It was the second time Cynthia Sandberg's spidey senses started to tingle, last September at the Ben Lomond Art and Wine Festival. Which, she laughs, is attended by "about twenty people. No one goes to that thing!" In three hours, selling tomatoes at a table there, she made $300. Never in the history of her farmstand, located at Love Apple Farm in Ben Lomond, had she made $300 in an entire day. An entire day with a literal ton of tomatoes for sale at $2.00 per pound, sold on the Honor System. Was someone ripping her off? Perish the thought. At least, that's what Cynthia did for the time being.
She had told me on more than one occasion that she was losing money growing tomatoes, a fact that galled her ex-husband, who hated the tomatoes to begin with. The money Cynthia put into amending and building the soil, which is what puts the flavor into the tomatoes in the first place, and her hired labor, was something like $5/pound. Yet she could only sell them for $2/pound, which was the market rate in the county. How could she charge more than Happy Boy Farms was getting at the farmers market?
But a few weeks after the BLA&W Festival, a friend of Cynthia's dealt her the death blow. Oz, who grows the dahlias at Love Apple Farm, told her that, all summer long, he'd seen people coming and helping themselves to tomatoes and eggs, and never paying a penny for them. They would load up their bags and return to their cars, not even glancing at the scale or the box with the slot in the top where you put your money.
WHAT THE HELL? That did it: no more honor system.
Knowing that Cynthia is going to print this and post it on her now-closed gate at the farm, I get to rant, because I am good and pissed. So will the GOOD people who brought their children to show them how hard work and a lot of love grew such treasures to eat. So will the GOOD people who paid a pittance for the best tomatoes money can buy. That would be the GOOD people who've been her customers for years. All because scum like YOU, Mr. and Mrs. Dirtbag Thieves, robbed a hard-working woman who was already losing money on her tomatoes and eggs.
The farm stand will now be open only three days a week (Monday, Thursday and Saturday from 9am-6pm), and all the would-be thieves will have close supervision. Or maybe they'd enjoy shopping at Whole Foods, who charges $6/pound for heirlooms. Speaking of thieves.
Why did Cynthia work so hard? More than one reason: primarily because she loves tomatoes and wants to spread the gospel of the heirloom. She lives to educate and help people grow perfect tomatoes. She lives to empower others to support diversity in agriculture. Because she's a certified Tomato Kook, as she calls herself.
I wanted to cry when she told me what Oz had said.
A couple of days ago, a food writer contacted me, asking if I could tell her the names of farms I know who have "honor system farm stands." My first instinct was, "No way. So you can tell all the DIRTBAG THIEVES [you know who you are] where to score their 'free' food?" I sat on it for a couple of days, and called Cynthia today. The writer had contacted her as well, and she hadn't at that time the presence of mind to say, "You know, your story should be about the demise of the honor system."
Well, I know a couple of farms who have honor farm stands, but I'm not publishing their names here. I'd hate for all the thieves who beset Cynthia to descend on other good people and RIP THEM OFF, too. (Can you tell I'm hopping mad?)
I wondered aloud to Cynthia if maybe the people who visit Love Apple Farm think she's rich and doesn't need the money. (It is a beautiful old-fashioned country house, and until this spring, had a swimming pool.) "If they think that, I wish they could see me on my knees, in hundred-degree heat with no shade, sweating to death and near tears from back pain, pulling bugs off leaves. Do they really think I work that hard to grow a tomato for them to steal?!"
So. That pretty much covers it. And if you're standing outside Cynthia's closed gate, and reading this instead of carrying home a bag of tomatoes and eggs that you didn't pay for (that is to say, that you stole), as you've done so many times before, I hope you get a flat tire on your empty-handed way home.
I'll write tomorrow about another beautiful farm or two.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: “The number one rule of thieves is that nothing is too small to steal.”
— Jimmy Breslin
Thanks for visiting, and sorry to be so pissy. It'll pass.