle). He overheard me and said, “Oh, you’re the lady who wanted a deal?” “Yes, I said, I’m the one who called.” “Well I have 175 pounds,” he said, rather snippily. “Oh,” I said, taken aback, “I only want 20 or 40 pounds then.” “You can only have five,” he replied.

I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to buy a quantity of asparagus, I assumed he wanted to sell his asparagus, and he would only let me buy five pounds? When I stammered that I had hoped to buy more he gave an exasperated reply, “I still have to go to market, I can’t sell it to you for that.” “Well, can I buy five pounds for $1.75 and another five pounds for $2?” “You want to do that?” “Sure.” So, I bought 10 pounds, which he bagged up into two bags from the loose stalks he had in the front of his vehicle. I also bought two quarts of strawberries ($4 each) and another bag of spinach ($1) for a grand total of $29. In the end, I paid $2 per pound for all of the asparagus but I didn’t argue because I was still feeling flustered.

It was only later, when reflecting on our exchange that I fully understood the problem. He could sell all of his asparagus for $2 per pound so why would he want to sell it to me for less, even if I was buying larger quantities? I had assumed he would like to get rid of what he had at the end of the week, even if selling if for 25 cents less. There was the root of our miscommunication.

When I processed the asparagus at home, I found that one bag contained asparagus that was past its prime, probably harvested the previous week. I had to cut all the heads off because they were mushy. At least, the larger of the two bags contained fresh vegetables. I steamed and froze that and dehydrated the rest in pieces for use in soups and sauces. I felt sad about the whole deal.

On Saturday (today), I visited the North Main Commons Market for the first time. Bill was there, of course, and as I made my way toward his stall I decided I should talk to him so he understood my end of the miscommunication. I had previously considered writing him a note to apologize and explain myself once I had figured out his side of things (but before I realized I had received old vegetables!). No customers were at his stall at that moment so I went up and explained what had happened and why I had misunderstood. I apologized, he confirmed for me that he didn’t want to sell any cheaper and showed me that he only had a few pounds left and that this was the end of the asparagus harvest. But basically, I felt he brushed me off and wanted me to move on. So I did. I may not patronize his stall again this summer.

But now I’m home again and I still don’t feel better. I had thought he would appreciate hearing that I wasn’t trying to take advantage of him but he really didn’t care.

What did I learn?

  • I was reminded to check the quality of what a vendor bags for me. I often have done this in Europe, where even grocery store shopkeepers select the items and package it for you. I’m usually the person who tells them, specifically, which ones I want and which I don’t. I never opened the second bag that Bill handed me, just laid it into my shopping bag.
  • I was reminded that my goal should not be to get a deal… if I wanted to do that I would go back to shopping at the supermarket where food is sadly under-priced and does not take into account the actual cost (to the farmer, our health, the environment, and the society it comes from) of any given item. I didn’t really need to save 25 cents per pound, I was just assuming that the whole world operated with a quantity discount. That was my mistake.

1 comment:

UU Jerri said...

Kind of like announcing you're quiting smoking and then inhaling a whole pack the hour before starting...