When one of the many health food/vitamin supplement chain stores opened not far from us, a neighbor emailed to ask if John and I knew about it, and wondered specifically whether the store might buy our produce. Fortunately, this isn’t one of those grocery stores that uses the words “Farmers Market” in its name or I would have told our neighbor in no uncertain terms that not only would we never sell to a store with such a deceitful moniker (it is NOT a farmers market), we won’t even step inside the place.

In this case, however, I was able to write him a much kinder and gentler reply explaining that we prefer not to sell our produce at the wholesale level, if we can help it. You know the price of vegetables in grocery stores? The farmer receives half that amount, at most; less if there’s a middleman involved. This might be all right for mega-farms, agribusiness farms, but not little guys like us. We need to get retail price for our produce so that we can in turn pay our helpers, as well as pay the myriad other expenses that go with running a family farm. If our income were cut in half, we’d be out of business in no time.

I understand why our neighbor believed selling to this new store would be a boon for us, though. We run across this kind of thinking a lot. On the rare occasion we do sell wholesale – in the summer months sometimes, when we find ourselves with too much squash for our farm stands, say, or too many tomatoes or cucumbers – people tend to get excited for us as if that somehow validates our existence. Like it makes us a “real” farm. It’s only after our capitalistic narrative about the monetary evils of wholesaling do they get it.

And even beyond the money aspect, I can’t imagine working this hard to ultimately sell to some faceless corporation. The one-on-one relationships that come with doing business directly with our customers is what helps keep it fun. I mean, really, if we were to choose wholesale deliveries over spending four hours twice a week at the farm stands, would we ever be spontaneously treated to something like this?

I kind of doubt it.

Recently, a couple guys who are considering opening yet another health food store in Austin came to the farm to take some photos and interview us a bit. When the photographer initially called to ask our permission to come visit, before I’d had a chance to answer in the affirmative, he tried sweetening the pot by offering to “let” us sell to them once they open. I chuckled to myself but said nothing right then. It was only after they asked Farmer John and me point blank if we were interested in wholesaling that we gave them our honest opinion. Like it does most everybody, the answer took them by surprise.

During the course of the interview they asked us individually what our favorite part of farm life might be. I immediately answered that, for me, it’s the interaction with customers. John smiled, knowing how I feel about the farm stands. And while he does indeed enjoy beyond words getting to know the people who shop with us, he responded that the real joy of farming for him is the first day we harvest a particular crop; the first time we reap the harvest that went from seed, to seedling, to success.

I had to agree that yes, by all means, that’s a hard thing not to love. We’re hopefully on our way to a few more love affairs right now, as a matter of fact. Barring any unseen future disasters, our spring cabbage,

our head lettuces, including a beautiful new variety of red butterheads,

and those delicious sweet white turnips

are all coming along famously under their respective insect-barrier row covers. Not long ago we set out four varieties of summer squash, every row of which Farmer John immediately covered as well.

We were able to keep alive the lovely fall chard

that’s providing us with a bountiful harvest while we await the new spring crop. And we’ve spent many a collective hour weeding and cleaning up the 400-foot bed of spinach.

Would we take such pains if we were planning to sell it all wholesale?

We can’t know for sure since we’ll never take the farm in that direction. What we do know for sure is that every successful harvest will end up on our farm stand tables, where we’ll get to personally hand it over to the very people who will take it home to feed themselves and their families. And that’s all the validation we need.

* * *
Things are looking up! With this warm weather, everything is growing quickly. For Wednesday’s farm stand, we’ll have:

Spinach; lots of beautiful lettuce mix; Euro salad mix (lettuces, chicories, arugula, cress, and more); green Butterhead lettuce (don’t know yet whether the red butterheads will be ready); heads of Romaine; Asian mustard greens; bunches of leeks (use the roots too!); green onions; bags of chard; bags of arugula; and the first bunches of pink radishes.

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)