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May 16, 2007 07:48 AM

Carlo Petrini disinvited from Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market

He was to have done a book signing, until they read what he wrote about them....

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  1. Petrini doesn't know what he's talking about.

    Most of those farmers are small businesses even the toniest. To single out a few is unfair. He should have been kicked out for sheer ignorance. I would never buy or read his book since he obviously doesn't research well.

    I just visited June Taylor's business recently. You would think if there is the type of business Petrini is talking about this is it. But NO.

    It is in a little warehouse in the less tony part of Berkeley, near Vik's. Two women ... TWO woman .. June and her assistant ... personally buy the fruit, sort, cut, cook, pack ship or haul to the market 20,000 jars a year ... two women alone.

    I know you talk to Steve Sando on other forums. You could hardly call his operation boutique-y. One guy does it all ... the man grows some of those beans in his backyard.

    Fitzgerald who left ... 2 person operation with three seasonal workers.

    Andante ... another small operation. I've spent over a decade chatting with these vendors at the Saturday morning market. Yeah, they are not the megafarms that supply tasteless products to the supermarkets. So Petrini is critisizing the people he says he promotes because he doesn't like the way they are presented. Shame on him.

    Just a lot of hard working farmers, cheesemakers, jelly makers etc.

    If anyone can give examples otherwise, please do. I'm betting it is no more than a half a dozen.

    13 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      I don't think Petrini denied they were small businesses. They could be "hobby" businesses by well-educated, well off persons, which in fact is consistent with his characterization.

      June Taylor? “June and her assistant ... personally buy the fruit, sort, cut, cook, pack ship or haul to the market 20,000 jars a year“ This is Farming?????

      The only thing that raised my eyebrows was his observation that most of the customers seemed do be actresses. He sees a bunch of Anna Magnanis out there, I guess.

      I thought it bemusing that one of the spokesman chosen to harangue him was a guy that makes a bundle selling perfumed salts.

      1. re: Gary Soup

        June Taylor is a food artisan. She is the epitome of the Slow Food mission, as are the folks at Fatted Calf, Andante Dairy, and Prather Ranch, though none of them are technically "farmers."

        1. re: Gary Soup

          I would like very much to know which farmer Petrini found who is so gouging customers at the market that he can work two days a week and surf the rest. I think he's apocryphal, Petrini's idea of what he saw at the market. If he wants to make sound criticisms based on reality, fine. But offering unattributed quotes like is just inflammatory, a petty reaction to the FPFM somehow not living up to his ideal vision of slow foods. I'm not saying that the market isn't sometimes expensive, or that it is accessible for everyone. But from a guy who hosts dinners that cost $100 to get in the door, the charge of elitism rings a bit hollow.

          >June Taylor? “June and her assistant ... personally buy the fruit, sort, cut, cook, >pack ship or haul to the market 20,000 jars a year“ This is Farming?????

          So anyone who isn't selling unprepared food they have grown themselves cannot be considered part of "Slow Food"? I thought the idea was to support small producers, from the farmers to the cheese makers. If someone is selling olive oil instead of olives they aren't farming either. We'd better oust all of the bakers, too, and replace them with farmers selling unmilled wheat.

          I know you have issues with Eatwell selling salts, though for the life of me I dont' know why. (Disclaimer: I am a longtime Eatwell customer and friend of Nigel's.) The salts are food, and they are made from lavender and rosemary that he grows. Yes, tourists buy them. So do many locals. (And trust me, Nigel is not laughing his way to the bank on sales of seasoned salts.) Honestly, how is this different from selling bread, or pastries, or olive oil, or cheese, or dried fruit, or Terra Vegetables' chile jams, or tofu, or granola, or Benoit's yogurt, or any of the artisinal products that are one or more steps removed from the vegetable or fruit. And if it makes it worth the journey to SF once a week so he can continue selling organic, locally grown produce why is that a bad thing?

          1. re: Pistou

            The "surfer farmer" is Joe Shirmer of Dirty Girl Produce, a pioneer of dry farming, who is extremely committed to sustainability. He grows some of the best tomatoes I have ever tasted, and he works his ass off every day to bring a quality product to the market.

            1. re: Morton the Mousse

              Dirty Girl's prices aren't the highest, at least not at Berkeley.

          2. re: Gary Soup

            Gary, spend one week sweating on an organic farm, and then tell me it is a "hobby." I spent a good chunk of my youth volunteering through the WOOF program, and working on a compost farm. It is hard, back-breaking work, and at the end of the day you are covered in sweat and poop. Nobody on these small farms is making "a bundle," some of them are lucky when they break even. These good farmers deserve to make a living wage for what they do, and they charge prices that are necessary for the farm to remain financially sustainable.

            I know you think it's "hip" to diss organic food, but you should actually spend some time educating yourself about sustainable agriculture in the United States before you make these uninformed, blanket statements.

            1. re: Gary Soup

              Petrini doesn't even address "prepared food" which is a huge problem at many markets. He is pointing his finger at a squash farmer and suggesting he gouges enough from squash sales to go surfing. He has an agenda but doesn't understand his audience or the situation.

              1. re: Earl Grey

                Forgive me if I'm wrong, but where is it written that you can't make a good living doing the right thing? Don't we all want to do well enough to indulge in our hobbies? Because a the market will pay him enough for his product a farmer can actually go surfing? Shame on him!

                1. re: Earl Grey

                  That somehow reminded me how often I've wondered how an outfit like "Sukhi’s Quick-N-Ezee" gets a precious slot at the FPFM.

                2. re: Gary Soup

                  > I thought it bemusing that one of the
                  > spokesman chosen to harangue him
                  > was a guy that makes a bundle
                  > selling perfumed salts.

