Farming is hard

And sometimes sucks

Whether it sucks more than a “regular job” though is debatable. It depends what kind of abuse you prefer in life.

I’m definitely into “thankless abuse” — like doing selfless good things nobody will ever know about, appreciate or necessarily understand.

Today it was the slaughterhouse, which is ironically one of the better jobs I’ve held in agriculture. Go figure. And one of the farm couples who stayed to watch their foie gras ducks get slaughtered and processed actually said thank you, which was nice but also disorienting.

This weekend, I finally figured out the secret ingredients to sell my tiny organic potatoes. It’s all about the wording, or as French-speaking people in Quebec say, le marketing.

I started first with a sign that was a joke.

“Pre-Poutine — $2”

Lots of laughs, maybe a couple photos, but very few buyers — except for a weird slightly shy/nervous older man… who just so happens to be one of the archetypal “small potato buyer” types. It’s different from the average vegetable consumer, which is nearly always woman or man-woman couple. For some reason, men alone by themselves are willing to buy small potatoes — no matter what you call them.

I tried also calling them nothing, and just writing:


But most people don’t know what a pound really is, which finally is weird “if you think about it.”

My chef friend told me that he can buy literally 50 pounds of local conventional potatoes for I think he said maybe $20. It could have even been less than that. But the quality hasn’t been always to his liking. So of course, I can’t compete on price with conventional growers operating with hectares of fields, versus just a couple of small rows like me.

So what can I compete on?

Le marketing.

Here is the secret formula to sell tiny potatoes in Quebec:

Grelots Bio $1/livre

So a grelot is a small potato. I’m told the “real” size of it is probably like if you made an “o” with your index finger and thumb, a grelot would probably fit inside that.

I even had one woman who said my potatoes were too big to be grelots, which I found funny.

So here is the weird thing. Like when I had the other signs, people would walk by and say things like:

“Des grelots, ca”

Like they’re just identifying what it is. BUT — and here’s the trick — if you WRITE DOWN this thing, suddenly it “really is” that thing. It’s not just them imagining it. Maybe it confirms their imagining.

Suddenly, when I wrote down grelots on my sign, people would start to spontaneously list the known positive cultural virtues of object:grelot.

“C’est un peu sucre.”

It’s a little sweet. Yes, I agreed with them. It helps when you’re in on a conspiracy together. That only you and them know that it’s a little bit sweet and a little bit delicious.

“C’est bon dans un bouilli.”

It’s good in a stew. Which is exactly what we were preparing in the slow cooker back home with one of our chickens.

One old man with a big flat nose asked me what made it “bio” (organic).

I rephrased his statement and asked, “This is the question?” — a common tactic of mine for making sure we’re all talking about the same thing.

But he was already confused by that, and by the time I tried to explain there were no synthetic fertilizers or chemicals, I knew I had lost him.

He asked me if I used manure.

I said, yes, it’s from a natural source.

I don’t know if I got through to him.

He didn’t buy anything.

But other people did, who were already hooked into the cultural game of the grelot. Because the grelot is a “thing” — an existing entity with recognized cultural characteristics and known virtues.

It wasn’t just a joke or a clever statement on a sign that slightly challenged them.

It was something they knew what to do with.

And when people (1) know what to do with something, and (2) they know it to be good, and (3) is the right price, they almost have no choice but to buy. They would practically be foolish not to.

It’s a strange game this, le marketing. Especially when you can experiment so directly, face-to-face and measure immediately in terms of observed purchasing behaviors.

It really is like a science experiment.

I’m convinced, though all of this, that there is pretty much a magic word, a price and product you can display together on nearly any object on a table anywhere in the world, and if you have those three things lined up perfectly — or nearly so — you will initiate “spending behavior” amongst the locals you encounter, no matter the culture.

But I still think it’s a dark art, le marketing. Maybe one you would be better not knowing about. And just stumbling about blindly in your life without seeing the evil secrets at the heart of humanity that show themselves when you open up a folding table and chair and arrange objects for sale on them.

Off to harvest hops, drunk on same. More poultry murder tomorrow — not mine this time. Deliveries at lunch time. Some day I will sleep and it will be marvelous. It will be worth all of the money that I didn’t make and all the naive lies I told in my business plan.