Marketing our fruit has certainly changed over the past 30 years. Mike used to do all his own marketing by phone when we first started farming. We had one primary produce house that we sold our fruit to. Mike would make daily calls to check on sales and prices. We sold to the same markets his dad had established and life was good.
Then our primary markets began to change hands. They were either sold to larger companies or they changed their purchasing policies which made it more difficult to sell our fruit at a profit. Mike had to start calling stores directly to negotiate sales and prices. We finally had to get a broker to do the sales because it took too much of Mike’s time away from farming.
This change opened up new markets, but it was more difficult to keep track of the business end. Unfortunately, this led to us being swindled by a broker who claimed some of our fruit was rejected by the buyers when, in fact, he had sold it and kept the profits. This resulted in our having to sell part of our land to pay off our debts.
We were able to rebound when a new broker who knew the quality of our fruit approached us regarding marketing our produce. He wined and dined us by inviting us to come to Baja California to see the farms he was purchasing produce from there. We were easily “bribed” and decided to take a chance. We have not regretted it in the least.
This blog was inspired by this review of a new book on the farm-to-fork connection. The review seems to pit big business against farmers and the consumer. Now I haven’t read the book yet, but my first thought was, “Aren’t the people who run financial institutions and farmers also consumers? It’s true that farmers who use a middle man (or woman) to sell their produce usually have very little control over pricing. But, in the US, we are far removed from the day when farms were self-contained entities that could provide for their family’s needs by growing their own food and/or bartering.
Farmers need to buy food to feed their families just as business people need to buy food to feed their families. Why are we pitted against each other as friends or foes? The author of the book asks why we can’t grow affordable, healthy food for everyone? Financialization of food is singled out as the “bad guy.” Where would the country be without financial institutions? Yet, I agree food has taken on symbolic meaning far beyond something to satisfy our hunger. It has been turned into another commodity like oil, gold, and silver. Water is also headed in that direction. Something that was formerly thought of as a public good, is evolving into a public resource which is vulnerable to the ups and downs of the marketplace.
Farms are inextricably tied to the web of the marketplace, which is why there is such as push for direct sales. This movement to face-to-face sales is great for farms that are near metropolitan areas and for produce that is considered a staple such as vegetables. Specialty crop growers like us who live in rural areas must compete for the food dollar. That is why small and medium farms are shrinking so rapidly in the US. Not everyone can direct market. Farmer’s markets are succumbing to the marketplace mentality as well. Competition to get into the more lucrative markets is extremely high.
So, is financialized food the foe it is painted to be? Has the marketplace model over-stepped its bounds? Another fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, don’t you think?