In my previous life at a certain large, Portland-based footwear company, I managed a 400-million dollar product line. (Yes. That is a lot of shoes.) I clearly remember the first time that I confirmed a shoe for production. My finger hovered over the send button, knowing that my touch would set in motion a process spanning multiple countries and involving hundreds of thousands of dollars. Gulp and double gulp. Was it truly ready to go? Was the colorway the right choice for the market? Would consumers embrace or reject that new, recycled rubber outsole? These questions rocketed around my brain as I prepared to make the call.
In the years since that decision, I have traded in my office building pallor for a faux-farmer tan; traded shoes for chevre. But a couple of weeks ago, I faced another major call that had me thinking back to that big day from the past. On July 26, for the first time in the history of Countryside Farmers’ Markets, I had to cancel a market outright. The storms that initially looked scattered and relatively benign gathered strength and descended on us in Highland Square, carrying warnings of hail, dangerous lightening, and high winds. And while our markets always run rain or shine, when there is potential danger for our customers or our vendors, we must put safety first. It was clearly the right decision – the following day’s headlines confirmed tales of flooded buildings and storm drains, stranded vehicles – but boy, was it a difficult one. And though the dollar figure hanging in the balance didn’t come near that of my decision all those years ago, this figure seemed much more real, and more dear.
As a market customer in years past, I didn’t think very much about how the products that I was buying made it to that table on Saturday morning. But I now know that each quart of green beans, pint of blackberries, or flaky pastry carries with it the weight of hours spent in the field or the kitchen – picking, washing, mixing, rolling, weighing, packing. (If you have never volunteered on a farm, I encourage you to do so. One 90 degree day spent picking green beans and you will agree that we do not pay enough for these items.) For some vendors, a lost market is mostly a loss of time and perhaps mileage. But for others with perishable product, it can mean a loss of hundreds of dollars and hours of work. That Thursday, as I broke the news to Sally of Summit Croissants, her car filled with hours of labor and perishable goods, I felt the full weight of the awful situation.
Thankfully, this story had a happy ending for Sally. After she posted her distress on Facebook, many of you loyal customers came to her rescue. You reposted, you tweeted, you (it was tough, I know) ate croissants. By the next morning, Sally reported that every crumb was sold, and she had a heap of new customers to boot. This is the nature of the local food system – as you meet and befriend your farmers and bakers, you both celebrate their successes and lament their hardships. You get to know the face behind the name, the hands behind the product, and you root for them. This week, as you’re sitting down to your dinner table, I hope you take a moment for a kind of grace – a brief thanks for those faces, those hands, and those many hours.