Support Local Farms? Then Never Do What This Guy Did

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
4/8/2014

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.

Check out my books, all about food, farming & living the good life!

Growing Tomorrow (with 50 recipes!) is NOW AVAILABLE, and Gaining Ground is a New York Times bestseller.

Growing-Tomorrow.3D

Order Gaining Ground on Amazon

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780762787258

New York Times bestselling author Forrest has been farming professionally since 1996. His new book Growing Tomorrow, Behind the Scenes with 18 Extraordinary Sustainable Farmers Who Are Changing the Way We Eat debuted October 2015 by the award-winning press The Experiment.

41 responses to “Support Local Farms? Then Never Do What This Guy Did”

  1. Jennifer

    Yelp sucks. Smith Meadows rocks.

  2. Linda

    If I lived about 1,000 miles closer I would definitely buy your eggs, but it’s a long commute! We buy eggs from Locally Laid from our local co-op. They are pastured chickens. Anyone that has purchased eggs over the years should know the color of an egg depends on what they’ve been eating, so chickens that live in MN and WI will have varying yolk colors. There’s so much more to eggs than color. It’s a lifestyle choice to buy local, organic, and from healthy, happy animals.

  3. mosprott

    We’re so lucky to even *get* good eggs in the winter – thanks for trekking out to the henhouse, and to the farmers markets!!

  4. Fiona

    Great article as usual Forrest. Keep up the good work! And maybe go on Yelp and post this article as a “reply” to his review!

  5. Brooke Benschoter

    Forrest I understand your pain but as a person who helps businesses avoid things like this, I would ask you to do one more thing. When you sell those eggs, shake hands and say, “if there is any issue with your eggs, I want to know. It’s important to as a farmer.” Maybe even put your email on your sticker that goes on the box.

    And Fiona is right, post this article as a reply.

    1. DL

      Good advice Brooke. Also, it’s good PR to contact the guy with a sorry-he-wasn’t-happy kind of email (not a sorry-my-eggs-weren’t-good) and a pleasant explanation. And then would he like a free dozen so he can fully appreciate eggs in a variety of seasons? Sweetness will always get you further, plus educating customers is good for the whole industry.

  6. FarmerAhlmann

    Forrest,

    On a sidenote, it seems that Paul C. from Arlington Virginia didn’t pass 2nd grade math; “1.5 stars” should round up to two, while he only marked one on Yelp =)

    Conveniently, it won’t take many new reviews to topple a poor one. Cori Q already tipped the scale up to an average 3, and a few more 5-star reviews following your blog post will easily produce the high average Smith Meadows deserves.

    The only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing. Charge on, Mr. Pritchard. Your mission is a good one.

    Christian.

  7. Russell

    As the business owner you can buy take downs from yelp.

  8. Alan Jagow

    Last winter was excruciating and I was hard pressed to get a dozen or more eggs every two weeks from my local source here in Michigan.The eggs were small, hard, and had light colored yolks, but we appreciated them even more because we knew the hardship they were wrought in.

    Sorry to hear about your review, but ignorance is rife and has a bullhorn with yelp.

  9. Ken McGarry

    We’ve been raising pastured eggs here in Middle Tennessee for many years. Forrest, I can empathize with you. Winter is a tough time to keep hens, what with dormant forage, no insects for the hens to catch to supplement their feed, and worst of all, frozen waterers. We’re headed for a low of 4 tonight, so it’s going to a slog for the next few days supplying fresh water and gathering eggs before they freeze and crack open.

  10. Lauren

    5++++ stars. I’ve been purchasing Smith Meadows eggs at the Courthouse market in Arlington for the past 5 years and they are the only eggs I serve to my family. Keep doing what you’re doing Forrest and Farm Family…your community supports you. 🙂 – Lauren

  11. Peter Kramer

    Thanks for bringing this silly review to our attention, Forrest. What Paul C. should understand is that environmentally sustainable farming is not about the color of those egg yolks and it’s also not only about whether those eggs taste good. It is about everything concerning the production, transportation and consumption of those eggs. It’s about the water, the air and the stuff going in and coming out of that farm – and about the biological diversity co-existing with those chickens and those farmers. If those things are at least more or less in balance, and if I feel the farmer and the chickens are mostly happy, I will be very happy to pay a bit more for those eggs and they will taste better because I feel better about them. I also will always prefer getting them in a reused (not recycled) egg carton!

    Hoping you, your family and your chickens are doing ok in this current cold spell, Peter

  12. Steve

    The only reason I don’t buy more of your eggs is that you’re usually sold out by the time I get to the Columbia Pike farmers’ market.

    Furthermore, giving a review negative review based on a sample size of 1 is seldom justifiable.

  13. Kangaroo House Gardens

    We learned in the B&B business, if a gorilla leaves a pile in your front yard, take the lesson (a complaint is a gift)
    and then BURY IT DEEP. The best way to deal with a bad review is to bury it with good reviews.

  14. Chris HEDDING

    Good article. Wish more people would talk to the farmer about the foods they produce. I am a farmer in Wisconsin and have been farming since the late 80’s .my chickens also have pasture but it is fenced in due to coyotes. I sell eggs and some produce as well but mostly right at the farm. Thanks for the article.

  15. Doug

    Thanks for the article, it was great. I to raise chickens and have a network of buyers. All eager to buy my eggs. I thank my chickens for there day by day hard work to produce eggs in return they get some good food and a warm place to sleep. I care for them very much and even though they don’t know it, they give me peace and a warm heart. I think most people who are not from a rural setting don’t look at food the way we do. It’s a produce to consume and then go back and it more from the supermarket. They have no clue as to where it comes from, good or bad food. I’m sorry about that.

