The Troll and the Farmers Market

alternately titled: “Be Careful, She Might Have a Blog.”

Today somebody walked up to my table at the market, picked up a jar of my spices, said, “That’s too expensive,” and banged it back down onto the table. This was  the first time that somebody has been that abrupt about it in three years, and I was shocked.It’s one of the things that craftspeople live in fear of: Being told that your work isn’t worth it. “Everything in Cape Breton is too expensive,” he continued. “I could get far more spices than that in Vancouver for half the price.” (In fact, this is sort of true: I purchase my ingredients wholesale. It is a much cheaper way of getting spices. So is the bulk food store. But they are not the same spices in these jars; I am not just reselling those spices, I actually have a set of “products” that I spent several months taste-testing and developing. I cannot sell at cost.)

“Well, Cape Breton is in the middle of nowhere,” I said, trying not to get too upset.

“No, it’s not.” (Given that it is a 5 hour drive to the next urban centre of any size, and another 10 hours to find a million people in one place, I stand by my claim.)

I started out with my normal ‘spiel,’ but you can see how I might have sounded a little defensive by this point. “Well, they’re organic, and fair-trade, and I mix them in batches of 3 – 4 jars at a time so that they are always fresh.”

“Who cares about that? I’m just saying that I could get an enormous quantity of spices for $65 in Vancouver, and from you I would only be able to get 10 jars.”

“Well, I have to pay myself for my time.”

“Why? Why should I pay you for your time?”

He kept going like this for another 15 minutes. I swear to god, every single bit of knowledge I had, every bit of self-respect I carry drained right out of my feet and into the floor. My time was worthless, my knowledge was useless, I was stupid for not knowing that in a capitalist society I should just go out and get a job, buy stuff at Walmart because they had done more for the organic movement than any little upstart cottage industry producer ever could think of… at one point I interjected with the fact that I only was actually making about $2 an hour at these prices, and he told me, in so many words, that I should give up doing something so stupid and go get a minimum wage job instead of starting a business that was overpriced, couldn’t compete in a global economy, and didn’t add any value to the world as well as only paying me $2 an hour. “Don’t you watch Dragon’s Den? You’re not being consistent. You don’t have a consistent story. Why are you concerned about making a job for yourself that will eventually pay minimum wage rather than just going and taking a minimum wage job at Walmart right now?”

I tried. I don’t know why, but I tried. “Walmart can only look like a reasonable business model because every move that they make is subsidized by the fact that they aren’t required to pay a living wage, and society makes up the difference. Besides that, they only can keep their prices so low in the continued presence of cheap oil that allows them to outsource production to the other side of the world, because shipping things around the globe (sometimes several times) is less expensive than actually paying somebody enough to live on. Or even NOT enough to live on.” I talked about the need to re-establish local and regional economies, the incredible risk we are living with when we live on an island with no primary production, the moral and practical difficulties with relying on a global economy in which we only maintain our superior position by taking advantage of people too poor to protect themselves.

What was I thinking? Why did I engage, other than the fact that I was trapped in a corner behind a table, somewhere that the customer has the upper hand?

Partly I wanted to reiterate it for myself, because that Ayn Rand-Fountainhead – nobody is responsible for anybody but themselves – who the hell do you think you are to try and do something for the greater good, you stupid, stupid woman – oh, it’s nothing personal – bullshit can be pretty compelling when you’ve been trying to make a go of it and failing for three years. Throw in the towel and get a job like the rest of us, you idiot.

But mostly, I was just trying not to scream, “Why the hell are you even in a farmers market??? Just go wherever these mythical cheap spices are and leave me alone. Order your own fucking wholesale products. Just don’t come and attack me, and my work, and my product, and my values, and the mission statement I just helped to write for the market you are standing in to prove your intellectual and moral superiority, you miserable, CHEAP bastard!” Because that probably wouldn’t contribute to the conversation… not that we were having one.