                  If what he does is makes a bundle, then I'd like to hear what you have to say about the rest of us who make an ok living. Try talking to him sometime about what he makes. It is far, far, far from a bundle. He lives in a bus. He spends every waking minute trying to grow great food for the rest of us.

                  So much of this reeks of classism. The farmers who eat, sleep and breathe vegetables that make us happy and healthy do not deserve to make a decent living. Instead, they should be charging us low prices and barely scraping by so that they don't get accused of charging high prices and catering to the elites.

                  1. re: Fig Newton

                    The real contradiction is that Petrini first criticizes Ferry Building vendors for charging high prices, then later criticizes California organic farmers for not paying their workers enough. He fails to grasp the rudimentary concept that high vendor prices reflect fair wages for farm workers.

                    1. re: Morton the Mousse

                      I've only ever seen one vendor at a Farmer's Market flying the UFWOC banner.

                      1. re: Gary Soup

                        You don't need to join a union to pay your employees a fair wage.

              2. I like how Sam Fromartz described this as a Circular Firing Squad. I don't understand what Petrini has to gain by insulting and alienating one of the largest cores of Slow Food supporters in the United States. Perhaps if his criticisms were based on informed research they would be productive, but most of his statements are ignorant and contradictory. I imagine a few people will be sneaking in vine ripened, organic, heirloom tomatoes when he speaks at the big Slow Food event at Fort Mason next year. This is the Ugly American (err, Ugly Italian) at his worst.

                More on the debate (including a book excerpt):

                73 Replies
                1. re: Morton the Mousse

                  Petrini may have been indulging in a bit of hyperbole (as if we don't?) but in essence he still has a lot more integrity than the whole CUESA bunch of poseurs.

                  1. re: Gary Soup

                    Have you read Petrini's statements? They are not hyperbole. They are,as Rancho Gordo describes them, a combination of disturbing suggestions and flat-out lies.


                  2. re: Morton the Mousse

                    I have to say, I read the full excerpt from Petrini's book and I can't find that much to disagree with. He said a lot of complementary things about the farmers, from what I read. Could have been written more tactfully but then some people are less than tactful. Thats a problem with delivery, not the message. As I understand Petrini's position, the food at the market is great and wonderful but a wider audience is needed and lots of people can't afford the food. I can't disagree with that.

                    IMHO, most people who shop at Farmer's markets in the United States, heck at any organic market, have a nice healthy income and a lot of education. Thats not a fault nor a condemnation but it is the truth. There are an awful lot of people out there who can't afford $3 a pound peaches or even $2 a pound peaches. And they can't afford eggs that cost $4 a dozen, even if they are organic and wonderful. Those people don't go to the markets even though those are the ones who need the education about food and the access to really good stuff. I have never been to the Ferry Market but I've been a regular at the LA Hollywood Sunday market for the life of the operation. With very rare exception, we don't buy produce or eggs anywhere but the farmer's market. We know lots of farmers there and I don't begrudge them a dime of what I pay for our food.

                    But the truth is, the bulk of the people at my market are high end people with duel incomes making six figures, owning two cars and their own homes, who can afford to pay for organic food.

                    Look at where most farmer's markets are located---look at the income level where the most successful markets are located. In LA thats Hollywood, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills. These are not places where the majority of consumers are on food stamps. In fact, when you go to a market that is in a location like that, most of the best organic farmers aren't selling because they can't afford to. I buy goats cheese at my farmer's market. Its organic, made by hand and delicious. My kids love it for sandwiches. It costs me $7 a hit. Were it not for my six figure income, I would not be buying it no matter how good it tastes or how healthy it is. I buy eggs at the market--2 dozen a week. For my eggs I pay $8. But I understand how someone on minimum wage can't afford to pay $8 for 2 dozen eggs when they can go to the 99 cents store and buy 2 dozen for $2.

                    As far as Slow goes, I confess to disappointment. I like the message but the method doesn't work for me. We were members of Slow in the beginning. Practically charter members in fact. When we were members of Slow, I was quite distressed by the high cost of events. There would be lovely tours of farms and the like but they cost $50 a person. I may make a good income now but I remember all too well the days of rice and beans. A person living on minimum wage can't pay $50 to tour a farm. And even if you have scholarships for the tour, how will that person know about the program when all the members are well paid well educated people who don't know too many poor people? where was the outreach? What distressed me was that no one seemed troubled by the cost. It seemed very elitist to me. Eventually, we stopped renewing our membership.

                    Frankly, if Petrini is concerned about the availability of healthy organic food for people in lower income ranges, more power to him.

                    1. re: jenn

                      Jenn, the examples he cites are MADE UP! That's the thing. There are no actresses, there is no 50 acre olive farm, there's no surfer who makes a living off overpriced pumpkins- it's all part of his cliche-ridden perspective. And if you read the whole thing, it smells elite and surreal to him, so he goes and dines at Chez Panisse with his good friend Alice Waters. That's icing on the cake!
                      There are lots of reasonably priced vegetables and regular-joe farmers. You should check it out. There's also a sense of glamor about it that could be off-putting to someone with a preconceived idea of what a farmer should look like or wear.

                      1. re: Earl Grey

                        I agree with that. There are tons of farmers markets accesable to people with limited income ... Alemany, Civic Center, Old Oakland to name a few.

                        There are some more successful than others. For some reason, the Martin Luther King Market in West Oakland has been fizzling. Don't know if it will be back this year. The Bayview Market is touch and go. Richmond has a shameful farmers market, though for some reason that I can' understand, it continues to thrive. IMO, the local mercados are cheaper and better.

                        There are pretty much markets for every socio-economic group. Slamming Ferry Plaza for the reasons slammed showed true ignorance of the local scene.

                      2. re: jenn

                        If you haven't been to the market he's writing about...then how can you weigh in on whether you can disagree? You don't have any information about the specifics of the examples he cites to be able to form an opinion one way or another. Now, extrapolating to your own experiences at other markets makes sense.

