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Farmers Markets & Local Sourcing's Impact

Washington Post Fresh Farms Coffee

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#1 darkstar965

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Posted 18 April 2012 - 12:22 AM

Could have posted this in media (since it is) or the Qualia thread (since Joel is referenced in it) but it's mostly about farmers' markets so I'll put it here. I'm sure many saw this in yesterday's Post but wanted to share it here since it discusses the issue of non-local products and farmers' markets with coffee as the central example.

While the bias of the writer is clear, the argument to include products which can't be grown locally seems pretty compelling to me.

#2 mdt

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Posted 18 April 2012 - 08:07 AM

I have always found it interesting that they allow folks that make bread and other baked goods at the market when there is no way that all the raw ingredients are all local. What is the difference between flour and coffee beans as an ingredient. What about the folks making jams? Are they using anything beside local fruit and water in their products?

#3 darkstar965

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Posted 18 April 2012 - 09:07 AM

I have always found it interesting that they allow folks that make bread and other baked goods at the market when there is no way that all the raw ingredients are all local. What is the difference between flour and coffee beans as an ingredient. What about the folks making jams? Are they using anything beside local fruit and water in their products?


Exactly. But as one caveat, the article didn't do a great job of really balancing the farmers market part of the story.

Clearly there are non-local ingredients in some of the finished products (wheat being the best but not only example). The only other rationale really offered for excluding coffee and like products was that Fresh Farms is protecting local merchants. Forgetting for the moment that Qualia (mentioned in the article) is a local artisan merchant with brick and mortar and bills to pay. If they keep coffee out, then there's no threat to local coffee purveyors invested in brick and mortar or so the logic goes. Fair enough but, of course, one could make that case about most of what is sold at the markets. The empanada vendor at Dupont is very popular (and good!). How many retail empanada shops are in the surrounding area? There is a mozzarella cheese purveyor at Dupont that also sells in every local Whole Foods. Other artisan cheese purveyors compete with Cheesetique, Arrowine, Cowgirl and a host of other shops. So that argument makes no sense to me.

Based only on the article, it comes across as a policy that was probably understandable and a bit idealistic when first enforced but which now is being used way too rigidly without a common sensical review to change it. But, then again, it is possible that the piece missed a big part of the Fresh Farms perspective since it was written from the small, non-local, artisan perspective.

It'd be really interesting to have a Fresh Farms point of view on this if there is one beyond what the article portrayed. If there isn't, the policy seems kind of indefensible IMHO.

#4 RoastMonkey

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Posted 18 April 2012 - 09:29 AM

It has always been my impression that the folks who run these markets have a somewhat rudimentary understanding of the coffee business. From my perspective, there is a significant value in having coffee locally roasted. Coffee is fresh produce and should be treated as perishable. At my shop, we sell all of our beans to the end user within three days of roasting. We don't sell any coffee to grocery stores because we cannot guarantee that the beans won't be sold after their freshness window. I would love to be at more farmers' market because they offer a short window of opportunity. It's like the guy who brings his spinach that was picked that morning, knowing it will wilt within a few days, but also knowing how great it tastes at the peak of freshness. You can always choose to go to the supermarket for the stuff in the bag that magically stays crisp for two weeks, even if it never really tastes like anything. Similarly, the economics of wholesale coffee roasting necessitate convincing people that the beans have a long shelf life. Unfortunately, that myth is pervasive enough that most people have never even had the opportunity to taste really fresh coffee.

Anyway, that is the argument I would make to the farmers' markets, if I didn't get shut down almost immediately every time I tried to have a conversation with them about it.

Joel Finklestein
Owner, Qualia Coffee
Head Roaster, Fresh Off the Roast

3917 Georgia Ave. NW (Petworth Metro, between Randolph and Shepherd St.)

website - Facebook - Twitter (Qualia) Twitter (Fresh Off the Roast)


#5 bookluvingbabe

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Posted 18 April 2012 - 10:35 AM

I also don't get why it is okay to have baked goods with exotic ingredients that are in no way local but you can't have locally roasted coffee.

I'm firmly in the less-prepared food at markets camp to begin with but if you're going to have gelato and baked goods and bread and chocolate, etc., then there should be coffee!

Bethesda Central Market has a coffee vendor (along with olive oil, salsa, wine and a ton of baked goods). I don't think the coffee is that good but you can really make a morning of that market, especially with little kids.

