After reading Russ Parson’s post on farmers markets Sam Fromartz, author of Organic, Inc., sent this excellent short film by Gretta Wing Miller on the people who grow that “elitist” stuff you see at the farmers’ market—it puts some faces on the facts and is a brutal picture of the farmers and nature.  The money they lost is crushing.  I don’t know about you, but if I suddenly weren’t getting twenty grand I’d been expecting (for oh, say a mortgage payment, utility bills, food), it would kind of put a damper on my weekend.  But ninety?

If you care about this subject, check out Sam’s book and his blog, Chews Wise.


18 Wonderful responses to “The Cruelest Employer”

  • Tabitha

    I’m a graduate anthropology student studying food (mostly sustainability, Slow Food as a political movement, the whole local vs global and the conundrum that that brings). I started reading your blog just for fun, but there then pearls pop up at that aren’t only very entertaining and/or funny but also really useful – we grad students are a selfish bunch, always on the lookout for anything that can help us out. Greta Wing Miller’s short is one of those, so thank you for posting about it. I just received the lastest issue of Gastronomica ( and the entire issue is devoted to the intersection of food and politics. Definitely worth checking out for anyone interested in the possible deeper implications of “eat local,” etc and what it might mean in the larger scheme of things. It’s sometimes hard to find on your local magazine shelf, but worth searching out.

  • Kathy

    It has indeed been brutal around here. I live in Madison and am a CSA member of JenEhr Farm, an organic operation about 20 miles northeast of my home. I’ve bought produce at the Dane County Farmers’ Market (on the capital square) from Driftless and Harmony Valley, two of the farms mentioned in the short film. (And I live just blocks from the Willy St. Co-op, mentioned about seven minutes in.)

    Two links for those interested:

    Consider helping fund flood relief at

    And, here is Driftless Organics’ CSA newsletter that immediately followed some of the worst flooding.

  • jabbett

    I’d imagine every farmer takes on environmental risks, be it the floods in the mid-west, or the second-driest August on record in Massachusetts. Is there insurance to protect against crop damage/loss?

  • Ms.Anthrope

    Yes, there IS crop insurance but, unfortunately, it rarely covers the actual loss. For example, Harmony Valley had $750,000 in losses and insurance paid out (or will pay out) $100,000. According to the report, Harmony Valley was a rarity in that they had insurance.

    Kind of puts the rabbit who has been helping himself to the edges of my my veggie garden into perspective (although, he’s still stew if I ever catch him).

  • Clarkehead

    That was eye-opening, and it’s tugging at my heart strings a bit. If there was ever a tool to debate those against supporting Farmers Markets (and farmers in general), this is it.

  • Joel

    As for your cookbook question. I enjoy cook books that are based in what might be termed as classical cooking. I managed to get a set named “The Good Cook” and it is my favorite, actually, the set is my primary reference and I don’t bother with any other books. I used to have a cookbook that once belonged to my Grandmother which dated from the thirties. It was an awesome reference, that is until my daughter’s dog shredded it.

    There are far too many modern cook books of the 30 minute meal genre, there is a place for them but it’s nice to get lost, as in forgetting everything else, in a complex recipe.

  • the pauper

    man, that sucks.

    anyway, the ‘elitist’ thing is not geared towards the growers of food. i don’t think anyone local farmers are elitists. here in new york, you find elitists in the banks and financial markets; my perspective ain’t that skewed. anyway, this makes it look like local farmers aren’t rolling in that much dough even in non-flood seasons. that said, how does the world work?

    scenario 1: local farmers who don’t make that much provide food that is consumed by people in the city who don’t make that much.

    scenario 2: local farmers who don’t make that much provide food that is consumed by people who like to tell you they have superior taste buds and don’t mind paying slightly more for food that actually taste.

    the greatest irony is that farmers don’t make much, but their food do not go to other (city) people who do not make much. instead mass production companies have more efficient economies of scale provide food that get purchased in massive supermarkets and qualify for food stamps.

  • Claudia

    That short film was . . . . humbling. There’s no other word for it. I’ll be at the farmers’ market on Saturday, 34 miles roundtrip. I can’t, in good conscience, set foot inside another supermarket for produce, dairy or meat every again.

    This is one of the reasons I love your blog so much, Michael – all joking and fun-blogging aside, there are many more moments when you raise a food issue so serious and profound that it forces any thinking person to at least examine – if not totally reevaluate – their relationship to food, the people who grow it, and the process by which is both is brought to us . . . and damages us.

