Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Are Farmers Markets a Good Deal?

Many of you know that prior to joining academia I worked for 25 years in agriculture...a great career and personally and professionally rewarding...but wow there is a lot of work that makes you feel old quickly!... However, before I ever thought of starting my own company...my wife and I worked for three summers at Farmer’s Markets in Fresno...going out each Thursday or Friday and load up my van with fruit from my in-laws farm...and on Saturday morning arrive with my young bride at the Vineyard Farmers Market ...and we would sell hundreds of pounds of farm fresh peaches, nectarines and plums...great tasting fruit full of aroma and juice and color...usually at .59 or .69 a pound...and make the astronomical sum of $150-$200 per week...hard to believe that one week of selling peaches could just about pay our rent in 1981!...

...These sales kept us “in groceries” for the first three years of our marriage, until I began to work full-time in the growing and wholesale fruit industry. It was a great experience of dealing face-to-face with consumers, watching them enjoy our fruit and get a good deal in the process...But over the years, I noticed a significant change in Farmers Markets as I visited them in many towns...were they really what they purported to be?

...After a recent experience with two San Diego Farmers Markets, I have concluded that much of the time they are not a good deal for consumers...the quality of produce sold in proportion to the price charged is grossly unbalanced...and often I find the quality...particularly in fruit more so than vegetables...marginal at best and often actually cull fruit... leading me to conclude after several years of observing these markets...that often I believe that products are not in reality what are being portrayed to the consumer...not a good thing...


...An example of this is tree fruit that I see sold at Farmers Markets portrayed as being local grown. For those of us in the industry, we know that peach trees have a nearly impossible time to grow and produce fruit in southern California. (How many of you have seen these scrawny little trees around San Diego with peaches the size of cherries?) The reality is that we are in a tropical climate and most decidious trees need at least 800 hours each winter of sub 40(F) degrees to be able to produce, and we just don’t typically get that much cold weather here...



But in several conversations with “Growers” at these Farmers Markets, they tell me as they dump boxes of fruit out of boxes originating in Central California how they are simply recycling cardboard from the San Joaquin Valley and hauling empty boxes hundreds of miles to the south. Laying aside the economics of hauling empty cardboard, even if it is free, when empty cardboard boxes worth .50-.75 each are just as easily available in the immediate area it just doesn’t make sense.


...From my experience much of what I have seen is actually cull fruit that is legally packed by legitimate growers 300 miles north of San Diego, sold to someone for the going rate of about $5-$6 per 25# box...and then dumped into a box or basket here and sold as “local grown” for $2.50 a pound typically...that is a profit of over $55 on each box made upon the hard work, risk and labor of the actual grower...like my buddy Vernon Peterson pictured below...one of the best men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing...and if you want to talk real organic...truly from tree to table...contact Vernon at http://www.abundantharvestorganics.com/...


...I also have grave doubts about much of what is presented as organic fresh fruit...To an experienced eye, organic peaches are fairly easily able to discern...but I think I am seeing “organic” fruit being dumped out of non-organic boxes, which is to my understanding a violation of the organic certification laws...and when I have engaged in conversations about their growing practices (not revealing my own experience) with these peach “growers” I am usually underwhelmed by their lack of knowledge of the products they sell...I do not believe that all of them are being deceptive, but a significant number of them appear to be something they are not to the consumer...and I think it is worse in fresh fruit than in vegetables...organic vegetables are much easier to grow than organic peaches, plums or nectarines...



...This was not the Farmers Markets of 30 years ago, nor was it in the spirit and intention of those brave growers who sought alternative markets for their produce. There was a very close connection between the growers, vendors and products...But as with most things that grow popular, abuse usually follows...and I fear that has happened to many Farmers Markets...regretably...

What to do? Ruth and I have tried in vain over the past month to buy good quality watermelons and corn at local markets, but to no avail...day in and day out the best produce for the money in this area is...Henry's...and with the going rate for fresh summer corn is 3 ears for $2 at the Farmers Markets... at least two local stores have been selling it in the range of 4-5 ears for $1, way under the Farmers Markets...The quality? Outstanding!... And if it advertised as organic, with much regret, I have concluded that I have much more confidence in the store being truthful than I do someone who scrawls “organic peaches” on a piece of cardboard, stands back, and watches the consumers line up.

4 comments:

胡曹哲維佳玲 said...

感謝分享 功德無量............................................................

Rob Gailey said...

Randy, one option we are trying: http://www.farmfreshcoop.blogspot.com/
So far, we have been pleased but there are a few drawbacks.

1615 said...

寫文章需要心情~~期待你再一次的好文章...............................................................

舒夏怡 said...

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