I run a farm-to-consumer buying club and recently had a (very pleasant) exchange with a customer who was questioning some of the policies. That got me thinking about the bigger picture of the buying club, my expectations of the farmers, the customers, and myself.
Reflecting on this exchange, I was reminded of the year I spent $100 on a Christmas tree.
That year, I was determined to buy our Christmas tree from a local farm. I found an organic farm close by and the kids and I drove there in high excitement. Upon arriving, we listened to the elderly couple running the farm as they reflected on the joy in their years farming and selling Christmas trees, the house behind them weathered and worn.
“$100 for the lowest end trees,” they told me. I almost gagged! Even in my “good” financial years, I’ve never opted for extravagance. I told them I only had a small house and I only needed a small tree.
“How much for the smallest one you have?” I asked. They gently reminded me that even small trees took the same level of care and same land use to grow. They were obviously used to higher end customers—all their trees were large, grown for big houses.
We had come this far and, I reasoned, I value supporting small farms so they could stay in production. Soon, the kids settled on the top half of a full Blue Spruce. We took our tree home, decorated it with our homemade origami and ceramic ornaments (which somehow didn’t seem at all out-of-place). We started halfway up the tree, of course, so the toddler couldn’t pull the ornaments off.
It’s been a few years since the $100 Christmas tree, and my adventures have brought me to the study of complimentary currencies. I find the entire topic absolutely fascinating. Riveting.
One of the pivotal aspects of a complimentary currency that I love is that they measure value. Real value. Value that focuses on the intangibles. Quality of life over standard of living.
I’ve been reflecting on these ideas in the context of my buying club. From the time I started the buying club almost 10 years ago, I have worked every day to provide a valuable service to both the producers and the buying club members.
Currency is a tangible exchange of our life-force energy. We get money for what we spend our time, energy and expertise on, expertise itself being a function of time and energy and sometimes natural talent. Imagine if we allowed a currency to be the means of exchange for what we actually VALUED.
When I purchase from one of the farmers in my buying club, I know that I am paying for someone I care about to have a higher quality of life — higher than if they were not getting my support. I know that I am supporting an entire system that honors the cycles of the earth, restores topsoil, rebuilds ecosystems and revitalizes local, rural economies.
If I spent those same dollars at a big box store, grocery store or huge supercenter, I’d be supporting sweatshop labor, migrant farming practices*, and multinational corporate CEOs. I prefer to add value to the lives of those I know, love and trust. I strive to make sure that, completely unlike retail environments, buyers and producers have a direct connection to each other to cultivate a relationship.
*Have you seen this recent expose of Driscoll’s “organic” berries?
Many people (including me) who say they don’t want to support sweatshop labor will, occasionally, spend $20-50 on a single item of clothing from a company that openly hires sweatshop labor. But, when it comes to buying a few more items from a farmer we know and whom we know is restoring the soil, keeping land in production and cultivating community, we hesitate.
Or, we’ll buy a spontaneous gift or stuffed animal for a loved one “just because,” knowing that the item won’t last. Yet again, we hesitate to spend additional money on food that will nourish our bodies and our planet, while helping a family live above the poverty line.
To me, making a purchase that I know goes to support the things I value in the world, is inherently worthwhile. Eating once at a restaurant that sources from local farms, where the uniforms are made from organic cotton, where they pay their servers a living wage and the water is filtered—that is worth 10 trips to any non holistically-minded restaurant!
The buying club is a unique model that involves increased customer awareness and participation to make it work. We value the people, the connections, and the possibilities that exist within this “new” model for food production and distribution. We value the contributions to a system designed with people and the planet in mind, not just the potential financial contribution that each customer represents. It is a holistic approach we take.
I know that, for many people going direct and supporting small producers, making your weekly food purchase feels like spending $100 on a Christmas tree.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized I didn’t spend $100 on a tree.
I spent it on the intangible value that comes from knowing that my choices affect the quality of life, not just for that family that year, but the quality of life for my own children in years to come.
And the biggest joy of all is in knowing that I can bring happiness and value to those around me now while contributing to a system that cultivates the same for the future.
I hope that–like me with that Christmas tree–you are able to see the many layers of value you are getting and contributing to when you choose your groceries from a small farmer or a small buying club. And THAT is value!
Wherever you are in your personal journey toward clean living and local food, thank you for joining me in mine. I look forward to sharing it with you.