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19. Thank a Farmer

I rarely buy organic produce. That may come as a surprise to some of my friends who know how passionate I am about great food and vegetable gardening. But for me, it's always been a cost benefit analysis. I'm a budget shopper. I know organic foodstuffs are generally more healthy and nutritious, but is 10% more vitamin X worth 25% more dollars? I've usually thought not.

A birds-eye view of our little farm

But coming to work on an organic farm has started a bit of a paradigm shift for me. What I've learned is that the jump in cost has nothing to do with nutrition. It's simply a factor of the amount of work that's required to bring each and every organic fruit, vegetable, or tuber to market compared to their conventionally grown counterparts. I spent an hour and a half this afternoon pulling weeds by hand on a single row of spinach. I had a partner, and we only got about a third of the row done before the work day ended.

An organic farmer has to love what they do. There is no way around that fact. They've voluntarily chosen to do things the hard way day in and day out because of a personal conviction that it's the right thing to do. It's a special kind of love they're pouring into their daily work, and many rarely even meet the end customer they are loving so hard on.

That's generally not the case at this particular organic farm I find myself on. Our main clientele is a local farmer's market where customers often shake the very hand that picked their strawberries or baked their bread. It's a very special role these farmers play, as a vector by which Mother Earth provides sustenance to her constituents. It's a beautiful thing to be a part of.

So I am not writing this as a declaration that I am now a loyal Whole Foods customer. Especially in the same week I've learned that they are about to cozy up under Amazon's massive umbrella. But I will say that it's become very clear to me that farmer's markets are a very important part of your community. They will play a huge part in any move our society may be able to make toward a more equitable relationship with our earth. There's no reason besides ignorance and stubbornness that hundreds of people and gallons of petrol should be required to get an apple to put into your kid's lunch box. So I encourage you to take a stroll to your local farmer's market this weekend. Grab some seasonal veggies, herbs, meats and breads. Your belly will thank you. And while you're there, be sure to thank a farmer.

Our stand at the Comox Valley market.  Photo credit Chloe Johnson

18. Plant Sale

Photo credit: Chloe Johnson

Before I even saw the big “British Columbia - Certified Organic” sign, I noticed a smaller sign as we were slowing down to pull into the driveway. It read: “Plant Sale.” Next to it was a long yellow placard that said “strawberries” in bold black handwritten print.

Photo credit: Chloe Johnson

Selling fresh produce (in harvest season) and sprouted plants (in planting season) is a huge part of this small town organic farm's business model. People taking the scenic route up the eastern coast of Vancouver Island will often stop for a freshly grown snack. And locals who want to plant a home veggie garden know this is the place to buy their starts.

Yesterday after we finished work, I was moseying around the property experimenting with an old black and white film camera. A mini-van pulled up, then moments later another car, and four people got out and started perusing the plants. I wondered who would help these potential customers, since one host was away for the day and the other was up the field tilling a row. I was worried they'd forgotten to train me...

Then I saw the money jar. It's an old plastic peanut jar with a handwritten label. There were a dozen or so small bills stuffed through the slit in the top. This whole daily farmstand thing is run on the honor system. And I immediately thought of the naive neighbors on Halloween who get tired of answering the door and leave a bowl of candy with a sign that says, “please take only one.”

But this honor system actually works. I asked our hosts about it at dinner last night, and they only had good things to say about it. It was started a decade or so ago and manned by the elderly mother of one of our hosts. She knitted socks and hats for sale and chatted with customers as she took cash and made change. She has since deceased, so the honor system was institued five years ago. And every time there's been fear something may have been stolen, a check shows up in the mail with a note saying, “sorry, didn't have enough cash on me.”

I've written before and alluded to the generosity of gardeners, and our tendency to pay it forward. Here it is again. And every time I see it, a bit of my hope for humanity is restored.

Photo credit: Chloe Johnson