You want everybody to be making a living wage.
You want to make the best use of your money as possible.
This was me, and I bet it is you too:
- You enjoy going to the farmers market right?
- You cringe when the farmer is asking $4.00 for a pound of tomatoes?
- You question why the farmers market direct from the farmer produce is so much more expensive than the supermarket?
- You sometimes find yourself saying 'I should just grow my own tomatoes next year'? (which you should by the way - but more on that later)
The tale of two tomatoes
Your Grown at Home Tomato
Mid May you visit your local market and purchase a wonderful looking tomato start. You are strictly warned by the farmer there to NOT plant it outside until your soil and the outside temperatures have warmed up.
You dutifully take it home, baby it for a bit then plant it outside. Or you take it home, stick it in its temporary location, forget that it is there so don't water it and go buy another start a few weeks later!
Once your lovely tomato (that you have nourished for a couple of weeks) is outside you dutifully water it as needed, stake it up after a month or so and wait for those first green globes to appear. Once those first tomatoes show you probably take a bit more interest in the lovelies - checking them often to see if they are turning red yet, waiting and watching for just the right time . . . Viola! You grew your own tomato!
Yeah! you savor that first ripe fruit, proud of your accomplishment. There is a crack in it your neighbor points out, or the slugs took a nip out of it? No matter! You grew that tomato - it is the best tomato ever, you wouldn't dream of throwing it away because it has a blemish! It is to be cherished, enjoyed and exclaimed over.
An Organic Farm grown tomato
The first week of January the farmer carefully looks over seed catalogs and make decisions about what kinds of tomato plants to grow - what will sell well as starts and what will grow well for the season on their farm.
Once the seed order goes in the green house gets cleared of anything left from the last seasons crop. The ground gets turned and fed with organic matter, minerals and then covered so weeds don't sprout.
As soon as the seeds arrive in the mail they get planted into seed trays with fresh clean soil in rooms with just the right amount of light and heat (often times the farmers living room or kitchen). These tiny seeds are carefully watched and moistened as needed. Not all of the seeds will germinate to begin with and if there is any sign of mold or other issues the farmer must start over.
Once the seeds have germinated and grown a couple of tiny baby leaves they must be transplanted. Often times requiring a chop stick or some other small instrument to carefully dislodge one start from the next, these tiny shoots are carefully transferred to a larger container. Again these smallish starts are coddled and watered, kept warm and given good light.
A few weeks later the process must be repeated for as the starts grow they need more root space, a larger pot, possibly some trimming. This transplanting process may take place 2 or 3 times before the plant actually goes to the farmers market as a strong vibrant start in a 6 inch pot ready for the home garden. Half gallon and gallon tomatoes have been growing the longest, cared for transplanted, trimmed and babied through until they are nearly ready to fruit right there in the pot!
So some of the starts go into pots to the farmers market to be sold to folks to grow in their own garden. They must be carefully loaded and unloaded, displayed for the day and then any that haven't sold must be carefully loaded and taken back to the warm greenhouse at the farm - remember the farmers warning? It's too cold still for them to be outside at night yet. Repeat daily during farmers market until they have sold or its too late to plant them at home.
The rest of the starts that don't go to the market for sale? Those get carefully planted in the greenhouse, watered and fed, pruned and staked, strung and babied. Slug traps are set, bugs are watched for, weeds are attacked or matting put down. It is an ongoing process throughout the months.
Once those first tomatoes start to show . . .YEAH! Then waiting, watching, trying to keep heat and moisture levels just right - each decision important. Why? A split or cracked tomato can not be sold at market, a tomato with a slug bite is cow food. Mold, end rot or rodents can cause massive damage to a single plant, or damage an entire crop. Watering at the wrong time or allowing the temperature to fluctuate to much can lose a huge portion of your crop or damage the whole rest of the season.
A challenge for you: Next time you go to the Olympia Farmers Market on a Sunday in Spring hang around until market closes. Slightly after 3pm you will see farmers taking box after box of produce and virtually filling the performance stage with food.
Why? It is food that didn't sell - perfectly good, often times Certified Organic food that is being given away, no return to the farmer. Again Why? Because you and I didn't want to pay for it and the farmer can't store it. Now, don't get me wrong - I love farms giving to the homeless, or those that don't have enough to make ends meet. Sad thing is that farmers struggle to pay their workers more than minimum wage, and so often you will find farm workers in those food bank lines. When there is so much labor that goes into the food and so little return it is difficult to make that livable wage available to all. Often times the cast offs that farm workers get off the farm is not as nice as the food being sent to the food bank.
Part two tomorrow: "A living wage vs Reasonably Priced Food"