Calm Reactions to Farmer’s Market BS

July 21, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Rob Gardner

Within the Local Family, I think I’m the one with the biggest reputation for going off handle, throwing tantrums, blowing up.  I mean you should have heard me yesterday when I found out we had locked ourselves out.  Still, I’m working on smoothing out the rages.  I mean I’ve been stewing on some Farmer’s Market Bullshit Bullshit* thing for a couple of days now without throwing myself fully into the fray.  Is this a new, calmer, VI?

I do, really, hope to debut the more steadfast, even keel Vital Information sometime in 2011, but I confess my ability to yet go all ape on people calling farmer’s markets BS is more due to me trying to understand what I’m up against than any great patience built into my constitution.  Last year, a Chicago Food Snob got my hackles with a blog post denigrating farmer’s markets.  I took my usual offense here.  A year later, Michelle Hays, who does some food things I admire, got the bait, I mean the ball rolling on LTHForum by linking to an article by British food critic, and Top Chef Masters Judge, Jay Rayner.  Rayner asked if shopping at farmer’s markets could change the world.  Rayner, to his credit, answers the question with the extreme narrowness of the Rehnquist era Supreme Court.  What he really means is will shopping at the farmer’s market ruin the profit margins of your neighborhood supermarkets.  No, he accurately surmises.  You won’t put Salisbury’s (or its US equivilant) out of business.  Nor are you, he adds, living like your peasant ancestors when you market shop.  Still, to all the BSers, he does not go after all the sacred cows (no pun really intended): food miles, grass-fed/humane, global warming, etc.  He’s agnostic on all this potential world saving.  Yet, here he is on LTHForum, as proof of market BS.  I’ve got nothing to say because Rayner has not said much in his article.

Then, another LTHer, another person who’s food chops I’ve mostly admired, comes out and says it.  Alan “Jazzfood” Lake says on the Forum, “Getting back on thread, Chicago’s farmers mkts are bullshit. But they’re all we’ve got and better than nothing. It’s not like we’re the beneficiaries of yr round growing climate.”  Bullshit how?  I’ve been trying to come up with that all week.

  • The  stuff costs too much – Compared to what?
  • It does not taste as good – It’s no Baylor melon or Georgia peach; I’ve had both and prefer the local, but what do I know
  • It’s not really from a farm – You know I actually heard that one today from a farmer, and I believe that it is true.  There are market stands misrepresenting local fare.  That’s bad, but it does not taint all marketers.
  • Not all the people taking your money are farmer’s – True, but one can find plenty of farmers too.  Does it matter though?  Can I not buy cheese from Marion Street Cheese because I’m not buying from the cheesemaker?
  • It’s a fad, a place to be seen; alternatively, it’s a place to gaze at famous chefs – I’m not sure why these reasons amount to more than just cynicism
  • Your science is all wrong – I’m more than willing to go to bat on these things, and believe that analysis and study show that Big Ag aint doing things very well and there is acute needs to farm better the way nearly all market farmers do
  • Our markets are a fraction of the size of the one in Madison – That, of course is true, and would be true no matter how much better we build our markets in Chicago, but Chicago has many, many markets.  Much more than most places.  So, there is not one huge BIG market.  Marsha Guerro, Alice Water’s gardener, commented to me how well our markets stack up to ones in California, and I’ve heard good things from other out of towners.  I find plenty that can be improved, but I have a hard time finding our markets bad.
  • What can we do, we live in the North.  - We live in the midst of some of the best agriculture land in the world.  We are lucky to be close to SW Michigan where a special micro-climate enables the growing of stone fruits.  Other crops, like cherries, benefit from being in cold climates.  What can grow here, and a lot can grow here, grows very well here.  What can’t, olives, almonds, citrus, dates, etc., I”m willing to go elsewhere.
  • Our season is too short – For the most part, our seasons are not shorter, they’re different.  Sure California has asparagus in February and cherries in April but they don’t have them when we do.  We should be atune with our seasonality and relish our moments to shine.  It used to be traditional in New England to eat peas and new potatoes (and salmon) on the 4th of July.  We don’t all have to subscribe to a mythical sense of seasonality based on some Medeteranian ideal.
  • We have winter – Yes we do, and the supply of local foods dwindles.  Eat local later.  Make your own root cellar, you can eat well and long from what goes there.  Freeze and can.  Don’t give in to the tyranny of the fresh, it is seldom better.
  • What else?

In a few hours, I’ll be sweating my ass off at the Green City Market BBQ.  I’m sure there, I’ll have a hard time trying to figure out why people find markets BS, but maybe tomorrow I’ll go off to Jewel or something for some research.  I”m working hard being the new calm, collected Rob.  If I address this farmer’s market BS thing, I’m sure I’ll do it in the most measured, fair minded way possible.

*On John Stewart the other night, they were saying bullshit like crazy.  Since when have they been able to do that?