17 responses to “The Troll and the Farmers Market”

  1. Ha!

    You should have charged him for your time. How much does someone with your education make for private tutoring on matters of economics and sustainability?

    You should have said “that will be $120, please” at the end of the conversation.

    (This is easy for me to say, because I’m over the Internet and not having to do this in somebody’s face.)

  2. I know…. I know…. sounds like you did a great job defending yourself though. I don’t know why situations like this have to happen. Why do we need to feel like a bigger or better person than someone else?

    i like the idea of charging for your time at the end of the conversation, you should really consider that!!
    hope the rest of the day got much better!

  3. Sweetie, as I have said in the past, the world will always have assholes. Telling them to piss off is the only useful thing I have ever found to do with them.

    You didnt have a potential customer. You had a bully who found a target.

    • I know. It was just… he was so articulate. He was actually pretty well-informed and intelligent. He was a better arguer than me. And I was so shocked. Clearly I need to come up with an extraction plan.

      • If you don’t like my product & prices, then I invite you to give your business elsewhere.

        Bullies can be articulate as well as the classic schoolyard archetype.

  4. Most people are so tied into the capitalist system, and so tired, and so sheepish, they have no clue.

    IE If ignorance is bliss, most folks must be orgamic

    Keep up the good work. I think eventually, if we’re going to survive, we’re going to have to get back to local, sustainable ways.

  5. When someone reveals that they are hostile to the value-add, may I suggest that you (somewhat) politely let them know that that is not negotiable.

    “And if you don’t value those things, then I understand that you are not interested in my products. Have a pleasant day.”

    Of course it’s easy to come up with things to say at a distance, but you can’t save everyone immediately.

    • It was just that, he wasn’t just dismissing the products on the table, but he was after everything in the entire project.

      • There will always be people who will be full-set against what you are trying to do. Just as there are people attempting things you are full-set against for what seem to them to be good and valid reasons.

        Effort-pound for effort-pound, you’re likely to make more progress dragging the uncommitted into your world than such as he.

  6. Sometimes in my practice I run across that sort of thing, and I’ve learned to completely disengage. They aren’t looking for dialog, they’re looking to abuse because they feel so trapped themselves.

    I’m sorry that you were on the receiving end. It’s so hard to overlook the one absolute jerk, even though there are probably a sea of people who really value what you do and are so glad you’re there doing it. Take good care.

  7. You know the ingredients it takes to make a beer costs probably 50 cents a pint. Yet there are ‘those suckers’ in NYC that pay $11+ bucks (and even have the stupidity to throw a $2+ dollar tip on top) for the privilege of having it served to them already made, in the right proportions, in the right atmosphere, etc.

    Would this guy go to a fine restaurant and say: “I’m not paying $25 for a chicken alfredo dish! I can make this at home for $5.” Well good. Go for it. And by the way, go drive 5 hours (and waste $50 on gas) so you can save $5 on some spices!

    The guys is mixing up cost and value. Lots of people value services well beyond the costs if it saves the time, money, and delivers them something they couldn’t do themselves.

    • Somebody local called me and asked, “Was it *this* guy, by any chance.” Neither of us knows him, but he had pretty much done the same thing to her. It strikes me that he might actually be the sort of person who gives a fine restaurant a hard time for their prices.

      Mmmm… beer. Now I want a beer.

  8. My father had a very useful strategy for dealing with people like this. He would just listen bemusedly and then with a little smirk say “You think, do you?” in a tone that made it quite clear that the speaker was a moron and not worth responding to.

    I know that’s difficult when you’re put on the spot like that, especially if you do have your own doubts about what you’re doing. But your motives and intentions are good and good for society, so keep going until you make it all work. I’m kind of counting on it.

    • See, that’s the kind of phrase that I’m looking for. I’ll have to practice. I think I’ll go with “ya” instead of “you.” Kind of folksy-like. 🙂