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"I want the family farm - the backbone of our country's heritage - to thrive and survive for future generations."

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Time For a Good Laugh

By Jane Eckert

I have just been looking at the responses to my annual, 2014 year end survey and I always enjoy reading the responses to the question, “what was the most outlandish comment you heard from a customer this year?”

All of us in retail know the challenges of working with the public.  Of course, we always want to try to maintain a sympathetic ear and to respond with an appropriate answer that keeps our customers coming back.  But after the fact, and just between us farmers, some of the negative remarks are just plain funny, and some are just oddly absurd and deserve repeating.  After all, who would understand them better than those of us on the front lines.

So here are some of the more amusing comments from 2014.  I’m sure you all could add to this list but here are some of the direct customer statements made in 2014 that farmers listened to with a straight face.
The pumpkin field was running low in late October and a customer asked the farmer – “will you be planting more for next weekend?”

“We bought these apples 6 weeks ago and have kept them in our garage and now they are rotten.  We want our money back.”

“We love your place and would like to come back in February on my birthday.  Will the corn still be green?”

“Do you make maple syrup by putting maple leaves in a blender and squeezing out the sap?”

After 4 inches of rain the day before, a customer went into the pumpkin patch and complained she got her new sneakers all muddy!

“What is your price for a 1 or 2 foot Christmas tree?”

Customers came to the farm in the spring when the cicadas were out and said, “Can’t you do something about all this noise?”

A family complained that there was no water fountain inside the corn maze!

Last summer, a customer was very perturbed that we didn’t grow seedless peaches.

A customer purchased a pre-cut Christmas tree and asked, “how much soil should be put in the bottom of the tree stand?”

One farm wife was called a “crook” because we were charging to entertain their children.

In late fall, a pick your own apple customer told a cashier that one variety of apples was totally gone from the trees and asked when they would restock the trees?

A customer picked up a bunch of lettuce from the display and asked, “Was this lettuce grown this year?”

A farm located 3 ½ miles off an interstate got this remark from a customer, “why do you have to be so far away?”

A customer wanted to know how a nighttime haunted farm could have employees working outdoors in the fields. “Isn’t it too dark for them to see?”

Yes, it’s always interesting and somewhat amusing to see what people will say.  I’m sure that for some of these comments, the customers simply chose the wrong words in asking their question.  But frankly, some of these remarks imply that the general public is so removed from agriculture that they actually don’t know that the strawberries won’t be ripe in the fall. Some city dwellers have no concept of our growing cycles and what is required for us to stay in business.  What Christmas tree grower hasn’t heard “So all you do is plant the tree and watch it grow, right?”    Yes, we may laugh but it’s truly sad.

What can we do about this?

Keep telling your story on Facebook, your blogs, your e-newsletter and your website.  I always enjoy the blog on www.moorelonghornranch.com.  Farmer Nancy Moore is one of our finest at describing daily life on the farm.  For example, here is a short excerpt from a January post:

Nancy writes, “I think it is time I share with the world what snow means to a cowgirl on the ranch. First of all, snow means moisture.  Our first concern is always how much moisture the snow has in it.  A wet snow means lots of moisture and green grass in the spring.  A dry snow with a little Kansas wind behind it means lots of drifts and little moisture being deposited where it is needed to make green grass in the spring.”

“Today’s snow was very wet.  We only got a few inches, but I was sure it was wet and heavy when I tried to open the shop door and this was all the further it would open.  There was enough weight on the roof, the door would not roll up; which meant my trusty scoop shovel and I ascended the ladder to scoop the snow off the roof before we could load the feed for the horses and the calves. Have I ever mentioned that I am not a fan of heights?”

Nancy uses some great photos and a good mix of humor and humility to share her family’s life on the ranch.  Before long, readers know only too well that cattle-ranching requires more than opening the gate to the pasture.  In writing these posts, Nancy is helping people understand not only her lifestyle, but offers an important insight into the world of agriculture. 

If we want our industry to be appreciated, if we want our customers to understand more about where their food comes from and the families that make it all happen, we need to follow Nancy’s example and do a better job of telling our story.  Our customers need to be better informed and we can’t rely on the media to do this without some gentle prodding.  The public is currently receiving a lot of information on the value of fresh fruits and vegetables, so now, let’s take it a step further to tell them how this produce got to their countertop.

I love a good laugh, and I appreciate every opportunity to talk with our farm customers, but let’s meet them halfway with a little story of our own.

Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.