Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Wrong Hat, The Right Hat

By Elliott Joseph

Copyright 2010 Elliott Joseph

January 2010

Remember how strawberries used to taste? If you do, you've been around as long as I have, because it's been an age since they've had any real flavor.
And what about tomatoes? The last time I sliced into one of those pulpy monstrosities my knife didn't even get wet.
Just when I was about to give up eating anything that didn't have to be cooked, my friend Phil told me he had figured out what's been causing the problem.
"Those farmers are wearing the wrong hat!" he said.
He pushed me into his jeep and drove us to a local produce fair at the edge of town.
"Follow me," he commanded.
In the course of an hour I was treated to the most delicious strawberries, figs, melons, peaches, apples, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and other greens I had tasted in years.
"Now," he said triumphantly, "look around. See any plastic caps here?"
Indeed there weren't any.
Not one of the local growers was wearing the familiar, baseball type peaked cap that has become the mark of the big corporate farmer. Not one had that full crown of banded plastic netting on his head, its high, stiffened, cotton fronting, so often emblazoned with some company trademark.
Every one of the local growers was wearing a straw hat.
"Good old fashioned farm hat, the straw hat," said Phil. "There you have it. The big farmers who supply our supermarkets aren't wearing the right hat."
"It can't be the hat," I chuckled. "If anything, it's the logistical demands of distribution, the need to harvest crops before they're ready. It's the pressure of big loan payments. It's the accelerating requirements for efficiency and increased production," I went on. "That's what has turned our farmers away from growing foods that have taste to foods that are big, heavy and look good. It's the tragedy of our times."
"It's the hat," he repeated, "pure and simple. Chefs, police officers, the clergy. We are what our hats say we are. And the same goes for farmers."
"Never mind the hat," I said. "If there's any solution to this problem, it rides with the consumer. What we have to do is encourage people to insist on tree-ripened flavor and quality."
"It's the hat," insisted Phil.
"Excuse me," I said, not without a bit of sarcasm in my voice, "are you implying that all we have to do is get the farmer to change his hat and our troubles will be over?"
"Precisely," he said. "The straw hat will put the lid, so to speak, on the problem. It's big and clumsy. It'll slow the farmer down. Right now, with that handy adjustable strap in the back of the plastic cap, the farmer can go flying off in his high speed tractor, even in a big wind. The straw hat would come right off his head if he tried that.
"Now he can walk into his glass-walled, chromium-lined bank wearing that plastic representation of corporate mentality and even these days get that loan he's got himself hooked into needing.
"Imagine him strolling into a bank wearing a straw hat and trying to get credit for a million and a half. He'd be lucky if they let him open a checking account. The straw hat would keep the farmer small enough to once again think in good old-fashioned terms."
"You're making it sound rather easy," I said, trying a bit of irony.
"It's really not so easy," said Phil. "The farmer likes that home run image he thinks the plastic cap gives him."
We got into the jeep for the ride back.
"Once people make the farmer realize that they won't accept anything less than good tasting produce," I said, "the farmer will find a way to deliver it, whether he's big or small."
"You've got a lot of faith in the farmer," said Phil.
"I do," I said. Then I reflected on the delicious fruit I had tasted at the fair. "Maybe, just in the the meantime, mind you, I'll start buying some produce from the people wearing the 'right' hat."
Phil laughed, satisfied that he had made his point.

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