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Use Case Observations from Grinnell Farmers' Market

From my visit to the Grinnell farmers' market on August 11, 2006, I designed both a template for interactions between vendors and customers, and a set of use cases depicting these interactions.

In all interactions between vendors and buyers, there are two constants: the customer walking over to the stand, and the customer leaving the stand. After these obvious aspects of the interaction, there are three variables in any vendor-customer interaction: amount of time spent speaking with the vendor, amount of time spent examining the goods on offer, and the amount of goods ultimately bought by the customer. A fourth variable would be the topics discussed by the vendor and customer (where the goods were grown/made, how much they cost, etc.); unfortunately, my position as an observer did not allow me to watch the interactions closely enough to observe interactions in such detail.

Given this template for buyer-seller interactions, all use case observations differ in only the extent to which each of the three variables is present (I designed the list of constants and variables in buyer-seller interactions following my use case observations, not prior to them. I noticed in my observations that all interactions differed in only these three areas, which induced me to create a list of possible variables). Interactions also differ in the characteristics of the customer and the goods sold at the particular stand.

Some of the more common interactions I observed included: (Though each of these interactions were observed more than once, a common gender/age (ages are my estimates) of the customer is included, along with a typical vendor station where the interaction was observed)

Note: Along with every use case description, I have attached a diagram, located at the end of this document. Description titles correspond with diagram titles (for example, Use Case Observation 1 is depicted graphically in the attached .GIF document with the same name).

Use Case Observation 1: 45 year old female customer glances at goods while passing by produce stand.

(On a scale of 1-10)

Time spent speaking with vendor: 0
Time spent examining goods on offer: 0
Amount of goods bought: 0

Use Case Observation 2: 40 year old male customer talks extensively with vendor at produce stand, then buys a good.

Time spent speaking with vendor: 10
Time spent examining goods on offer: 10
Amount of goods bought: 5 (only one good was bought, but on a scale of 1-10 in the goings-on in the market, this falls in the middle).

Use Case Observation 3: 30 female customer asks question of vendor at crafts station, then leaves.

Time spent speaking with vendor: 2
Time spent examining goods on offer: 2
Amount of goods bought: 0

Use Case Observation 4: 20 female customer buys a good at kettle corn station, without asking any questions.

Time spent speaking with vendor: 0
Time spent examining goods on offer: 1
Amount of goods bought: 5

Use Case Observation 5: 60 female and 60 male customer speak with produce station vendor for a while, while examining goods, then buy a good.

Time spent speaking with vendor: 8
Time spent examining goods on offer: 10
Amount of goods bought: 5

Use Case Observation 6: 50 female customer examines goods at produce station, then buys something.

Time spent speaking with vendor: 0
Time spent examining goods on offer: 8
Amount of goods bought: 5

Use Case Observation 7: 40 female customer examines goods at baked goods station, then leaves.

Time spent speaking with vendor: 0
Time spent examining goods on offer: 5
Amount of goods bought: 0

Use Case Observation 8: 55 male customer speaks with vendor at produce station extensively, then leaves.

Time spent speaking with vendor: 10
Time spent examining goods on offer: 2
Amount of goods bought: 0

Use Case Observation 9: 20 male customer asks a question of vendor at produce station, then buys good.

Time spent speaking with vendor: 2
Time spent examining goods on offer: 2
Amount of goods bought: 5

Use Case Observation 10: 45 female customer asks several questions of vendor at produce station while examining goods, then buys a few different goods.

Time spent speaking with vendor: 8
Time spent examining goods on offer: 10
Amount of goods bought: 10

More from "Fields of Plenty"


...Rethinking how our society
participates in the food system, where food is produced and by whom, and what scale it is grown on.

Aaron says that he thinks the best way to get America back into agriculture is to turn it into a spectator sport.

These two quotations go back to a point of Sohodojo's that I have often mentioned in my blog posts: that shopping can and should be an experience in itself. Michael Ableman, the author of "Fields of Plenty" firmly believes in this himself. He stresses the importance of knowing who made your food, how it was made, where it was made. There should be a connection, he says, between yourself and your food.

Ableman says that "food shouldn't be just another fuel, grown out of sight by anonymous people, prepared and consumed as quickly as possible as if it were an inconvenience." This is why it is acceptable to miss out on certain foods when they are not in season, or other foods when they cannot be grown in your area at all. Food has a life of its own; when we shop at supermarkets for our food, we often take it for granted that everything we want will be available, but that is not how food is. Just as you cannot expect to have it rain when you want to, or always be your preferred temperature outside, you can't expect that the food you want will always be on our plate. And it's not like we won't be able to survive without being able to eat our favorite foods whenever we want them. Many authors I've read have mentioned that it is fun to be unsure of what produce you will eat for the week (for example, from a CSA share). Our interactions with our food should be a manner that makes sense for both us and the food we eat.

During this internship, I have kept my eyes and ears open about the buying habits and desires of the people I observe and speak with. I have talked to people from many different spheres of life about why they buy the food that they do, and what foods they would like to buy if they were available. I am convinced that a store that took a chance to sell local produce would succeed. Not everyone, but many people are willing to sacrifice the consistency of imported produce for the better taste and environmentally and socially friendly methods of producing local foods. There are people who want to know where their foods come from, and choose to buy foods that they know are grown on a local farm. There is no reason why the farmers' market should be the only source of local foods for most people.