                        People who shop at the farmer's markets you shop at my have incomes like that, but the markets I went to in Virginia weren't like that at all. The farmer's markets were far and away less expensive than supermarkets or other local produce markets and the people who went to the farmers markets knew this and knew that it was their opportunity to get produce on a limited budget.

                        We all tend to extrapolate from our experiences to universal truth; it doesn't work.

                        1. re: ccbweb

                          I was unaware that the only topic for discussion was the Ferry Building market. If this is just about the Ferry Market comments, why didn't it get posted on the SF board.

                          I was addressing the issue of whether the greater access to organic food and the like was people with higher incomes. And it still is.

                          1. re: jenn

                            I originally posted it on the SF board, but it got moved. It's not about farmers markets in general, or even about all San Francisco farmers markets.

                            But don't worry, Jenn, Wal-Mart is going to be bringing organics to the unwashed masses, and you'll find a stampede of farmers going organic to meet the demand, just as Chipotle caused a stampede of livestock producers rushing to become "Niman Ranches" (more than 300 franchisees now).

                              1. re: Gary Soup

                                Niman doesn't sell organic meat. It's suppliers aren't franchisees.


                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  I didn't say they sold organic meat. NR has a certain cachet, and when Chipotle decided to use that cachet as a marketing ploy, a demand was suddenly created for a lot more "Niman Ranches" (there are more than 300 now) and there was a rush to sign up for the Niman Ranch Sticker.

                                  NR is a franchiser, in my book. Participants agree to follow certain protocols and pay a fee (and royalties?) for the privilege of being called "Niman Ranches." The original Niman Ranch operation claims to monitor their operations on a regular basis, but I doubt that they attempt to cover all 300+ farms.

                                  1. re: Gary Soup

                                    FWIW, The Niman Ranch "umbrella" allows many small farmers to continue to farm and provide their families and communities with fresh, local goods. I realize the NR meat is sold nationally, but the farms themselves are very local.

                                    1. re: ChefJune

                                      I don't dispute that. It's just that the use of the same label deceptively implies that there is a uniformity, even though that's impossible given the variance of soils and climates.

                                      1. re: Gary Soup

                                        Their website is pretty transparent "the Niman Ranch family has grown to include over 500 independent American family farmers"

                                        I'm baffled as to why anyone would be so hostile towards an improvement in nationwide animal welfare standards.

                                        1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                          I dislike designer label foods in principle. They pose an unfair obstacle to quality small farmers who do not care to turn over their products to someone else, or simply have no name recognition.

                                          Are you implying that the producers who enter into the Niman Ranch agreements are solely motivated by the extra 5 cents per pound, or whatever, it will yield? Are they farmers who would be abusing their animals had they not signed a piece of paper?

                                          1. re: Gary Soup

                                            Most ranchers can't sell direct to consumers. Niman provides a more humane, pro-family-farm, pro-consumer alternative to the mainsteam meat-packing industry.

                                            Presumably there are lots of factors involved in the business decision to become a supplier for Niman, but I suspect "right livelihood" and the desire to produce a better product are usually more important than profit.


                                            1. re: Gary Soup

                                              Quality small ranchers do not have many options to sell their product due to USDA regulations on the slaughter and sale of red meat. Spend some time talking to a small rancher (as I have), and they will tell you that the biggest challenge they face is finding a reliable source for slaughtering and butchering their animals.

                                              Some ranchers get around the USDA regulations by selling quarter animals, but the market for this is very limited. Others work with slaughterhouses of questionable integrity, though this can lead to high expenses, unreliable supply, and poorly butchered and poorly aged meat. Very few have the facilities to slaughter and butcher in-house. Niman Ranch provides small ranchers with the capital and infrastructure necessary to bring their product to the market. It is a mutually beneficial relationship, designed to overcome the obstacles put in place by the USDA. Without Niman Ranch, many of these ranchers would have to close shop, and a larger proportion of meat on the market would come from abused and drugged up animals.

                                              1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                Thanks for bringing up some very valid points. Few people understand just how challenging it is to create a viable market for yourself as a recognizably branded cattle rancher (or simply a rancher capable of selling the meat he produces). Clearly, the task of raising the animals is the known part of the equation. The ability (& time) to market and distribute all the meat produced, however, determines the success of the program. Signing up with an operation like NR alleviates this obligation and allows the rancher to put his/her time and resources where they should.

                                                Consider that the typical carcass weight of grass-fed cattle is 700 lbs. 75% of that consists of cuts that are a tough sell without the proper channel of distribution (round, chuck, trim/grind). Now consider a small program that cuts 25 head cattle a week. Those tough sell cuts amount to about 12,500 lbs. It's not hard to sell the the remaining 25% (tenderloin, strip, ribeye, etc), but moving 12,500 lbs. of chuck, grind and trim is a bitch. Joining a program such as NR can truly help alleviate this problem. The ranchers sell the whole animal and NR deals with the sales effort, which they already have in place. Other ranchers who've a direct relationship with, say Chipotle are also a lot better off. They can move this 75% there and sell the remaining 25% to high-end restaurants or retailers.

                                                I'm not posting this on behalf of NR, but I certainly wouldn't knock what they do. I don't often buy their meat because we've got a lot of great quality product raised in the NW. I have worked with a local program here though that I truly believe in. I have a much more profound appreciation for how difficult the whole operation is.

                                              2. re: Gary Soup

                                                <Are they farmers who would be abusing their animals had they not signed a piece of paper?> ?????????? What are you talking about?

                                                Many of these farmers would not be able to afford to stay on their land if not for their affiliation with Niman Ranch. I've never heard of nor met a small farmer who used the horrendous feedlot methods of agribusiness. Just another reason why their meat costs so much more than that apcray sold in supermarkets and superstores around the country.

