I was surfing Yelp! recently, looking for a restaurant. “Hmm,” I asked myself. “I wonder if anyone’s ever given our farm a review?” Curious, I typed in the name of our Virginia farm, ‘Smith Meadows’.

To my surprise, we actually had a review! To my disappointment, however, it wasn’t Five Stars. In fact, it was barely even one:

Paul C.
Arlington, VA

I give it 1 1/2 stars.

About 2 months back a friend gave me a dozen farm fresh eggs from Maryland. They were extra large, multi colored, with large bright orange yolks and amazing thick texture. They were the best eggs iv’e ever had.The difference between what i buy at Whole Foods and these were like night and day and at $6,were worth it.

Last saturday i picked up a dz xtra lg eggs(brown) from Smith Meadows Farms at Courthouse Farmers Mkt.. They were in a Whole Foods egg carton(w/Smith Meadows sticker over WFM logo) and did’nt look any different from the eggs i buy at WFM. I cooked 2 over easy and also 2 WFM eggs over easy. I did a comparison. They did’nt look any different in size,color and did’nt taste any different either. I paid about $1.50 more then i pay for WFM eggs. My experience w/ the Maryland Farm eggs was amazing. Smith Meadows eggs were totally disappointing. I won’t buy them again.” (see review HERE)

Chickens invented the "Super Annoyed" expression.

Little known fact: chickens invented the “Super Annoyed” expression.

Ouch. Now, as anyone who has shopped at my farmers’ market stand for the past 15 years knows, free-range eggs are my farm’s pride and joy. Each week, customers return with used cartons and we refill them with our eggs, placing our sticker on them as the Health Department requires. I’ve been raising chickens on pasture since I was a young boy, and have spent a lifetime working in synch with the seasons. Being an organic, free-range farmer means I work with what nature provides.

Which brings me to an important point: last winter was pretty dang cold. What was that thinga-ma-jigger called again? The super-freezy watchamacallit? Oh, now I remember… the POLAR VORTEX. In case anyone’s forgotten, it was the coldest winter we’ve had in two generations.

Shoveling out our chickens last winter.

Shoveling out our chickens last winter.

Sigh. I wish I could forget it. Like most free-range livestock farmers, I spent my winter shoveling my chickens out of snow drifts, thawing frozen waterlines with a hair dryer, and gathering eggs hourly so they didn’t freeze and burst. And when I couldn’t make it to the coop on my ATV, a half-mile away through deep snow? I walked. The birds had to have feed and water, of course.

So by early April, after months of cruel conditions, it turns out Paul C.’s Yelp review was absolutely correct. The yolks weren’t as orange as they had been earlier in the winter, before the pastures were covered for months with snow. He’s also right that we use recycled cartons, because instead of throwing them away, customers bring us stacks (and STACKS, see picture) to market. Finally, he gets the Gold Bonus Star. Our brown eggs look a lot like, well… brown eggs, even the ones sold by Whole Foods. But who knows? Maybe to Paul C., all brown eggs look alike.

A morning's worth of cartons at Arlington Courthouse Farmers' Market.

A morning’s worth of cartons at Arlington Courthouse Farmers’ Market.

The fact is, whether we like it or not, we live in a world where anonymous posters can now blow up their local farmers on Yelp!, casting electronic aspersions with a single keystroke. And after all, why shouldn’t they be able to? If truly warranted, bad service certainly merits a bad review.

But as someone who grows food for a living, I’d like to make a simple request. Before posting a negative review, please…. Take a deep breath, reflect, and think about the lasting harm you’re about to inflict.

Especially when it comes to farmers’ markets, consider the season, the recent weather patterns, and the provenance. Talk to your producers at market, and have a conversation about how the food was grown. In Paul’s case, his doubts and concerns could have been easily explained during a three minute conversation. As a free-range chicken farmer, I’m very much in the coop-loop.

Our free-range hens in late September, no snow here!

Our free-range hens in late September, no snow here!

After twenty years of farming, one bad Yelp! review won’t crush my operation. Yet, what if we were all a little more thoughtful, a little more diligent, a little more empathetic before pressing that big, fat ‘submit’ button? What if we took a moment to consider the farmers, or for that matter the hard working chefs, or the frazzled waitress with a sick child in daycare, who’s honestly sorry she forgot you didn’t want ice with your water?

Sure, we all have negative experiences, but here’s my New Year’s wish to Yelpers everywhere: kindness, and a little perspective. This year, let’s practice being nicer to one another.

As for my chickens, what do they care about a bad review? They only want a little corn, a green pasture, and a snug, peaceful place to lay an egg. Besides, they stopped reading Yelp! years ago.

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