Our City Back-To-The-Land Organic Farmer

Last month, I received a flyer for summer fruit and vegetable baskets from an organic farmer. My husband and I went for a walk on Friday afternoon, and we discussed whether we would fork out the $390 for a single vegetable basket this summer. Please bear in mind that we just bought a house, and as Simply Red put it, "money's too tight to mention." I told my husband that we should "fork over" the money. I can give all kinds of environmental reasons for my decision, such as limiting my children's exposure to pesticides and fertilizers, supporting local farmers, etc., but what I enjoyed most was people-watching at the Thursday basket drop-off.

The 4:00 to 6:00 pm weekly farmer's drop-off  takes place in a narrow driveway just off the bike path, next to a bank parking lot separated by a tall chain link fence. The farmer's white truck takes up most of the driveway, and the farmer and his wife have a table set up next to the fence to sell any left over produce, jams and jellies to passersby. Now there's a whole lot of sweaty, panting people showing up on their bikes at the same time with no place to go, as we are prohibited from parking our bikes in the otherwise empty bank parking lot. Invariably, at least one newbie tries to lock his bike in the unlawful area, which annoys the farmer, leading to a few choice curse words, usually beginning with hostie,* and a loud admonishment. Then there is the usual speeding cyclist who cannot slow down in time, as he careens from bike path into the lot, using one foot as a brake. People scream and quickly crowd over table-side, as the cyclist hurtles into the garbage bags on the other side of the truck with a thump.

Although he often looks like he doesn't know what he got himself into, our organic farmer is a former city slicker who chose the "back to the land" option. At the beginning of the season, he's the picture of the proud organic farmer with his long thick black hair, standing at the back of his truck emptying baskets of fruit and vegetables into peoples' grocery bags. One woman was particularly taken by the farmer and his long locks, and insisted on giving him des bises* when he knelt down to give her her veg. She was clearly taking advantage of the situation, as des bises are commonplace, but not at the time of a veggie transaction.

Two years ago, we had a particularly wet summer, and it put our farmer's customer service skills to the test. We had ordered a fruit and a vegetable basket that summer, and when he handed me over three giant oranges with California stickers, I politely asked him if there was, um, any more. His eyes flashed and his index finger came up,

"That is $10.00 of organic fruit. There has been too much rain this summer," he said.
"Okay, okay, " I said, shrinking away with my grocery bag.

When I got home, I told my husband the story, as he went through our vegetable bag. He pulled out a very hard misshapen greenish-coloured vegetable.
"What's this?" he asked, tapping it against the counter, making a knocking sound.
"I'm not sure," I said, "and I was afraid to ask. It doesn't look like they're having a great harvest this year."
"Do you think these guys know what they're doing?" he asked, holding the mystery veg in the air. "I mean, this looks like something you find on the sidewalk in apple season."

Unfortunately, the summer only got worse, and a few weeks later, I meekly asked our pallid looking farmer with his now stringy long hair whether it would soon be green pepper season.
"No," he said, his voice cracking, "They're falling off rotten in our hands."
I nodded and quickly shuffled away.

I told my husband the story when I got home.
"What? No peppers!" he said incredulously. "And that jam they gave us last week tasted like poison," he said.
"Honey, it's been cold, rainy summer, and so they don't make jam as good as our mothers. Big deal!" I said.
"Heather, there are bad doctors and bad lawyers, and now, we know there are bad farmers too."
"That's harsh," I said, "Let's give them another chance."

Luckily, the summer improved slightly, as did our farmer's mood. He started smiling and looking good again and chatted more with his customers. And at the last pick-up of the season, the farmer and his wife were absolutely beaming. There were hugs all around, and the farmer had ladies lining up for some bises to tide them over until next summer.

Although it wasn't a great summer for produce, it was a fun experience, and I really enjoyed the cast of characters I met from my neighbourhood. I missed not going last year. And good or bad, we enjoy looking up recipes for produce we have never heard of or seen before.

*hostie: Quebec French equivalent of "fuck."
*des bises: customary kisses on both cheeks, usually exchanged when greeting a friend or saying good-bye.

Related Organic Posts:

For the Vegan in You
Produce Police: Is that Orange Really Organic?
Strawberries: Organic vs. Local
Organic Produce Too Expensive or Unavailable: Meet the Clean 15
The Environmental Working Group Updates its Dirty Dozen
3 Simple Q & As about Children and Pesticides


Silvanamondo | May 23, 2010 at 9:55 AM

This is a /cute/funny story..and I see what you are saying, I have found myself in similar positions. I know that a lot of people (newly established 'farmers') really want to do the right thing, but that yes, inexperience, the weather, maybe one's personality interferes with how 'smoothly' things are run or delivered. The thing is,when we shop at our conventional stores everything is available, looks good, price is right...but too often it's not ethically agreeing w our vision of where our food should come from. But this plentitude this is what we have been trained to expect- kind of like 'perfection'. With time, with time...it will all work itself out.

Heather | May 23, 2010 at 10:45 AM

I agree. It will work itself out, and we still received a lot of great things. You're right, too, about expecting perfection. We've seen too many perfect apples and green peppers in our supermarkets. I think we should continue supporting anyone who is going through all the pains to do the right thing. Thanks for leaving the comment Silvana.

Sainte-Nance | May 23, 2010 at 2:18 PM

Ces gens-là travaillent tellement fort... même les expérimentés l'ont trouvé difficile l'année passée. Mais malgré que nous n'avons pas eu autant de tomates et d'oignons que voulu, nous reprenons notre panier bio cet été. À chaque semaine, c'est un défi de manger tous les légumes !
J'adore ta photo des pieds d'échalote !

Heather | May 23, 2010 at 6:27 PM

Tu as raison. Puisqu'on a si peu de contact avec nos fermiers de nos jours, on a du mal à apprécier tout le temps et le travail investis.

iqbal | May 25, 2010 at 12:26 AM

nice picture brother,,,

Heather | May 25, 2010 at 2:39 AM

Thanks sista!

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