#6 darkstar965

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Posted 20 April 2012 - 02:02 PM

A letter in response to this topic in today's Post was so myopic and off target as to give cause to really question the Post's intent in just publishing that one letter versus a different one or a second one with alternate view.

Signed by Douglas Stewart of Fairfax:

"Coffee roasters want local farmers markets to allow them to sell products that are produced far away? These operations are called farmers markets for a reason. For exervy dollar of food purchased by consumers, farmers received, on average, just 12 cents, according to the Virginia Farm to Table Plan. Farmers markets provide fresher and healthier food to consumers, and they eliminate the retail middle man, so farmers can have more income and continue making a living in the Washington region. Coffee roasters are not farmers. End of Story."


Somehow, in only 87 words, Mr. Stewart manages to be misinformed, myopic, condescending and outright insulting all at once. Not a small feat. Problems with the argument include (but aren't limited to):

1. Mr. Stewart either doesn't understand or chooses to ignore how any market works. Simply put, without customers, there is no market. So, while any non-profit mission is very important, it can't be at the expense of ensuring the organization's viability. The farmers' markets have to attract customers to be of service to anyone. Of course supporting local farmers is a hugely important and worthy objective. Different constituencies' needs must be balanced for anything to work and for any objective (social, environmental, economic) to be achieved. Had Mr. Stewart read the values and mission of Fresh Farms and other markets, he might have given more thought to his letter before firing it off. The kind of thought embedded in the mission of the organization which actually does the work to make farmers markets work. The kind of thought that isn't simplistic or narrow simply because that doesn't mirror the real world and the real balances that must be struck to assure a basic level of viability.

2. As Mr. Stewart clearly harbors utter disdain for anyone trying to make an honest living aside from farmers, I wonder what he'd call the Fresh Farm organization itself given his obnoxious dismissal of "retail middle men." I sure hope Mr. Stewart never goes to any supermarkets, restaurants or gas stations since he attaches no value and affords no respect to anyone who adds value to raw products or makes their distribution possible. Though Fresh Farms is a 501©3, Mr. Stewart may not understand that they take upfront fees and a perecentage of all sales made in their markets. Those revenues fund a variety of important programs, operations and pay for key staff. All "middle men" if one wan't to use the extremely broad brush as used by Mr. Stewart.

3. Mr. Stewart's insulting and imperious "end of story" ignores the reality that, while obvious and true that "coffee roasters are not farmers," neither are sellers of bread, soap, gelato, cheese and other products. Applying Mr. Stewart's logic, all of those producers should be expelled from the markets as they don't deserve to also make a living.

One can't realistically expect that some individuals (Mr. Stewart being just the current example) will be even-handed, rational or even polite with what they write and say. And, it is surely both a fine and good thing to be able to express strong opinions.

I'd just have hoped the Post might have been a little more professional in its role as the region's leading source of news, analysis and advocacy. I'd have hoped that they would have been at least a bit balanced in their selection of which viewpoints to publish on a topic so critical to so many very hard-working food professionals in our region. These include but are no means limited to small, passionate and ridiculously dedicated local coffee roasters. But those hopes are proven naiive.

The publication of only Mr. Stewart's letter does a huge disservice not only to the local coffee roasters who serve as his punching bag, but also to consumers, other non-grower producers and ultimately the farmers themselves.

#7 RoastMonkey

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Posted 21 April 2012 - 03:45 PM

The reporter who wrote that article popped in today to pick up his weekly supply of beans (he has become something of a regular since interviewing me). I asked him about the letter. Apparently, the letters and comments (several of which were really ugly) in response to Post articles tend toward the vitriolic. It seems those are the people who feel compelled to write in, so the editors perhaps feel they reflect the majority view.

BTW, I will be at the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market tomorrow morning handing out free samples of beans. It's a bit of guerrilla marketing I like to do ever so often to make their customers aware that the market doesn't allow coffee roasters. So, if you see me there, throw me the DR.com secret handshake (there is a secret handshake, right?)

Joel

Joel Finklestein
Owner, Qualia Coffee
Head Roaster, Fresh Off the Roast

3917 Georgia Ave. NW (Petworth Metro, between Randolph and Shepherd St.)

website - Facebook - Twitter (Qualia) Twitter (Fresh Off the Roast)






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