Sunday, June 21, 2009

An educated consumer is our best customer

Minneapolis Farmers MarketImage by livewombat via Flickr

There's a discount clothing store in New York called Syms which advertises "An educated consumer is our best customer."

That's how I feel about the Minneapolis Farmers Market (MFM). I am fortunate to be working on a project for the Minneapolis Farmers Market. It's a project I love, and while I've come to enjoy the MFM, it wasn't until today that I fully appreciated it.

All it took was one trip to the neighborhood coop.

You see, in effort to be economical and "save on gas", I went to my neighborhood coop. It's 10 miles closer, so I thought it a sensible choice.

It turned out to be a foolish, expensive choice that left me feeling dumb, cheated and crappy.

Why? Because the Minneapolis Farmers Market has more variety. Less packaging. Better prices. More value. Not to mention fresh scapes, baby beets, sugar snap peas, all of it fresh picked today.

At the coop, I spent $2.99 for a plastic clamshell of "organic" strawberries shipped in from California. At the Market, the same three bucks would have bought me just-picked Minnesota berries. At the coop, I spent 7.49 for a giant plastic clamshell of "organic" baby greens shipped in from California. At the Market, that same 7.50 could have bought me twice as much, twice as fresh, totally local.

When these things are in season here, why does a local coop even ship them in?

I wasted 70 bucks at the coop. That would have bought me a fortune in good, fresh, local food at the Farmers Market. At the coop, it netted me two bags of overpackaged, overtransported, overmarketed mediocrity.

I'm done with the coop. I'm grateful for this one last trip, though, because it has made me an educated consumer. And Syms is right. An educated consumer is the best customer.

Once you've been to a real farmers market, there's no going back.

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Darci Alexis said...

I'm really surprised that you feel this way about the Co-op. As a member-owner of two co-ops in the Twin Cities and an employee of one, I would be happy to talk more about the value that there is in a local business, one that is owned by consumers, that is so much more than just the grocery store you described. Let me know how I can shed some light on the subject! We love the farmer's market too, but I think the co-op and the market are both working towards the same goal. Fresh, local food that is accessible to everyone.

Susan Berkson said...

I hear you. I'm a co-op member-owner, too. And you are right that there is value in a consumer-owned, local business. And you are right that fresh, local food should be accessible to all. At the same time, the quality and variety of produce found at the Farmers Market is way beyond what I find at my co-op. I still can't get over the fact that the co-op carries Driscoll's "Organic" strawberries from California when sustinably, grown Minnesota strawberries are available here. Same with the co-ops herbs brought in from Illinois. Why? There are wonderful fresh herbs grown here.

Darci Alexis said...

Many people want the convenience they are used to from the nature of our global economy. We simply have to carry non-local products at the Co-op so people are happy and get what they want, and we stay in business. However, last year at our Co-op, 42% of our dollars were spent on local products. I think that is even higher at some other Co-ops.

We do carry local produce, even local strawberries, when they are in season. I just ate some this morning from my Co-op. (Actually, they were cheaper than the ones I was going to buy at the Farmer's Market) Most of the local producers we use though also sell at the Farmer's Markets, and we only get a portion of their crops. Many of these local producers are also much better suited to sell at the Farmer's Market, simply because they are small family operations. Our Co-op goes through so much volume of certain items that to rely strictly on local items would be unrealistic. There is demand for non-local organic items, and because we want to stay in business, we must meet that demand. (By the way, have you tried the local LaBore Farms lettuce? We have that year round, and many local chefs say it's the best in the Midwest.)

The beauty of having a diverse community like Minneapolis is that we can go to the Farmer's Market in the summer, but I am really thankful for the Illinois-grown herbs from the Co-op to get me through the winter. Incidentally, did you notice the bananas sold at the Farmer's Market also? They even know that to keep their diverse clientele happy, they must carry things that people want, like bananas.

I'd love to talk more about this with you, just let me know if you would like a tour and we could talk more about this.