Sunday, August 29, 2010

Finding Balance and the Right Price

Jacquay (our pickler) at our nearly sold out West End Farmers Market booth last weekend!

Amazingly, this week marks our halfway point for the season. However, that is a little deceptive because the fall is a very busy time for us, which gets me thinking about balance... As farmers, we are linked to the cycle of the seasons, which means that we have to stretch thin harvests in the spring and figure out what to do with copious amount of food in the late summer and fall.

This seasonality has some interesting impacts on farm profits. Since I am handling our finances this year, I end up thinking about this a lot. For our CSA customers, seasonality means that their weekly veggie bags start out small, but get bigger and bigger over the course of the season. By the time October rolls around and winter squash are abundant, the bags are more than overflowing. However, since CSA folks pay us at the very beginning of the season, these changes don't affect our farm finances. We just have to make sure to be fair and accurate when setting the price of our CSA shares.

Our farmers market and pickling vegetable sales are a different story- pricing is super tricky no matter how abundant our veggies are. We've looked at setting prices based on the actual input costs (seeds, water, weeding time, harvesting time, delivery time, marketing time, etc.), but everything ends up extremely expensive. So most of the time, our prices are determined by our guess at the amount that most people would be willing to pay. We also try not to undercut other small farms.

This complicated situation can be difficult to explain to folks at the farmers market- "Our garlic may seem expensive, but it is only a fraction of the seed cost and it was a cold spring and we have clay soil, etc., etc., etc." Eyes tend to glaze over...Certainly, there are lots of people out there who are happy to pay the full price for local food, but for others it all boils down to their ability to get extremely cheap vegetables at the grocery store. Things are simply too cheap.

My hope is that we are in a transition to a new era when we will begin to pay the full cost of the goods we consume (and have income-assistance programs in place for those that cannot afford the increase). With the proliferation of farmers markets, there are more and more conversations happening between farmers and consumers, which should help. I don't want to sound too dramatic, but I think the price of food has a lot to do with the future of farming. Finding balance may be tricky, but it will be worth it!

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