Farming is hard

I know, I said I’d regale you all with stories about how to keep mushrooms at the right temperature and humidity. I changed my mind – sorry to disappoint!

It’s been a hard couple weeks on the farm. As I mentioned briefly last week, we lost an employee so we’re down one worker on the farm. Just as I was sending the newsletter out last Friday night, our brand new Farmers Market employee quit. This person runs every other Saturday market and all the Sunday ones, so Sunday at Kingfield might be canceled for a little while. Do you know anyone in the Twin Cities who loves the farmers market and would like to work at the farmers market selling mushrooms? We’re looking for someone!

For a couple of months Jeremy has been working to get into more stores and just last month we excitedly announced that we were in Kowalski’s and Lunds & Byerlys. Last week Kowalski’s dropped us, after just a couple weeks, because the mushrooms just weren’t selling. This was a blow and it makes us worry about other new stores we’re working to get into, and the stores we’re already in.

forsale

It’s pretty cool to see our mushrooms for sale at the co-op!

When it comes to selling mushrooms I feel like we’re up against a lot. First is the pervasive message in our society that “cooking is hard.” It’s too hard, too hot, too messy, takes too much time, etc, say the marketers for restaurants, fast food, frozen dinners, and all manner of prepared, precooked, packaged, and convenience foods. Probably most farmers face this hurdle to some extent, some more than others. I think we have an additional hurdle to this: for those people who do choose to cook, there are a lot of people who don’t know what to do with mushrooms. Or mushrooms seem sort of exotic and they aren’t easily thought of when ingredients for a meal are gathered. Or, worse yet, people have had bad experiences with mushrooms and are just sure they hate mushrooms! How many of you grew up with spinach cooked horribly and you assumed you hated it, till you had it cooked a different way?

Another problem is cost. People want the absolute cheapest possible food they can get. We balk at the price of milk and bread and apples. How could those cost so much!? How soon will they be on sale? Is there a store that sells them for cheaper? The part of my brain that budgets for grocery shopping understands. But the rest of my brain now knows how much work goes into all this food. Raising animals, planting and nurturing seeds, months or even years of work before you finally have something to sell. And then all the costs for processing, packaging, shipping, the costs for paying for the appropriate government-approved storage facility or washing facility or packaging facility, the costs for inspecting the farm and the buildings, the costs for licenses, permits, and all the other paperwork. The way our farming system is set up right now, you almost have to be a gigantic farm in order to make any money. Think about how many middle men are demanding a chunk out of the 99-cents you paid for those eggs. How much is left for the farmer?

Cost affects mushroom farms too. Where do all your super cheap mushrooms come from? Most likely China or the east coast, from gigantic farming operations. How can a mid-size (or even small) mushroom farm compete? We can’t of course.

And: farming is hard work! We’re finding there aren’t a lot of people who want to do it. It can be back-breaking, monotonous, exhausting. You’re working outside when it’s blazing hot, or pouring rain, or freezing cold. I guess it takes a special sort of crazy person to sign up for that!

So if farming, and mushroom farming in particular, is so darn difficult, why do we keep doing it? Believe me, we ask ourselves that question a lot! Sometimes the answer is: because we have so much time and money sunk into this, we can’t stop now! Sometimes the answer is: well, what else would we do? And sometimes the answer is: because it feels like the right thing to do. We’re being good stewards of this little piece of land we have, finding ways to use it responsibly and not hurting the earth. We’re growing food that is high quality, nutritious, and beautiful. We’re helping to provide a local source of mushrooms for this region so those who choose don’t have to buy them from thousands of miles away. Though it comes with a lot of difficulties, it’s fun to be doing a kind of farming that’s pretty rare.

We are grateful for the support of our community – all of our family, friends, and regular customers at the farmers market. We keep doing this for you too. You all seem to love these tasty mushrooms.  So keep eating mushrooms, and tell all your friends and family  how amazing mushrooms are!

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