Slow sales week this week- Only about half the orders we normally get. But even that has something of a blessing in it. Patt was able to get out and work with me on some of our farm stuff and the packing and labelling of our sales items - which would take us in a rush, right up to delivery time on Friday - is already done at 8:00 AM this morning. I had time to do some writing and Patt was able to sleep in a little.
One of the big challenges we are facing in our new life is convincing people to actually think about what they are eating. One would not think that food, a primal necessity for the survival of our species, would be an afterthought. Fast Food has made "convenience" insipid and now we do not have to think about the next meal because, given enough cash, we can have meals prepared for us, delivered or picked up at a moment's notice. We don't have to think about what we are going to eat because it is right there for us on a menu and in a styrofoam box. (We are guilty of this some weeks. Rushed to get the food ready to sell and living in the midst of nutritional abundance, we fall to the temptation of getting catfish or barbecue from town.)
One of our customers loves our bread but does not buy it because he is on a no-carb diet. My efforts to persuade him that good healthy carbs, in moderation, say, like one loaf of whole grain bread a week is much better than no carbs at all, have to this point, failed. Even though Atkins died from a disease his diet was supposedly designed to prevent, this customer has bought into a philosophy, he is comfortable with it, though it does not work in real life, and he continues to try to live this unnatural lifestyle. In essence, he has found a place where he does not have to "think about what he eats".
Several of our customers at a local hospital, place orders for our bi-weekly delivery, but frequently do not show up to get their food because something happens at work or they have an appointment they forgot about. I then have to try to track them down or re-sell their items. In cases like this we rely on impulse buying. When people see Patt's beautiful 7 Grain bread they can't resist paying us for it. It gets a sale done but it is antithetical to the Slow Food philosophy. The customers that did not come for their food show us where "food" lies on their list for the day. The customers that buy on a whim are a little better because they are actually increasing our income, but still they are not thinking about their food and what they are going to eat, they just see good food and shell out the money.
One customer buys whenever he gets the chance but because his family doesn't eat the same things he does, he only buys half order size, which we accomodate because half the income is better than no income. So once a week he buys 4 scones (they come 8 to a bag), 3 turnips (they come 10 to a bunch), and a dozen eggs. But still, we do the same amount of work, drive the same amount of miles to deliver, but only bring in half of our projected earnings. This customer is trying to think about what he eats but is victim to his family not thinking about it. Or thinking that they won't like it because it is to natural, or "too farm-y". (The Dirty Life - by Kristin Kimball)
One seller, that we have some how come into competition with (that was not our choice - it was his), saw that his sales were dropping on kale, collard, and turnip greens. He decided to double the amount in his package and halve the price, without improving the quality of the product or adding some value to the product. He now sells greens, stem and all, for $4.00 a pound. Why did he do this? Well, in our effort to improve our sales we decided to wash, destem, and chop our greens and sell them for $4.00 per half pound. Now our high quality greens have added value and we were charging two times what this fella was. But now, because he doesn't know how the "free market" is supposed to work (quality increases, prices go down only when demand decreases and every one has a reasonable share of the pie) I now work twice as hard for half the pay. He did it because he could not (or would not) compete with a higher quality product. Instead of doing what it took to improve the quality of the product, he slashed the price and added more quantity. I am sorry to say that he used the Wal-Mart method to improve sales. But still, the entirety of the blame should not fall to him.
People have grown accustomed to shopping prices rather than quality in their food because "food" (I use the word to describe the stuff many of us eat regardless of nutritional value) is so readily available and is pretty much all the same. A January Tomato is the same at Fresh Market as it is at Wal-Mart or Kroger. What happened in the case of the Greens is we lost some sales initially because customers saw more quantity for less price and assumed it was good. Now when that happened, I am still working twice as hard for half the pay, but now my sales suffered because of a perceived value from the other guy.
What was our strategy at this point? Cut our quantity? Reduce the time it takes us to destem and chop the greens? Add more stems? No. We decided to wait it out, keep our product at its highest quality and regain the sales. It worked. We had to get people thinking about their food. Once our customers saw that they were getting a higher quality product, about the same amount of useable product (all greens no stems), that there was little to no waste they had to deal with (all greens no stems) and they had an eatable, cookable product right out of the package, our price did not seem so bad afterall.
I'll finish with this. Why is local, slow food better for the world? If the marketing of such is handled properly, the farmer gets paid what his time and effort, the use of the land, and all the other overhead expenses he incurs are really worth to him. The customer gets nutrient dense food, bought and sold in a real, cost justifiable economy, grown in the same ground on which he lives, from people he can get to know and trust. Grocery store food has been kept at artificially low prices, quality and nutrition are sacrificed, and convenience is king. For every leaf of greens our customers purchase, not only do they get the nutrition from the greens, they get a shovel-full of composted manure, every strained back muscle involved in tilling, planting, and harvesting, they get every minute of prep time in cleaning, packaging, and labelling, the get an infinite amount of love, philosophy, nurture, that goes into providing this slow local food. They, in essence, buy into an ancient life of renewal, decay, and rebirth. Buying local food, from people they know, they become connected to an ancestral way of living - they become connected to life itself...check the link below for a group of old-school farmers practicing the ancient art of living.
Conway Locally Grown