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Support Local Farms? Then Never Do What This Guy Did

By   /  January 12, 2015  /  2 Comments

Forrest shares a Yelp review he found online along with suggestions about how local farm supporters might think before they type.

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I was surfing Yelp! recently, looking for a restaurant. “Hmm,” I asked myself. “I wonder if anyone’s ever given our farm a review?” Curious, I typed in the name of our Virginia farm, ‘Smith Meadows’.

To my surprise, we actually had a review! To my disappointment, however, it wasn’t Five Stars. In fact, it was barely even one:

Paul C.
Arlington, VA
4/8/2014

I give it 1 1/2 stars.

About 2 months back a friend gave me a dozen farm fresh eggs from Maryland. They were extra large, multi colored, with large bright orange yolks and amazing thick texture. They were the best eggs iv’e ever had.The difference between what i buy at Whole Foods and these were like night and day and at $6,were worth it.

Last saturday i picked up a dz xtra lg eggs(brown) from Smith Meadows Farms at Courthouse Farmers Mkt.. They were in a Whole Foods egg carton(w/Smith Meadows sticker over WFM logo) and did’nt look any different from the eggs i buy at WFM. I cooked 2 over easy and also 2 WFM eggs over easy. I did a comparison. They did’nt look any different in size,color and did’nt taste any different either. I paid about $1.50 more then i pay for WFM eggs. My experience w/ the Maryland Farm eggs was amazing. Smith Meadows eggs were totally disappointing. I won’t buy them again.” (see review HERE)

Ouch. Now, as anyone who has shopped at my farmers’ market stand for the past 15 years knows, free-range eggs are my farm’s pride and joy. Each week, customers return with used cartons and we refill them with our eggs, placing our sticker on them as the Health Department requires. I’ve been raising chickens on pasture since I was a young boy, and have spent a lifetime working in synch with the seasons. Being an organic, free-range farmer means I work with what nature provides.

Snowbirds1

Shoveling out our chickens last winter.

Which brings me to an important point: last winter was pretty dang cold. What was that thinga-ma-jigger called again? The super-freezy watchamacallit? Oh, now I remember… the POLAR VORTEX. In case anyone’s forgotten, it was the coldest winter we’ve had in two generations.

Sigh. I wish I could forget it. Like most free-range livestock farmers, I spent my winter shoveling my chickens out of snow drifts, thawing frozen waterlines with a hair dryer, and gathering eggs hourly so they didn’t freeze and burst. And when I couldn’t make it to the coop on my ATV, a half-mile away through deep snow? I walked. The birds had to have feed and water, of course.

egg-cartons

A morning’s worth of cartons at Arlington Courthouse Farmers’ Market.

So by early April, after months of cruel conditions, it turns out Paul C.’s Yelp review was absolutely correct. The yolks weren’t as orange as they had been earlier in the winter, before the pastures were covered for months with snow. He’s also right that we use recycled cartons, because instead of throwing them away, customers bring us stacks (and STACKS, see picture) to market. Finally, he gets the Gold Bonus Star. Our brown eggs look a lot like, well… brown eggs, even the ones sold by Whole Foods. But who knows? Maybe to Paul C., all brown eggs look alike.

The fact is, whether we like it or not, we live in a world where anonymous posters can now blow up their local farmers on Yelp!, casting electronic aspersions with a single keystroke. And after all, why shouldn’t they be able to? If truly warranted, bad service certainly merits a bad review.

But as someone who grows food for a living, I’d like to make a simple request. Before posting a negative review, please…. Take a few deep breaths, reflect, and think about the lasting harm you’re about to inflict.

IMG_2177

Our free-range flock in late September. No snow here!

Especially when it comes to farmers’ markets, consider the season, the recent weather patterns, and the provenance. Talk to your producers at market, and have a conversation about how the food was grown. In Paul’s case, his doubts and concerns could have been easily explained during a three minute conversation. As a free-range chicken farmer, I’m very much in the coop-loop.

After twenty years of farming, one bad Yelp! review won’t crush my operation. Yet, what if we were all a little more thoughtful, a little more diligent, a little more empathetic before pressing that big, fat ‘submit’ button? What if we took time to consider the farmer —or for that matter the hard working chefs, or the frazzled waitress with a sick child in daycare—who’s honestly sorry she forgot you didn’t want ice with your water?

Sure, we all have negative experiences. But instead of being another “Paul C.”, here’s my New Year’s wish to Yelpers everywhere: thoughtfulness, and a little perspective. This year, let’s practice being nicer to one another.

As for my chickens, what do they care about a bad review? They only want a little corn, a green pasture, and a snug, peaceful place to lay an egg. Besides, they stopped reading Yelp! years ago.

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About the author

Forrest Pritchard is a professional farmer and writer, holding degrees in English and Geology from the College of William and Mary. His farm Smith Meadows was one of the first “grass finished” farms in the country, and has sold at leading farmers’ markets in Washington DC for more than fifteen years. His book Gaining Ground, A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food and Saving the Family Farm (Click HERE) was named a Top Read by The Washington Post and NPR. Forrest’s new book The Farmer In Your Kitchen: A Celebration Of Extraordinary Farms And Local Flavors is slated for release in Fall 2015, from the award-winning press The Experiment.

2 Comments

  1. Kent Reeves says:

    Forrest – Too bad the reviewer didn’t contact you first and ask the simple question, ‘why could the eggs be different from my first experience?’ Uniform eggs are the product of ‘factorization’ of production. It is the beauty of diversity and yes, certain factors may influence each week. Do you provide information about your farm and operation? sometimes it is not enough to have folks ask, but to provide the information ahead time about pasture raised eggs. Just a thought. Be well and stay outa the wire…

  2. Paul Nehring says:

    Forrest,
    As someone who often reads reviews before I purchase products, there is something I find to be just as powerful as a negative review, and that is the business’ reply to that review. A caring, reasoned reply, sharing the information as to why there was a difference in the eggs could actually be quite beneficial, and educational not just to the complaining customer, but to others reading that review–how many people understand what is going on with pastured eggs in winter when there is usually no pasture? Probably not many. Of course, it would be wise to offer the customer an opportunity to try your eggs again, by privately connecting with him/her and offer a free dozen.

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