My wife and I were recently in the Hudson Valley, near Poughkeepsie, NY. We try to get there at least once a year. Aside from being a spectacularly beautiful area, we love the fact that there are so many wonderfully, locally produced foods available there. When we were up there recently, we noticed a new addition to the local foods scene—the Edible Hudson Valley magazine. The magazine is actually part of a network of approximately 50 such magazines across the country.
One article in particular caught our eye. It was an essay about a farmer’s market, written by a woman whose farm family has had a booth at this particular market for 20 years. She describes the culture of the market, where the vendors cooperate with each other more then compete with each other. They give each other advice, cover for each other, refer customers, etc. She also talks about her long time customers. She uses words like monogamy to describe the loyalty her customers feel to her—and the loyalty she feels toward them. The term “brand loyalty” is a more business lingo way of describing the loyalty her customers feel towards her.
The loyalty she feels towards her customers is a little more complex. She is not just keeping her booth at the market to make the optimum profit. She makes enough to sustain her operations, to be sure. However, she also feels a loyalty to her long time customer supporters. She is not just concerned with how much produce they buy and how much revenue they generate; she is also concerned with their lives and what is going on with their families. She will continue to be at that market because her customers are relying upon her to be there—she is “their farmer.”
I see a similar dynamic every Saturday when we go to pick up our CSA share from “our farmers”—the Herrmanns of Herrcastle Farm. When I am in line (and Herrcastle’s is a very busy booth), I hear the Herrmanns speaking to the customers. For a large number of customers, the conversation goes far beyond the price. In my case, the conversation usually includes my baby boy, David. All of the Herrmans (Ed, Judy, and Matt) really enjoy him—and he enjoys them.
The dynamic of mutually loyalty (the monogamy, if you will) is completely consistent with being a customer supporting sustainability. Part of this is being more aware of how the products you buy are made. The key is the information transfer that occurs along with the price-product transaction. In my very first post to this blog back in December 2008, I discussed caring not just about the actual product price, but how it was made, who made it, and where it comes from. One of the great benefits of the farmer’s markets I’ve experienced is that these questions are very easy to answer.
Just like in a good long term relationship—you ask a question and you get an answer. No one is keeping secrets.