"Fields of Plenty"

Just a note to say that I am busy reading Michael Ableman's "Fields of Plenty: A Farmers' Journey in Search of Real Food and the People Who Grow it." Similar to Jenny Kurzweil's "Fields that Dream," Ableman uses the stories and methods of many individual farmers to provide a context for the current state of American agriculture. Having read about half of Ableman's book so far, I would say that Kurzweil's is a better read--the stories of the farmers she tells are more gripping, and overall she makes a better case for the use of local foods. Ableman's book, though, has its advantages. He travels the country to interview many farmers from different areas, and his thoughts on each visit are detailed at each stop. His descriptions of the farms are more detailed than Kurzweil's, and I feel a better understanding of the work of each farmer from Ableman's writing.

Keywords: 

"Fields That Dream: A Journey to the Roots of Our Food"

Fields That Dream: A Journey to the Roots of Our FoodFields That Dream: A Journey to the Roots of Our FoodI have spent some time over the last couple days reading Jenny Kurzweil's Fields That Dream: A Journey to the Roots of Our Food. Kurzweil describes the state of state of American agriculture through the lives of a number of small-scale farmers.

In addition to being well-written, Kurzweil's portrayal of the lives of these farmers is striking. From a Mexican family who immigrated to the States to make enough money to survive, to a chef who left his home and job to pursue life on a farm, to a couple who cannot leave their house for more than two hours at a time for fear of leaving their animals without care, each farmer has a story to tell.

A few passages from the book stand out to me in terms of the relevance to the Local Food Economy Game project and/or Sohodojo itself. These passages, along with the reasons why they are of particular interest to me, are below.

When I buy food at the farmers' market, I know that it has not been shipped back and forth across the country. It has not been grown by multinational corporations, but by families. Most importantly, when I buy food at the farmers' market, I meet the grower. I have a connection, an interaction, and a place to express my gratitude. [pp. 6-7]

"Fields That Dream" Author Jenny Kurzweil"Fields That Dream" Author Jenny KurzweilI selected this passage for two reasons. First, when I interviewed buyers and sellers at both the Grinnell and Fairfield farmers' markets, this was the most common response I received to my questions about what they like most about farmers' markets. Both vendors and customers appreciate not only the social aspect of the market, but also the trust and connection that is formed upon meeting the person whose food you will be eating. I am sure that regardless of where in the country I asked this question, I would receive similar responses. The people are as essential a part of the market as the food – though the two are intertwined.

Secondly, this aspect of the farmers' market is another example of what Sohodojo refers to as shopping as something other than "good acquisition." Farmers' markets are so much about the people involved that one does not attend the market only to bring food to cook with the next day. They go to farmers' markets also because of the opportunity to form relationships and to support something they believe in.

That's our bread and butter, the farmers' market. And they're fun too. [p. 12]

I highlighted the passage for similar reasons to the one above. This is exactly the impression I formed when researching farmers' markets. Though, for many customers and observers, the markets may seem a fun place to spend time, farmers depend on them for their livelihood – though they also enjoy being there. A woman at the Grinnell market told me that "most people's sales are over after the farmers' market season." Vendors at the markets I visited appreciated the markets for not only the profits that they earned, but also the connections that they made.

I have eaten peaches from the market that could stop traffic, and, as Gretchen points out, these are the kinds of experiences that make people happy and willing to stand in line to get fresh, tasty produce. Perhaps we are getting sick of our thirty-three new packaged foods a day and the disinfected, anonymous aisles of a supermarket. Going to a farmers' market is worlds away from ordering your groceries online, and people seem hungry for an authentic experience. A farmers' market is a way to get back to basics without romanticizing the past. [p. 33]

This is why food shopping over the internet will never be popular. Shopping for groceries is an experience, and this is why farmers' markets exist. Again, this lends weight to the idea of "experiential shopping."

I walked away from the protests with eyes opened. Since then I have been trying to trace back to the origins of what I consume, attempting to be aware of my own part in fueling the fire of globalization. It is an overwhelming process, and I feel entirely confused. I have been trying to figure out how I can protest something when I am part of the problem. [pp. 70-71]

I do drink coffee. But I try to drink fair trade coffee that is grown in the shade in the northern latitudes of Mexico. The bottom line is I am just trying to figure out how I consume. -- A farmer interviewed by Kurzweil

When I read these passages, I thought of Sohodojo's idea of an "alternate" e-bay, where people would consume not based on price exclusively, but would be able to see where and under what conditions a product was made. Kurzweil undergoes a transformation and begins to trace back to the roots of her consumption; if this information was readily available when we shop, wouldn't things be different? There are many people out there who are aware that they are "part of the problem" by consuming environmentally and socially unfriendly foods, but it is, in general, too difficult to do the research into where every piece of food you buy comes from. If this information was present on every good that we buy, I believe that our consumption habits would change considerably.

And if we aren't aware that we are being "part of the problem" when we buy "globalized foods:"

He is trying to make us understand that how and what we consume can be felt by small famers, factory workers, and governments around the world. [p. 75]