                                        2. re: Gary Soup

                                          There are no "niman ranches" and there is no franchise. Production *is* closely monitored. It is a cooperative that shares standards, a label, and sales in the same way that many agriculture groups opperate.

                                          1. re: Gary Soup

                                            The relationship between Niman Ranch and its suppliers is similar to that between Trader Joe's and its suppliers. Suppliers are contractually required to follow Niman's protocols and are inspected regularly. In return, Niman pays a premium for the animals. The suppliers are not entitled to use Niman's trademark.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              I stand corrected on that, but that raises another issue about the farms being "local" mentioned by another poster. How many processing facilities does Niman have outside California? How does the meat from a hog raised in North Carolina, say, get to a consumer in North Carolina?

                                              1. re: Gary Soup

                                                I believe most of Niman's hogs come from Iowa (home of their first pork supplier, Paul Willis) and other midwestern states, and they have a contract with a slaughterhouse there. They require the ranchers to accompany their animals to the slaughterhouse, so it's not practical for them to be too far away.

                                                Random factoid, Paul Willis was in the Peace Corps with the sister of Cafe Rouge chef Marsha McBride, who put him in touch with Bill Niman.


                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  At one time I was able to find a list of Niman Ranch suppliers but can't find it now. I know the hogs come from farms spread around 12 states, and as much as 10 percent of NR pork comes from North Carolina alone. Unless you live in Iowa, how fresh is the Niman Ranch pork you buy going to be? I think NR makes a mockery of "local."


                                                  1. re: Gary Soup

                                                    Niman Ranch makes no claim to be local.

                                                    What they do say is, "All of us at Niman Ranch are committed to fulfilling the vision upon which the company was founded--to bring the finest tasting meat possible to customers while practicing the highest standards of animal husbandry and environmental stewardship."

                                                    The Berkshire pork I buy from Fatted Calf is better than Niman's, but Niman's has way better flavor than conventional supermarket pork.

                                                    From 2005:

                                                    "At the same time that Niman was selling his pork quicker than Willis could produce it, family farms that produced meat traditionally were struggling. Niman Ranch began recruiting these family farmers to raise meat to be sold under the Niman Ranch name, with the same standards of natural farming and humane treatment. There are now over 500 family farms around the country raising meat for Niman Ranch, and these farmers own almost half of the company.

                                                    "'With our practices, you can be an entry-level farmer,' Niman says. 'You don't need nearly as much capital, because you don't have to build a factory.' It is with this in mind that he hopes the tide will slowly turn in the direction of more natural farming. He is not as concerned with whether this change takes place under the Niman name. 'If we get crushed by a bunch of small entrepreneurs who can do it cheaper or better than us, I'll feel like I've done my job just getting the ball rolling. I'll be happy.'

                                                    "North Carolina now produces just under 10 percent of Niman Ranch pork on about 30 farms. These are farms that before becoming a part of Niman Ranch were selling at regular meat markets, competing with factory farms like Smithfield. 'Many of these farms were selling to conventional markets and got no premiums for the fact that their pork was top quality,' Niman says. 'They weren't being compensated for the lower impact on the environment, or what the animals were eating. We are simply providing the opportunity for these producers to get to the markets that appreciate them, and to get them the premiums they deserve.'"


                                        3. re: Gary Soup

                                          YARGHHHHHH. why did you have to remind me of WalMart first thing in the morning? now my whole day is wrecked.

                                          Understand what you are saying about NR---remember the first time I saw their stuff at Trader Joes and thought "how the heck can they have enough animals to supply Trader Joes?" Then I heard about all the affiliate NRs. I'd rather buy NR stuff than regular meat but I have to say, at times I wonder what the controls are and whether its really much better than the "other stuff."

                                          Normally, we try to buy meat from a guy at our farmer's market who has limited quantities and when he's out, he's out.


                                          1. re: Gary Soup

                                            Walmart Global Procurement is growing faster than you can imagine! Petrini may get his wish after all (cheap), but I don't think he envisioned this!

                                          2. re: jenn

                                            It got moved to this board because the original post is a link to a newspaper item, which is about a contoversy over a book, rather than about good things to eat in San Francisco.

                                          3. re: ccbweb

                                            It may not be a universal truth, but here in Bloomington, IN, the prices at our Farmers' Market are much higher than at local supermarkets. I assume that would be the case for any local, organic product.

                                          4. re: jenn

                                            "There are an awful lot of people out there who can't afford ..."

                                            I couldn't disagree more.

                                            Americans on average have more disposable income than Italians. Most people could find room in their budgets for high-quality produce if they cared more about what they eat. They'd just rather buy cheap factory-farmed crap.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              I think you are 100% right.

                                              And I'll just finally add, WIC coupons and state welfare food stampsare accepted there.

                                              1. re: Earl Grey

                                                Yeah, families on welfare are going to buy a LOT of $3 peaches to feed their kids....

                                                1. re: Gary Soup

                                                  Gary, not all the peaches are $3.

                                                  Here are the stats for WIC payments to farmers from the USDA site:

                                                  "8. How many farmers and farmers' markets participate in the FMNP?

                                                  During fiscal year 2005, 14,323 farmers, 2,715 farmers' markets and 1,999 roadside stands were authorized to accept FMNP coupons. Coupons redeemed through the FMNP resulted in over $23.4 million in revenue to farmers for fiscal year 2005.

                                                  FY2005 FMNP profile showing grant levels and participation by State agency.

                                                  During fiscal year 2004, 14,050 farmers, 2,548 farmers' markets and 1,583 roadside stands were authorized to accept FMNP coupons. Coupons redeemed through the FMNP resulted in over $26.9 million in revenue to farmers for fiscal year 2004. "

                                                  It's one of WIC's big successes. Unfortunately, it's in danger.

