The National Chefs Collaborative Summit took place in Seattle this week, and I’ve enjoyed many thought provoking tidbits posted on Twitter by participants. On Monday during Ruth Reichl’s keynote address, New York Times writer Kim Severson broadcast a statistic that certainly got my attention, and was re-tweeted by 25 others:
I did some very quick and unscientific fact-checking which was inconclusive about how many Americans have in fact visited a farm. The 2% number is frequently sited as the percentage of Americans who live on a farm. But I’m not going to get hung up on the validity of that number; that’s not what motivated me to write today.
My first (and online) reaction to this small percentage of American farm visitors was this: it’s definitely not for lack of interest. We field farm tour requests on a daily basis. And when our city customers come to the town of Vashon and visit our butcher shop and restaurant, they frequently remark –usually with a detectable note a disappointment– that they were expecting the enterprise to be located within our actual farm.
The fact is we offer tours on a very limited basis; about four times a year, and this schedule falls woefully short of the demand. If we could fling open the gates to every request, we’d be doing so every weekend, to dozens of farm-curious folk. And it’s this very non-existent openness that our customers expect. Isn’t that what healthy, small-scale farming is supposed to be about: transparency? But it’s more complicated than that. As I explain to many, we have electric fencing. We have a bull. Neither should be experienced on a self-guided “tour” of the farm. Which means farm visits require a docent of sorts, and therefore one of our already-stretched-thin employees must stop milking the cows, feeding the pigs, moving the chicken tractors, etc. to serve as farm guide. We’re not there, yet.
For now, the limited and scheduled “farm events” must suffice. In fact, we are holding such an event next week and 36 guests will join us for a full tour during the afternoon milking, plus barrel sampling and cheese tasting from the cellar, followed by a harvest feast at the restaurant. The event sold out quickly, affirming what I already know. People are hungry for more than the food.