PRFM is proud to announce that one of our own farmers, Cory Mosser of Burge Organic Farm, has won the grand prize in the 2012 Farmers Market Inspiration Awards. Congratulations, Cory! Your winning essay is impressive and inspiring—reminding us just how much our market matters to its farmers, vendors, and community of shoppers. Check out Cory’s essay below:
By Cory Mosser of Burge Organic Farm
Do you remember June 30th, 2012? I do. At our farmers market, it reached a record heat of 106 degrees and even hotter on the blacktop parking lot where we set up. It was the type of weather that farmers love only because we can complain to other farmers about it. There was more than a little trepidation driving into town as sweat rolled down our foreheads before the sun had even made an appearance- not a good sign. Would we (our farms three apprentices, and myself), along with our vegetables, roast into little crispy morsels of despair? Would our customer base ignore us completely for the comfort of an air conditioned box store? Would we all have to go find jobs in said box store the following week?
As it turns out, we had nothing to worry about. We didn’t wither in the heat, we smiled. We were greeted by close to two-thousand market goers (our market can easily top three-thousand on its busiest days), who were excited to buy produce from us and who refused to let a silly little thing like soul-sucking heat keep them away from the food they know and love. By the time the bell rang to signify the end of market, we still had a line and we had sold almost 50 percent more than we did the same day on the year before. As we were cleaning up in our giddy, sleep deprived but socially satiated state, we were reminded again of how much fun selling at market can be.
I love Saturday. As a kid, Saturdays meant adventure, hiking trips, long days riding bikes or swimming. As I got older Saturdays mostly meant no work, something I was particularly fond of while working terrible jobs like Hotel Night Auditor, Long-distance Telemarketer, or Foundation Repair Technician. Saturday became like a refuge from the rest of the world. No one was allowed to mess with my day off. It’s more than a little ironic that, now that I’ve stumbled in to this profession which I absolutely love, the cost of admission is foregoing the traditional weekend. Every Saturday from mid-March until right before Christmas is dedicated on the calendar. I’ve become accustomed to the off-kilter vibration that comes from going to bed too late after Friday harvest and prep, and getting up WAY too early on market day. I miss weddings, college football, soccer games, and beach trips. I nap like an old man every Saturday afternoon.
The crazy thing is that it’s unequivocally worth it. Rather than a loss, Saturday for me is the big payoff. It’s our chance after a week of talking to plants to be the center of a conversation. We have a captive audience. We get to be menu planners, stand-up comedians, life coaches and garden councilors. I get paid not only in dollars, but also in priceless vignettes that unfold every weekend right in front of me. Watching tomatoes I’ve battled into existence over months fly off the shelf. The emotional battery charge of smiling familiar faces. The kids that want to eat raw okra right from your booth. The knowing glance of a fellow farmer on a slow dog day in August. The other day I received a handwritten note from a market customer that simply said: “My baby’s first solid foods came from your farm, thanks so much for everything you do!” These moments are worth all the lazy Saturdays in the world.
Selling at Market has created a passion for going a little overboard. Last year, we started bringing a pepper roaster (basically an excuse to safely light things on fire in public), which led to the development of the Pedal Powered Pea Pusher (an old exercise bike converted to fit a pea sheller), which in turn inspired the Solar Powered Market Mister (solar chicken fence charger + spray tank pump + greenhouse misters + cooler full of ice water= happy veggies, customers and farmers). We tried it out on that record-breaking day, and we were able to maintain a “cool” 85 degrees!
We are incredibly fortunate to be a part of one of the best farmers markets in the southeast. I have participated in at least 5 other markets during my farming career, and Peachtree Road Farmers Market outshines them all. We have a great location. Our market manager is vigilant about ensuring that the integrity of the market is upheld. We have a dynamite staff of volunteers that donate over 150 hours of their time to the market each week. There are weekly chef demos, musical performances, kids’ activities, costume contests, festivals, fundraisers, and films. I’m proud that our farm is part of Wholesome Wave Market, which doubles the value of each EBT/WIC dollar spent. To date, according to market manager Lauren Carey, our market has provided over $7,000 in Whole Wave dollars to help families who have a true need for clean, locally-produced food. Our market also partners with Second Helpings, a local food donation charity. Last year, fellow market vendors donated almost 3 tons of produce and other food items which were distributed to area food banks.
A nice booth and good management are only the baseline for a successful farmers market. The real magic is in the community that supports it. The fashionable knock on producer-only farmers markets is that they are elitist and only reserved for a select few, an argument that is myopic and lazy. During the past few years we’ve noticed a subtle shift in our customer base. A movement that may well have been initiated by well-to-do foodies and cutting-edge hipsters is burgeoning into a diverse and passionate community of local food advocates. We can count among our regular customers- factory workers, public school teachers, teenagers, college students, grandmothers on social security and even a few grade-school kids. What’s more, sales are up this year. We are averaging 20% more on a weekly basis, and we have topped our record day from last year 6 times this year. That type of growth is clear evidence not only that more people are interested in local food, but that whole groups of people are willing to come together over it. It has been nothing short of incredible to witness a community come into full bloom around local food. People come to the market to talk with their neighbors and to make new friends. Families bond over dinner plans. Folks tend to linger and let their kids play or their dogs sniff around. Market goers seem to actively engage with each other in a way that is almost foreign today. In a world that is plagued by ceaseless distraction, to see people connect without a Wi-Fi signal is a real treat.
As we finished clearing our market space on that inferno day, I noticed there were still 2 families hanging out. A couple of kids with melted popsicle faces were yawning, and the parents were negotiating strollers, dogs, and large baskets of produce. As they parted I heard one of them say “See you guys here next weekend?” The other shouted across the now empty lot “We wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Neither would I.