                                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                    FPFM is presumably one the 2,715 farmers' market plus 1,999 roadside stands, 99.9 percent of which are probably more affordable than the one this thread is about. The statistic has no meaning since we don't know how many, if any, of the coupons were redeemed there.

                                                    I never said I was opposed to farmers' markets; I'm all for them, in fact as long as they provide the role of providing more choice at lower prices than conventional brick and mortar markets, which the FPFM doesn't pretend to do.

                                                    To suggest that Carlo Petroni represents a threat to the WIC program is ridiculous.

                                                    1. re: Gary Soup

                                                      Ferry Plaza is more affordable than Petrini's imaginary market.

                                                      1. re: Gary Soup

                                                        "I'm all for them, in fact as long as they provide the role of providing more choice at lower prices than conventional brick and mortar markets"

                                                        Everyone is entitled to their preferences but price alone is only one reason to shop there. If I didn't care about organic, if I didn't care about local, and if I didn't care about carbon emissions, I would still shop there as a 'hound. The produce, the milk, the eggs, and the meat just *taste* better.

                                                        1. re: JudiAU

                                                          I don't really care much about organic or local. I buy the best-tasting food I can find. For most things, that means the Berkeley or Ferry Plaza farmers market.

                                                          There are exceptions. I have not been impressed by Highland Hills Farm's lamb; the cheap lamb I buy from the halal butcher tastes better.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            Ted's lamb is excellent when you can get it fresh, and unimpressive when it's been frozen. It would be better if he aged it for a week.

                                                        2. re: Gary Soup

                                                          >>> To suggest that Carlo Petroni represents a threat to the WIC program is ridiculous.<<<

                                                          As is critisizing Ferry Plaza for what it is ... hey, the rich gotta eat too ... leave the poor rich alone.

                                                          1. re: Gary Soup

                                                            Sorry, didn't anticipate that you'd leap to that conclusion. I was making a general comment about WIC and food stamp farmers market programs facing challenges.

                                                      2. re: Earl Grey

                                                        I'm all for shopping at farmers's markets and I find Petrini's statements ridiculous, but you're completely out of touch with the poverty in this country if you think that people don't shop at farmers' markets just because they like produced crap better, and if you think that just because WIC coupons and food stamps are accepted it makes it easy or possible for poor people to get fresh produce. Read this article about some members of Congress trying to survive on the food stamp budget ($21 a week): Poor people can't shop at farmers markets because they can't afford fresh produce from there or anywhere else. It doesn't matter whether the peaches are $3 each or $1 each, those funds would be a lot better spent on the canned peaches for $.39 each, if they get fruit at all. I go to the farmers market every weekend, and I'm happy to spend higher prices there for food that tastes good and is organically and sustainably raised, with fair prices for the workers, but I don't have a family to feed with $21 per person a week. The scorn for poor people and their food choices is misplaced.

                                                        1. re: JasmineG

                                                          Concurr fully as to the ability to buy fresh produce on food stamps and where one puts one's food dollars.

                                                          I applied for food stamps once, way back in grad school. I was floored by the lack of education that came with participation in the program. No information was provided on using fresh ingrediants, cost effective shopping etc---just coupons tossed at you. I used to shop in a grocery store that had LOTS of food stamp clients. I was frustrated by their purchases [lots of processed stuff, lots of junk] but I realized that the problem was lack of knowledge as to how to prepare raw ingrediants and lack of exposure--not that they preferred fritos and "junk food."

                                                          Add to that fact, transportation and accessibility to markets. I'm sure for lots of people its easier to get to the local ralphs which is close to the bus stop than it is to get to a farmer's market that may require a hike with a bag of food. There was a market in Westwood for years but it lost its space due to construction. They moved it to the VA grounds. Nice enough but its a complete schlep from any bus stop. So people who could shop at the farmer's market and buy fresh stuff on their way home can no longer get there as easily.

                                                          Perhaps better than farmer's markets with organic produce would be neighborhood gardens where the people could grow their own stuff.

                                                          1. re: jenn

                                                            great points jenn. As a struggling grad student myself, I don't shop at farmers markets too much these days and have made friends with Grocery Outlet. lol.

                                                            Just a couple of questions though. I totally agree that the govt doesn't educate on using fresh ingredients, cost effective shopping. However, should the govt be telling consumers how to shop and eat? Also, would taxpayers want to foot the bill to give nutritional advice to ignorant consumers who could otherwise educate themselves at the local (free) library? I have no strong opinion one way or the other, just playing devil's advocate.

                                                            Also, I agree that growing your own can be a good option. But what about apt dwellers in the concrete jungle?

                                                            1. re: choctastic

                                                              Actually a big part of the WIC program is nutritional education.

                                                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                I stand corrected. Instead of looking at the site, I was relying on what i've seen in the baskets of food stamp users. In fact for a while I thought you could only get packaged food using food stamps because that's all people got.

                                                                1. re: choctastic

                                                                  WIC has distinct goals from traditional food stamp programs and has a stronger educational focus.

                                                                  1. re: JudiAU

                                                                    Right but Melanie's post encouraged me to look at the food stamp site which also mentioned in a pdf the amount of money they are putting into nutritional education. For CA, it was $112 million.


                                                                2. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                  In addition to WIC education, don't forget the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program (for any recipients of food stamps), as well as the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (specifically for low-income families with young children). These programs are designed to teach low-income individuals and families how to shop effectively, plus how to store and prepare food healthfully and safely.

                                                                  1. re: 4Snisl

                                                                    Glad to know there's some food and nutrition education in place. However if it's run in a typical fed gov sort of way..and under an admin that hasn't shown much support of this sort of stuff (to put it diplomatically) I'd wonder about its effectiveness.

                                                                      1. re: ML8000

                                                                        The success of corporate food chains in America speaks of it's ineffectiveness.

