We have sold products to the public in some form since 2011. Early on Saturday mornings, I would pack up a few cases of honey and set up a booth at our local farmer’s market. I met all kinds of people– young, old, healthy, infirm– all united in their quest to shop locally. My fellow market growers were also diverse in terms of ethnicity and gender, but most of them were older. Many of the people who shopped at the market were in search of something specific. Since we sold honey, our customers were excited to purchase our product locally and unadulterated.
After making a few observations about our customers over the past decade or so, I have begun to wonder a few things about the state of the American diet. What drives our food choices? Nostalgia? Desire for change? Doctors’ orders? Many of our long-time customers to be older, say 50+. If most of our Tarheelbilly customers are all over the age of 40, where are the young families? Where are the young, single foodies?
A few weeks ago, I discussed this issue with a fellow small farmer. She made similar observations about her clientele, and lamented the lack of upwardly mobile customers that she counted among her customers. Most of the affluent people that she knew preferred to buy their organic meat from large chains. They liked buying food by the cut and weren’t particularly interested in buying meat by the half or whole. Further, they weren’t looking for a connection with their farmer, but felt strongly that she performed a great and necessary service as a farmer.
People like the idea of small farms. They wax nostalgically about fuzzy farm animals, bucolic pasture photos, and worn tractors crisscrossing hay fields in early summer. Despite this positive connotation, most people still shop at Trader Joes/Whole Foods/Kroger, buy a few things here and there at local farmers markets, and consider these purchases in line with holistic and eco-friendly purchases.
What’s so bad about that? Don’t people deserve to buy what they want, in the quanties that work for them? Small farms are inefficient simply due to the economy of scale. So what happens to small farms when they are loved but not patronized? Well, obviously, they go away. There are only two sides of the often-sought chicken breast– remember, chickens have thighs, wings, and legs too. So, if you go to the market wanting chicken breasts, a farmer must slaughter one whole chicken for your small package. Honestly, two or three must be slaughtered to make a decent meal for a family of 4. Pigs are made of more than bacon and ham (unfortunately). There is a finite number of ribeye steaks on a given cow. If you have a cookout and contact a farmer for 20# of brisket, the odds are they they won’t be able to help you– 2-4 cows must be slaughter for that quantity.
As our culture embraced the convenience of the grocery store, we lost the need to eat seasonally and embrace the challenge of eating the whole animal. A generation ago, offal was commonly eaten, and chartreuse wasn’t something relegated to aficionados. In order for small farms to compete with corporate farms, consumers would have to change their eating habits. That’s a pretty tall order.
Going forward, we hope broaden our customer base of those who desire to eat simple, unadulterated food and will continue to produce clean food for conscientious families to enjoy.
Thanks for your support!