Without knowing, my relationship with food has always been a part of helping people eat. My brother and I grew up on a dairy farm and as far as I can remember we would come home from school, get changed, and go right up to the barn. We would help with chores from 4:30pm until 6–6:30pm and then we would come in and eat. Back then, we were milking cows and taking care of livestock. Today, we are now dealing with fruits and vegetables. My life has never not been about producing food …. Which is kind of neat when you stop and think about the amount of people we probably feed in a lifetime.
As a farmer, I really appreciate the relationship food has allowed me to create with the end consumer. I know most of my customers by name, and that’s because I’ve gotten into direct marketing by being a part of the farmer’s markets. It’s beyond the fact that it’s a good business model for us. It’s because we get to be around the people who consume the food we grow. We can be there to tell them the story about how we grew it, the effort we put into our craft, and how important it is for us. But we can also be a part of their story, and hear what they did with our produce as well. At the end of the day I suppose we could put it into a truck and send it off to a grocery store chain. But that way, we don’t get to experience and share the stories between ourselves and the people who consume our food.
When farmers don’t have to market their products, that’s where I think the problem lies. Now, you can buy milk, you can buy beef, you can buy cornflakes and never have to think about where it came from. Same goes for the farmer, he or she doesn’t have to think about the consumer if they are in supply management. And I think we really need to tighten that up. There are a lot of farming sectors that allow farmers to stay on the farm. You can stay very isolated from your clients, grow your products, put it on a truck and get paid for it. If you are in supply management, you don’t even have to worry about your price. You know you’re going to get a fair price for your product, and you know it’s going to sell. But that’s where I really really think there’s a disconnect in the industry.
Today, people need a reason to buy local. If you don’t bring the farmers to the forefront and let them tell their stories and interact with their consumers about their food, we will eventually have a complete disconnect and lose a very important relationship that we have with food. The people that buy from us don’t just buy our food to fill a need of hunger. They’re buying because they want a connection and they’ve got other needs and experiences they want to meet by buying from us. As farmers we need to go out and fight not only for the support of buying locally, but to tell people why they deserve local food. It’s a very connected system. It’s a very important connection. And food has allowed me to be an important part of it.
Jordan McKay - Retail Manager at Willowtree Farms