                                                              2. re: JasmineG

                                                                Poor people often can't afford much fresh produce unless they grow it themselves, that's true.

                                                                Nevertheless, around 80% of Americans could easily afford to eat better than they do. For them, eating flavorless industrial crap is a lifestyle choice.

                                                                1. re: JasmineG

                                                                  I see people using food stamps at the farmers' market every week. I think it's unfair to make generalizations about the priorities of all poor people.

                                                                  The fact is, the primary health problems facing impoverished Americans today are diseases associated with eating too much of the wrong foods: hypertension, diabetes and obesity. We need more programs designed to bring fresh fruits and vegetables into the homes of the needy.

                                                                  Here's an article on a program in Berkeley where people buy produce from farmers at discount, wholesale prices, and sell it to needy families at cost:


                                                                  If you think a $3 peach is expensive, try paying for a month's supply of lipitor and insulin.

                                                                  1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                    I'm not making generalizations about anything. I think it's ridiculous that many on this thread have been saying that it's a choice for poor people not to shop at farmers markets and buy fresh produce, when the truth is that they simply cannot afford to do so. Sure, we need many more programs to bring fresh fruits and produce into the homes of the needy, but those programs don't exist. Until they get more than $21 a week to buy food, I think people should stop saying that it's a choice of poor people to eat food that's bad for them, and recognize that not everyone is privileged enough to eat fresh vegetables. It's not about preferences, it's about being able to feed their families for a week, get themselves to work, and keep a roof over their heads, and rainbow chard for $1.50 a bunch just doesn't fit into the equation.

                                                                    1. re: JasmineG

                                                                      I didn't say buying good produce instead of supermarket crap was a choice for poor people.

                                                                      I said it was a choice for most Americans, and that's true.

                                                                      1. re: JasmineG

                                                                        You know, part of what you are saying is true and part isn't.

                                                                        I live in an extremely poor neighborhood that is mainly Latino with some people from Thailand. The corner mercados that are accessible to locals by bus are good sources of inexpensive produce with the quality equaling or exceeding what is available at the local markets ... and Raley's is expensive. If you are poor you are shopping at Foodmax (good veggies) or Grocery Outlet (lousy fresh veggies, but good canned fruit, juice and vegebles at amazing prices ... and lots of it organic)

                                                                        The local farmers market which has the sorriest group of farmers in the area, is well-patronized. IMO, part of the reason is that Mexican and Thai cultures have a tradiiton of eating fruit and veggies. Vendors stroll up and down my street selling oranges, boxes of strawberies and fresh fruit cups like mangoes, papayas and pineapple.

                                                                        Chinese people have thier Chinatowns and megamarkets where produce is cheap and accessable.

                                                                        On the other hand, West Oakland and BayView in SF are African American communities. There is one lousy supermarket in West Oakland and the rest of the area filled with convenience/liquor stores.

                                                                        The Martin Luther King Farmers market in West Oakland, one of the prettiest pocket markets in the area that is at the foot of the Bart station struggles to survive. I haven't been to BayView but it is another struggling market. There are roving produce trucks in West Oakland. None of these programs is currenly a success .

                                                                        You can lead a shopper to produce but you can't make them eat.

                                                                        So assuming that because a person doesn't have money or is on food stamps does not exclude a diet rich in produce. Certainly the Lationo, Thai and Chinese people are not paying $1.50 a bunch for chard.

                                                                        Part of it is cultural, part of it is availability and part of it is educlation.

                                                                        Ferry Plaza is not in a poor section of town and never has been. There are markets like Alemany and Civic Center where the poorer people have equal access to great ... and sometimes better ... produce than at Ferry Plaza for rock bottom prices.

                                                                        That is a major reason I think it is unfair to spit at Ferry Plaza. It serves the community where it is located.

                                                                        1. re: rworange

                                                                          I wouldn't spit at the Ferry Building, and I've never claimed that no poor people eat fresh produce. My point is that there are a lot of people (both on this board and elsewhere) who seem to have a lot of scorn for people who don't shop at farmers markets and don't search out the best produce. As you said, if you live in one of the predominantly black areas of the Bay Area (and a lot of other places), fresh produce simply is not available, and it's not about it being a lifestyle choice or not, it's about availablility.

                                                                          I also think that it's very easy for people in the Bay Area to look down upon others in America who don't eat the way that we do, and say that they're just choosing to eat like that. Sure, maybe sometimes it's because they really like tater tots better (bad example, I love tater tots), but it's also because they don't know the difference. I know the difference between the $10 a pound Fatted Calf bacon and the $2 a pound generic bacon, and I make the choice to buy it, but I'm not going to look down on someone who doesn't even know that the choice is there, and accuse them of not making it. I buy the $3 a pound nectarines instead of the .39 cent canned peaches, but there are a lot of people who don't know about that option. And I don't have a family to support, so I can get fresh produce and come home and spend an hour cooking for myself, but if I had four kids and a job where I worked all day, it would be a lot harder to do that.

                                                                          1. re: JasmineG

                                                                            I don't see that anyone made the argument you're countering.

                                                                            I'm disgusted by the millions of Americans who *can* afford and *do* have access to good food but choose instead to eat soulless factory-made crap.

                                                                        2. re: JasmineG

                                                                          I don't understand this at all. Fresh produce is CHEAP. You don't have to have rainbow chard. You don't have to pay $4 each for organic baby artichoke at Whole Foods. Poor people can go to a regular grocery store and buy what's in season and eat like kings for practicaly nothing. And if you go to a roadside stand in summer, it's positively embarrassing how cheap stuff is.

                                                                          1. re: danna

                                                                            Fresh, organic produce in the US is not cheap.

                                                                            1. re: honkman

                                                                              conventional = cheap
                                                                              organic = is breaking me

                                                                              althought maybe not ideal, conventionally grown fruits and veggies are a lot healthier than the "middle-aisles" alternative.