  • Tricia

    After the floods, this infuriating commentary ran in our local paper
    (The Strib tends to move things around. The link works now. I hope it continues to.)

    The author, not a Minnesotan nor at all familiar with the farmers who lost so much, does in fact make the claim that these organic farmers are elitist, or, in his words seeking a “premium” for their products.

    No, they’re working hard and charging what it costs. And for the most part, the farmers affected aren’t the ones selling to Whole Foods (you can hear the sneer in the author’s voice). They’re selling direct to customers through CSAs, coops, and farmers markets.

    For the record, the article is “Dennis Avery: The consequences of organic farming”

    A quote:

    It sounds to me as though the organic farmers have chosen the wrong land. Disasters like this won’t happen often, but mudslides even one year out of 50 is too much for good soil health. Perhaps we need a code of conduct for organic farmers that would bar organic plantings on steep slopes likely to produce mudslides after heavy rains. The county extension agents should readily be able to identify the classes of land suitable for the increased risks of organic production.

    Otherwise, the public is being set up to make all kinds of “emergency” payments to organic farmers who had been preparing to sell their produce for “organic premiums” on the high-priced shelves of Whole Foods Markets. The public shouldn’t be on the hook for such risky premium-seeking. After all, the organic growers keep bragging that their farming system is more sustainable and more “earth-friendly” than conventional farming.

  • Ms.Anthrope

    Argh! I haven’t even read the article yet and the quote has got my hands shaking!
    Having just spent a weekend helping our local CSA farm plant a hedgerow, if my arms didn’t ache so much I would consider planting Mr. Avery.

  • Samuel Fromartz

    These farmers sell through CSAs, farmers markets, but the wholesale market is VERY important to them as well. Jack Hedin of Featherstone Farm in MN is the MAIN supplier of organic broccoli to Whole Foods 25 stores in the Midwest. Harmony Valley supplies WF too (about $200K per year of veggies) and all ship to co-op stores in the Midwest, so you shouldn’t get hung up thinking that you can only support them if you go to the farmers markets. Supermarket channels can work for farmers too if approached the right way, and right now, for these farmers, they are working. You can even donate to the relief fund at the cash register of your co-op or WF store in the region.

  • Claudia

    Well, if Avery thinks the farmers are elitist, then those who support them must be, too. I am therefore proud to be an elitist swine, and intend to oink my way through the Union Square farmers market this week. Oh, and more importantly, those of us swine who can should mosey on over to the relief fund. This is the organic farmers’ version of Katrina.

  • Clarkehead

    That article pissed me right off, but the rebuttal hit the nail on the proverbial head. I’m with you, Claudia. As if we needed another reason to promote and continue to shop at Farmer’s Markets. I’m tired of seeing farmers get the short end of the stick consistently. What would we do without them?

  • christina

    We should all remember that these farmers are real people and the alternative to not having a choice like Farmers Markets quite frankly sucks eggs. We all would pay a little extra for a nice pair of shoes because we don’t want to be walking around in a pair of plastic sneakers…why should food be any different? I live on a 60 acre farm in Upstate NY. I’m an artist by trade and have no ability to farm the land myself, and my land has been “rented” by an organic farmer and his family before him for about 100 years. Watching his struggles over the past few years, I made the decision about 10 years ago to not charge him ANY rent AT ALL in hopes he could just keep afloat. I figure, he keeps my land plowed, and I get all the free veggies I want, good deal. I love the guy, he’s 65 years old and works his ass off dawn til dusk with no help from anyone. His son won’t help him with the family business [farmers market] because he sees no future in it. These people are a dying breed unless we go out and start buying their products and stop whining about how expensive they are. They aren’t.

  • Christina

    Thanks Claudia! Just trying to give the guy a fighting chance. My farm is in Rush NY, a little bit south of Rochester. Tomatoes, peppers, beans, eggplant, zucchini, corn, cabbages, and pumpkins [which just had their stems cut last week]. Apples. I’m sure some developer would love to come turn my farm into tract houses, but I’m only 38 years old, and I’m staying here forver, so they have a long wait.

  • Claudia

    Hahahaha! My best friend, my cousin and friends of my husband all live in Rochester, so I’m up there a lot – good for you, Christina. Fight the good fight!