I May Know Why We Fail
I mark quite a few of my posts with an ‘*’. The star discloses. Follow the mark to the bottom of that post, and I admit that my wife works for the local organic farm, Tomato Mountain. I make that mark whenever I make a reference to Tomato Mountain in a post. Given that we get our weekly CSA from Tomato Mountain, the largest source of our local food, I make that mark often. The star should also tell you that I know a little more about the way our local food system works. Through my wife I meet other farmers (her carney friends I sometimes call them). Through my wife I know pretty well what it’s like to sell at farmer’s markets. That star gives me insight into certain failures.
Last Saturday I met my Tomato Mountain selling wife at the Evanston Farmer’s Market. I did it not so much to research the work of market vendors, but to take advantage of one of the last big markets. And when I walked around this market abundant with produce (see pictures here), it made me angry. I went home and began formulating a post on how it was such a failure that we had so few fall markets. I posted on Monday what a failure it was to not take better advantage of the fall bounty. Then, on Tuesday, I started getting a little of that star. My wife starred me as we talked about her upcoming markets. Knowing what she faced, knowing what she had faced, it dawned on me, vividly, why a lot of my pleadings went unanswered.
As I wrote the other day, it seems we cannot blame nature for the nature of our fall markets. What we can blame is elevators, parking, hallways, (long hallways), hand carts, docks, and really just physical infrastructure. This is what I know from my wife. There is no easy fall/winter market. At least no easy fall/winter market inside. Look at it this way. When my wife sold last week at Evanston, she pulled her van right up to her spot. She unloaded and parked. At the end of the day, she drove the van back to her spot and re-loaded. Now, when she goes to an indoor market, she cannot do that. She must unload and then schlep. The shlep is almost always down halls and up elevators. And I’ll tell you this, the schlep my wife has do do is nothing like the schlep bigger vendors need to do with crates and crates of produce. All winter market vendors need to balance that schlep-it-ness against the worth of the market. For some, not my wife and her company, it is an equation not balanced. I’m telling you, logistics account for a lot of our fall failures.
Now, believe me, this is not the star talking, but I’m telling you, to really prosper as winter markets, we may need one of two things. First, as my picture indicates, we may need to stick it out outside all year. That’s the way they do it in Ann Arbor, where that picture is taken. Or New York. The New York City Union Square Greenmarket remains open year-round, and it remains open year-round at its location in Union Square. Want to know what the hell a New Yorker could buy, outside, in the middle of winter, look at this document from 2011 I found with some googling. Sure, it’s not what’s necessarily there this winter, but I think it’s pretty representative–any New Yorkers around to tell me otherwise? Are Chicago winters that much more brutal? I also bet a few stars that a lot of farmers would rather an easy access, market on the square, than an upstairs, down 3 halls, indoor winter market. Or not.
Maybe we should be indoors. Maybe no no one will come buy in Chicago when the wind chill descends below zero. That Ann Arbor market I went to, it was so cold the apples had to be kept in a truck with the heat running so they would not freeze. Only around four vendors were there at that market. Yet, if we need to be indoors, should not we be indoors in a facility that makes sense. My wife and I love the year-round South Bend Farmer’s Market. We have been there in the fall, even into December, where we found plenty of local food. One of the reasons farmers can go there to sell is that it’s not up the stairs and down the hall. You pull your truck right up to your stall. You have the best of both worlds. We could use a market like that here.
I find it frustrating that we cannot have more opportunities to have local food when the weather gets cold. I find it frustrating that when we do have opportunities to find local food, at various winter markets, the range of produce is usually terribly thin. I also understand why we things make me frustrated. My star of a wife gives me some perspective.