                                                                            2. re: danna

                                                                              and that presumes if you're poor you have ready and easy access to roadside stands.

                                                                              1. re: winedubar

                                                                                There is a myth that poor equals "inner city". In fact, there are far more people classed as poor in rural areas than in cities.

                                                                                1. re: JudiAU

                                                                                  A higher percentage of people who live in rural areas are poor (and they are less likely to receive welfare than their urban counterparts), but most poor people live in urban areas.

                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                    RL, according to the US Census Bureau:


                                                                                    Poverty numbers (for 2005) are highest in urban areas as you mention. Proportions are also apparently higher in urban areas: 12% in metropolitan areas (30 million people); 17% in principle cities (16 million); 9% outside of principle cities (14 million); and 15% outside metropolitan areas (7 million).

                                                                                2. re: winedubar

                                                                                  many people extrapolate from their own experience or what they think they see around them, or what they do, indeed, see around them to everywhere else.

                                                                                  American is an enormous country. What is available and inexpensive in one area is not necessarily either in another area. Rural areas and cities are different but so are different rural areas and different cities.

                                                                                  We don't, generally speaking, as a country do a good job of recognizing that opportunities are very different in many places. Good produce is plentiful and inexpensive in some parts of the country where farms are abundant. In other places, its simply not available at all. We need to figure out how to educate people about food and make that food available at the same time.

                                                                                3. re: danna

                                                                                  " Poor people can go to a regular grocery store and buy what's in season and eat like kings for practicaly nothing"

                                                                                  Not in neighborhoods such as West Oakland where there *is* no grocery store, particularly if they don't have a car or can't afford gas. The poor people in West Oakland certainly can't go to a roadside stand (they don't exist there!).

                                                                        3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                          You're absolutely right, Robert. I live on a graduate student salary and refuse to by bad produce. My fellow students make fun of me for where I shop for produce, like I'm some kind of snob, but then they go blow their money on cheap boos and complain about being "poor" students. If it's a priority, most (not all) people can afford good produce. (Maybe it's different for families, though. I'm single, which helps a LOT.)

                                                                          Last time I was at this market (a few years ago), I saw a few things that seemed quite overpriced, but the majority of products were reasonably priced, but much higher quality. Plus, when you talk to the vendors there, it's obvious they actually care about providing good products, which is a feeling I almost never get at, say, Safeway.

                                                                          1. re: don giovanni

                                                                            You're right -- poor families have it harder. Families with children have to fit health care (regular checkups cost money even with most health plans,) ridiculously high gasoline and other fuel prices and higher rent into their budgets, and super high priced organic produce gets a lower priority.

                                                                            1. re: Nancy Berry

                                                                              The question for me is always how is it possible for poor European families to have enough money for reasonable food. As a German I can tell you that the health care is not much cheaper than in the US, if you are complaining about high gas prices in the US you should come to Germany and you will never again complain and rents are also not lower than in the US. But still those poorer families are still willing to spend a higher percentage of their money on food than in the US (there was recently a statistic in a newspaper that people in the US spend by far the lowest percentage of their salaray on food in any Western country.) I think the main problem is the missing education on the importance of food which is missing in the US. Here in the US the majority of people see food as a necessity so survive but not as a pleasure. There are enough examples in Europe that families with very low income can live on good, health food.

                                                                              1. re: honkman

                                                                                What on earth are you talking about, re: healthcare in Germany? Government-funded healthcare is excellent. I suppose if you demand a private physician you pay through the nose, but poor people (and the middle class) can get their medical needs attended to. Gas is expensive, rent is high, but food prices are as well. I think there's a mythology that poor people in Europe eat better than poor people in the U.S. Unless they're able to grow their own, I don't buy it. I've shopped for groceries in Kiel, Munchen, and Freiburg-im-Breisgau, over a period spanning 30 years. About the only deal I can recall is the lovely chanterelle mushrooms.

                                                                                1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                  It is not a myth that poor people in Europe eat better than poor people in the US. There was also a nice article my Michael Pollan in the NYT where he wrote: "Not everyone can afford to eat well in America, which is shameful, but most of us can: Americans spend, on average, less than 10 percent of their income on food, down from 24 percent in 1947, and less than the citizens of any other nation." And i don't know when you were the last time in germany but government-funded healthcare doesn't really exists anymore for quite some years. The system is better than the one in the US but has changed to the worse over the last 10 years.

                                                                                  1. re: honkman

                                                                                    Pollan's statistic illustrates the availability of cheap food here in the U.S., compared to food prices in other countries. It does NOT say what Americans are spending their food dollars on (although I suspect that that info would be distressing). I don't believe that the typical American diet is extremely healthy, but I'm tired of us getting slammed and held up as a bad example. The average Italian or Frenchman eats a bread product made from refined white flour for breakfast. The average German eat highly-processed, nitrate-and fat-laden pork product and cheese for the same meal. Our favored fast food break is a burger, in Germany it's a brat. I could go on... I've heard complaints recently about the German healthcare system (and the British), but didn't realize it was in complete dissaray.

                                                                    2. I think part of the quotes are hyperbole yet there's some truth to what Petrini is saying.

                                                                      For one, people involved in slow food in the U.S. and the ones who show up at the FB FM do tend to be over-educated types because they've grasped what's at stake. Yet even as they're fighting the good fight, there's the air of the "gentleman farmer" thing coated in hippie and self-righteousness and high end retail. Anyone with a little sense can see this.

                                                                      As for boutique-y and high prices, he's right. There's a trendiness to the FB and the FBFM. For a serious type from a country with a tradition of food and where little markets are no big deal -- the FM/FBFM must seem off the dial and out of proportion. Think about it: $4 per/lb for peaches or tomatoes and a nice big ornate building to sell fruits and veggies? I seriously doubt that's in the mission of slow food and he's has a point about it not being accessible to those it should be serving, the average.