  16. Northern Virginia Restaurant News

    […] Why farmers market eggs taste and look different in the winter, by farmer Forrest Pritchard. [Smith Meadows] […]

  17. Terry

    Hey there from Australia. Our supplier who has 2,000 hens in 4 moving tractors experienced a draught last Summer which was then followed by very wet winter (though was too late still to do any good for the grass which stay short for the whole winter), and these conditions threw the eggs out of whack – yoke was lighter in color and not as tasty. They only feed them custom feed and grow them authentically as organic as organic can be, full sun, roaming, no antibiotics or gmo inputs etc, loved etc. Because we connect the story of our farmers to our members and customers (we are distributors and also have a retail outlet) everyone supported them through it. There were a few enquiries as to why the eggs didn’t seem as great, but we found because we connect them with the source via newsletter and FB in a meaningful way, they really come on board. (https://www.facebook.com/yourorganicmarkets). People can be so thoughtless and also kind of a smug . Moral of story? Keep customers in touch and as educated as you can regularly.

    If we were in your area we would love to support you. Keep your story out there as best as you can with your consumers – what else can you do other than what you are doing which is bringing authentic natural product to us city folks. Thanks for being a farmer and thanks for your article I am so glad we came across it and I shared it on our FB page this morning.

  18. DL

    I’m just finishing your book, Gaining Ground, and found your blog. Love them both! Wonderful stories told in beautiful form!

  19. Jim Anderson

    I just finished your book, Gaining Ground, this morning, and enjoyed it very much. I hope to see that great American novel you were working on. My wife and I shop our local farmers market every week.
    We have a new co-op here in Buffalo, MN that doesn’t have a store yet, so we started a online marketplace, where our local farmers can sell their goods.

    http://www.localfoodmarketplace.com/localroots

    1. Jim Anderson

      Thanks, Forrest! We will look forward to meeting you, and getting the new book.

      I know book tours can be hectic, but it would be great if you could take a side trip to our town and do a short book signing. We have an independent book store, and an active library friends group, plus our coop has a book club that loves books about food and farming. Buffalo is about 40 miles west of Minneapolis. Setting these things up can be hard, but I thought there is no harm in asking. We would be glad to help with transportation.

  20. Nicola

    A half mile to your hen house! wow! Thanks for sharing this perspective. We’ve had our farm for a couple of years and won’t be dealing with the public for one more. Best of luck this summer!

  21. Jean-Francois

    I work in internet marketing (besides having pastured pigs, chickens and goats) and I just wanted to add one piece of advice I tell my clients: if you get a negative review on social media, reply to it (just like your explanation in the post) so that people who look at it can read your side of the story.

  22. Liona

    I’m almost finished with your book. My husband enjoyed it too listening to the CD. You make me wanna start a small chicken farm here in Northern Virginia. We live in Ashburn.

  23. rebecca wright

    to Forrest,
    loving Gaining Ground! i honestly believe some people are born for farmlife. i believe that, because i’m one of them. always have treasured the limited experiences i was privileged to enjoy. oh, yes, i know the weather is the (sometimes irascible);ceo, if you will, of the farm! my father-in-law raised cattle and hay in Bedford County, VA, for several years, and those were some of the happiest, most fulfilling of my own life. yes, we fretted over the weather and the hay; some years we prayed for sun, others for rain, we worried over the adequacy of feed, the $$$, the calves, etc., but what a life! none else like it. . . making hay is one of my fav farm jobs! nothing else produces such wonderful scents, balance practice, scratch therapy, and sheer sweat-soaked exhaustion. your book recounts for me much of those murderously hard, idyllic days when we worked the farm. i wish it could have lasted “forever and a day”! i eat no meat or poultry product unless it is organic, Kosher, or sustainably grown. love what you do! Godspeed!

  24. monimp

    Thank you for all your hard work and for bringing beauty to our table. We look forward to buying your eggs every Sunday at the Dupont Circle Farmer’s market and we love your farm and your eggs!

  25. Sophia

    We’re about to start a small farm in Virginia ( south-west) and I have been looking up info on selling eggs at a farmers market. Do you ever have too many eggs that won’t sell? I don’t know how many chickens to get. Do you actually make a profit, or is it just enough to pay for feed?

    Sorry about the bad review, I don’t take Yelp or any such site seriously. Sometimes the same place will get anything from an absolutely awesome review to a terrible one. Anyone can say anything online.

  26. Kristi Slotemaker

    Hello Forrest!

    Yelp = (blowing raspberries)

    First, let me say how much your first book “Gaining Ground” inspired me. I travel a lot for work and your book (audio version) kept me company as I drove through bucolic Washington and Oregon. (Dude! Talk about making inspiration a reality. I love the Pacific Northwest!)

    Getting to “know” you and your practices is helping me and my Teams gain our own ground an aspire for something better. During my coaching sessions, I use stories from your book to illustrate your tenacity for reaching, trying, failing, learning and going back at despite the feedback from your professional peers + relying on your vital network of family and friends. They love the stories – and they sell make-up!

    So, now I need resources. Is there a website where I can find how a farmer practices, their philosophy, etc.?
    In general: I want to support. I want to know where to go.
    Specifically: I’m interested in sourcing dairy that has gentle weaning practices for a cheese business.

    Any thoughts or suggestions on where to start looking?
    …and P.S. your new book is on it’s way to me!

    Thank you

  27. Jennifer Kahly

    As pasture based farmers we appreciate that our customers know our eggs and meat vary with the season and the year. That is part of the beauty of locally raised food.

    I also loved Gaining Ground and passed it around to our farmer friends here in Western Md and WV. Thanks for the inspiration!

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