Keep Up on Tight Court Schedule As We Move to Food Rights "Legal Phase"; Why the Customer Isn't Necessarily Wrong
The food rights movement is entering a new phase. We might best think of it as the "legal phase."
All those raids on food clubs and farms (mostly over raw milk distribution) over the last few years--the "crackdown phase", if you will--are now showing up in court cases that need to be resolved. (Not that the crackdown phase is necessarily over.)
All you have to do to appreciate what is going on is take a look at the new legal calendar on display at the new web site of Farm Food Freedom Coalition.
First on deck is Canadian dairy farmer Michael Schmidt, who goes before an Ontario appeals court tomorrow seeking to have his conviction on 13 counts of violating the province's dairy law heard on appeal. There is no automatic appeal in Ontario, so Schmidt's lawyer will be seeking to convince the judges that there is a public interest in hearing the case.
The Bovine has done a nice job of summarizing Schmidt's arguments, plus it has his legal documents available as well.
Next up, in three weeks is Alvin Schlangen's first trial, scheduled for August 15 in Minnesota. Later in the month is Michael Hartmann's trial, also in Minnesota And on it goes.
Some of these dates will change, as cases are delayed, so keep an eye on the calendar. I link to it from the "Links" page listed at the top of the home page, and you can make it a book mark as well.
Because a number of these cases will no doubt be heard by juries, local food rights groups will be organizing "jury nullification" promotion efforts--educating citizens on their right to rule in favor of defendants who may have technically violated unjust laws.
The outcome of these cases will go a long way toward setting precedent about our private right to make our own food choices. It seems like it should be a no-brainer, but in America in 2012, the outcome is definitely in some doubt.
It's also important that supporters of the defendants show up at these cases, and let both the judges and state prosecutors know that there is growing public support for private food rights.
As long as I'm on legal matters, the Farm-to-Consumer Foundation is offering a four-part series of webinars on setting up and maintaining cow shares and herd shares. This is an excellent way for producers of raw milk to establish a legal basis for private distribution.
The customer is always right.
It's one of the oldest sayings in business. I thought of it as I was reading the complaints from several food producers and others bemoaning the seeming obsession of American consumers with convenience and price, following the post about Tracy and Amy last week.
It is an obsession fed by our Internet culture and corporations continually trying to figure out new ways to service customers and, ideally, make money in the process. So if you go into any Whole Foods and ask a stocker where the ketchup is located, the individual won't just motion you to aisle 6, he or she will walk you there. Now, you will likely pay a higher price at Whole Foods for that ketchup than at Price Chopper, but if you value service and convenience, which more people do, you'll pay the price, and feel good about it.
In my years running a business, I came to question the adage that the customer is always right, especially after dealing with some truly unreasonable customers. However, I came to realize as well that such disagreeable people aren't necessarily wrong. Maybe my business didn't offer what they truly wanted. Maybe someone else did.
The larger lesson is that it's not wise to fight what the marketplace wants. The challenge for business owners, including farmers, is to figure out what your target market most desires, and then how you can give it to them.
For example, one big new thing on farms today is "Dinner in the Field". It's not new, of course, but all kinds of farms are doing it. I had to chuckle when I saw in a Boston Globe article today that a local farm stand with a few acres in a Boston suburb, where I've long bought fresh corn and tomatoes in the summer, launched its first such event last month, at $95 a person, and sold out in three days. I went to one in Vermont a few years back. When I wanted to go again last summer, the farm had raised the price 50 per cent, to $85 a person, and required payment in advance. The farm continued to sell out, without my patronage.
The message? I may no longer be part of the target market for that particular item, but clearly there are lots of people out there willing to pay big bucks, weeks in advance, to have a picnic served to them. Congrats to the farms that have figured out the formula and are cashing in.
For Tracy, it might be a matter of focusing mainly on customers willing to travel to her farm. Or encouraging customers to organize into carpools to ease the pain of product pickup. Or requiring that customers pay in advance via credit card when they place orders--to reduce problems with no-shows. Or raising her prices further to compensate for her higher quality over factory food. I'm not sure any of these options would work--my point is that food producers need to be thinking in terms of satisfying the marketplace, while avoiding the boot of the food police, in a profitable way, rather than whining about how the marketplace is screwed up.
The marketplace for good food is booming. The challenge for producers is to capture and serve those who understand the value of what is being provided.