[Market-farming] End of Season update

Willie McKemie mf at austinfarm.org
Tue Nov 25 12:44:50 EST 2003

> I'm giving up on tomatoes next year. I go to Mexico and the ends of the
> earth searching for good seeds and grow them with love and care. I pack them
> like crystal goblets and then they get to the market and then they are
> trampled by customers who have ZERO idea how to choose a ripe one. I always
> offer to help ("Do you want one you can eat right away? Do you want it to
> keep until the end of the week?") but by the end of the day, my beautiful
> jewels are almost salsa. I much prefer Europe where the vendor picks the
> food for you. The truth is, most people have no idea what they should be
> looking for. Besides, at least here in northern CA, there is a glut of
> tomatoes, although no one really does it well, in my mind.

Truly an enduring problem!  I've seen it for 20 years or more.  
Selling in lots helps.  "Just choose the basket you like".  Every once 
in a while, you encounter the customer that must SQUEEZE each and every 
tomato in your display.  An extreme and to be avoided solution:  "I'm 
sorry you can't find suitable tomatoes here; I think vendor Joe, down 
the way, has much nicer tomatoes that mine.  Why don't you check him 
out?"  A few years ago, I went to lots in mesh bags.  That greatly 
reduces the tendency of customers to build their own baskets.  We 
sometimes put out #2 tomatoes for the "build your own basket" crowd.
Tomatoes in mesh bags must be worked over much sooner than onions, 
potatoes, okra, and peppers, though I pack them all in mesh bags.  When 
I started using mesh bags, I got quite a bit of resistance.  "Is this 
home grown?  This looks 'professional'."  I think I've gotten over the 
hump now; many now look for my mesh bags.  And, when the customer gets 
the product home, the label reminds him where he got it.

An early in the season challenge:  How many times have I heard "Will 
these (pink tomatoes) turn red?"  I grit my teeth and explain again, 
very nicely, that they will.

It's a lot of work, educating your customer base one customer at a 
time.  I presume you have addressed the tomato handling problem in your 
radio spots?

Do you fear that your business will dry up if you prohibit customers 
from handling your display?  Maybe your fellow vendors will follow your 
lead if you give it a try.

Willie, ashamed that dixie chicks are from Austin
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