Delicious tasting fruit
Our mission is to produce the best tasting tree-ripened stone fruit anywhere. We specialize in peaches and nectarines because this allows us to closely monitor every aspect of the growing process. Customers want good tasting produce. We work hard with our buyers to get our fruit to their stores as quickly as humanly possible. Once the fruit leaves the farm, however, we have little control over how it is handled.
Perfect looking fruit
Some nay-sayers have questioned whether our fruit is organic because it looks so pretty. We are very particular about the fruit that goes in the box. We train our pickers to handle the fruit gently and to cull (remove) any fruit that shows signs of damage or disease. This means that a lot of fruit doesn’t make the box. Some of the culls go to Farmer’s Markets, but there is still a lot of fruit that ends up being thrown away. The majority of that fruit is just as tasty as what ends up in the stores, but consumers insist on perfect looking fruit, so buyers won’t accept scared or misshapen fruit. For ideas on what to do with “ugly” fruit see Jennifer’s blog.
Not only do consumers want great tasting fruit that looks perfect, but they don’t want to pay more for it. A recent chat on twitter (#agchat) revealed that price is often the deciding factor for consumers over whether the food is organic, local, natural, or conventional. The retail store may decide to offer different pricing for organic produce, but how much of that actually trickles down to the farmer? Farmers have little control over how much they receive for their produce unless they sell directly to the store or customer.
In addition to the above-mentioned preferences, customers want assurance that the food they are eating is safe. This is a reasonable request given the recent food-borne illness outbreaks in the U.S. Consumers are fearful and angry because their expectations are not being met. Every farmer is aware that food safety is important. The soon-to-be mandated FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is an attempt to contain problems when they do occur. This process will take time, but Congress has established specific implementation guidelines (http://www.fda.gov/fsma). The bottom line is, no one can guarantee produce is risk-free. The consumer has a responsibility to select and prepare foods using good food handling practices as well.
Availability of Fruit
Buy local is a buzz word today. Food deserts is another hot topic. Seasonal eating is an up-and-coming (what was old becomes new again) idea. Who knew that how and where food is grown would become such a huge topic of discussion. Several years ago, the retailers were quick to meet the consumer’s demand for year-round fruit by buying from other countries. This created the perception that peaches, grapes, nectarines, and plums are available any time of the year. The consumers now want to know where their fruit is grown and retailers are adjusting their shelving and telling them that there just aren’t any cherries, or peaches, or plums available right now, if they can’t get it locally. We have had people contacting us who want to pick fruit on our farm in early May. We advertise that we don’t start U-pick until June. This is because our fruit isn’t ripe until then. I referred them to the cherry growers, but then we had hail that damaged the crops (See “Hail, NO!” blog). I invited them to stop by for a farm tour. Perhaps showing them what we actually do on the farm will help enlighten them.
You Can’t Have it All
Basically, it boils down to, you can’t have it all. Consumers have the power to change the face of agriculture in the U.S. I wonder, though, how informed they are about the realities of farming? Do they know their farmers? Farmer’s Markets were developed to bring consumers face-to-face with the farmers that grow their food. We did Farmer’s Markets for a few years, but we found there was not enough time and energy to maintain the high quality of our fruit and load, drive, and sell our fruit directly to the customer at the same time, not to mention raise a family. We found that sending our fruit to retailers was the best way for us to make a living farming. We loved interacting with our customers, but we couldn’t do it all. Similarly, consumers have choices. They just need to realize that they can’t have it all.