Open Thread: Produce Giveaways


A friend of mine and I had a lively discussion yesterday on the topic of giving away the excess bounty of one’s garden.  I’ve been thinking about that subject for some time now and wondering where to draw the line between giveaways that help those in need (and help make good neighbors and friends), and giveaways that harm the livelihood of local farmers.

This probably isn’t a huge problem in more urban areas–I’ll be asking about that tonight at the Sustainable Agriculture Chat (#sustagchat) that happens every Sunday night, 7-9pm CST on Twitter (tonight’s topic is urban agriculture)–but in more rural areas that have farmers markets, I’m thinking it can get to be somewhat of a problem.

In towns of a certain size (that is, big enough to have a farmers market, but small enough that a lot of folks still grow their own gardens), a common type of comment vendors hear at the market is, “Oh, I don’t have to buy that, my friend gives it to me,” or, “You’re charging that much? I can get it from my neighbor for free!”

This is easily shrugged off unless there are a number of other customers around, at which point the vendor just hopes that one of them will chime in and say, “Well, it’s pretty nice that the rest of us can get it at this price, or get it at all!” There are few responses the vendor can make to those types of comments other than, “Oh, that’s nice,” or “Good for you.”

I don’t have too much of a problem with giveaways, and really, it’s a tricky ground for me to even comment on.  For instance, if my boss’ husband (whose backyard bounty gives me terrible garden envy) wants to give away basil to my good produce customers at the local pizzeria, even if that results in less sales for me, what exactly am I going to say about it?

Too, I want my friends at the local pizzeria to do well, and if getting a little free produce helps them, I certainly don’t want to deny them that help because I love them and their pizza, and I don’t want them to stop buying from me because I grump about them getting something for free.  I hate that stodgy, “no one should get anything for nothing” attitude in other people–sometimes a freebie really is a help–financially or just in developing relationships.

My working assumption is this: if someone has the time to grow a big enough garden to give a LOT of produce away (enough so that it’s going to make a dent in the livelihood of local farmers), then they probably have enough time to come and sell at the local farmers market (or to harvest and hire/ask someone to come and sell for them).

If they have enough money so that the proceeds from that plentiful produce are not a necessary part of their household means, perhaps an arrangement by which they donate the produce to someone to sell for them would be optimal–that person has a job, and they make money by selling produce,  as well as meeting their fellow community members, and getting some good life skills in customer relations and simple math.

Too, if the person with a large excess of produce wants to sell that produce themselves, they could certainly donate the money they make to a charity (say, the food pantry) if the money is not an issue for them.  This is assuming that the town is small enough that a large donation of fresh produce to the food pantry might in large part go bad before it is used by those in need.

A possible problem with this scheme is, of course, that a person with excess might sell the produce they’d otherwise be giving away for prices that undercut the other farmers at the market, thus affecting the livelihood of local farmers in another (and perhaps more easily identifiable) way.

Our market does have measures in our vendor contract to discourage undercutting on prices (I would guess most do–but perhaps not small markets in more rural areas), and in my own case, I’ve found I can charge what I need to, even if my prices are a bit higher than the next vendor, and my loyal customers still come, knowing from experience that my product is a quality one.

I wanted to put this discussion out there for others to comment on…what is your view on produce giveaways?  Is it a problem in your area?  Do you see it as an obstacle for starting/sustaining a farmers market in your area (or an obstacle for vendors being successful)? Thoughts, please!

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