                                                                      I can't blame anyone for selling their product at market rate (I've bought some but not a lot), fighting the good fight and I know I'll benefit yet the over-reaction/response certainly seem typical of insular eggheads, a parody of that nutty, insular space called the leading edge in the U.S. Oh well whatever...

                                                                      7 Replies
                                                                      1. re: ML8000

                                                                        Part of the problem is his market tour was led by Alice Waters. Right there, you know you're in trouble if you're looking for value and "just folks" good times.

                                                                        And if these "types" are so prevelant or even exist at all, why did he make them up? The people he described, both farmers and customers, don't exist.

                                                                        1. re: Earl Grey

                                                                          Seriously ... how bad-looking are the people at the markets he shops at? I mean San Franciscans are a fine looking lot, but when I lived in SOCAL ... well, that's where the really pretty people are.

                                                                          To ML8000, maybe the market flash overwhelms currently, but there are lots of real folks at Ferry Plaza that are hardly the loud flashy type that catch attention. There was a homeless guy who shopped there weekly, toting a wok. That has to be the ultimate chowhound. And the guy never asked for a handout. There are retired people and people from all classes at that market. And we can see some of the trickle down of places like Ferry Plaza and the efforts of people like Alice Walter ... hate em or love em ... in our daily lives with big companies offering more and more organic products. It is easy to stereo-type based on pre-conceived preduces ... and that is what happened here ... the idea that California is the Cafe Gratitude norm. "I am organic"

                                                                        2. re: ML8000

                                                                          Peaches are a luxury item.
                                                                          "You can find bunches of spring onions for 39 cents, juicy oranges for 99 cents a pound and lettuce mix for less than five dollars a pound, all comparable to an average grocery store."
                                                                          -From the Rancho Gordo blog.

                                                                          1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                            I'm with you there. Last summer, Raley's was selling crappy, hard supermarket peaches for $3 and over a pound ... not even organic. And when you look at some of thier organic stuff it is on-par price-wise with Ferry Plaza ... not picking on Raleys in particular, it just happens to be the place I shop most often.

                                                                            Sciabiaccas sells perfect black mission figs for $2 a basket during the summer ... the best deal at Ferry Plaza or anywhere. If you look and pay attention there are lots of great bargains at Ferry Plaza. Isn't Happy Boy's bags of fresh lettuce mixed with flowers less expensive than the slimy bagged stuff in the supermarket?

                                                                            1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                              I shop almost weekly at the Concord Farmers Market, where pretty good peaches are available for $1 a pound in summer, but I will still GLADLY pay $4 a pound for Frog Hollow Farm's incredible peaches. Just like foie gras costs more than chicken livers, sometimes it's worth paying more for the best.

                                                                            2. re: ML8000

                                                                              I've met a lot of farmers at the Ferry Plaza and Berkeley markets, and I haven't gotten any sort of "gentleman farmer" or self-righteous vibe from any of them. Pretty much the opposite.

                                                                            3. Does anyone have Petrini's pertinent comments in his original Italian?

                                                                              1. There are plenty of opportunities to get ripped off a the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market as there are plenty of bargains for quality products. The other day a store inside the building itself was selling trumpet mushrooms at crude oil market price. A "farmer" outside was selling the exact same mushrooms for 30% less. Heirloom tomato season is coming up and I already dread the sticker shock.
                                                                                I am sure Petrini was quite "surprised" the first time he visited the market. He's familiar with markets in Europe where you buy the same produce for half the price and twice the quantity (kilo vs. pounds) as well as unpretentious farmers who haven't fallen for the "mother Nature sent me on a mission so let me charge you more" marketing spin.
                                                                                I am glad his comments are provoking such a reaction. Time to re-think that spin.

                                                                                5 Replies
                                                                                1. re: ngardet

                                                                                  My memory of Italian markets was not that the vegetables were half the price. By a long shot. The were on par in price with the grocery stores. And the vendors were often not the farmers.

                                                                                  1. re: ngardet

                                                                                    So, who exactly are these pretentious farmers who are charging too much and making a fortune? Do you know the details of their personal finances, or are you just assuming that high prices mean high profits? Personally, I've never met a rich farmer.

                                                                                    1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                                      Personally, I've never met a poor farmer.
                                                                                      I don't need to look at their balance sheet to figure out that 6$/pound for heirloom tomatoes or 4$/pound for fava beans is a total rip off. The same produce in Europe is half the price. And going to the market in Europe is not a tourist attraction that gets reviewed by food critics. It's just everyday life.
                                                                                      So the prices added to this city's cult of the sensational for people and things rather ordinary elsewhere explain Petrini's reaction.

                                                                                      1. re: ngardet

                                                                                        Prices aren't that different here. In season, heirloom tomatoes are $3 a pound or less, and favas under $1 a pound. I've usually found that market prices in Paris are higher than in SF.

                                                                                        The farmers I buy from may not be exactly poor, but I'm pretty sure they work harder than I do for less money.

                                                                                        1. re: ngardet

                                                                                          Sure, most farmers are working class.

                                                                                          Low prices at European farmers' market reflect a completely different economy. In Europe, many small farmers receive socialized benefits (low cost health insurance, for example). In the US, the government places costly barriers in front of organic farming (such as a lengthy certification process), and small farmers are eligible for few government handouts (the vast majority of Farm Bill aid goes to agribusiness.)

                                                                                          European policy is generally more supportive of small farmers than US policy. Consequently, farmers' market prices in the US are higher than those in Europe. If there was a way to sell the same quality produce at a lower price, more farmers would do so. Nobody would pay $6/pound for cherries if you could get the same cherries for $2/pound, but you can't. Go figure.

                                                                                          Seriously, go work in the dirt for a week, then tell me it's a rip off.