Monday, July 30, 2007

Sell out.

There was a term we used for bands that had gained commercial appeal by sacrificing their integrity. It was something we all realized was necessary to some degree, but some bands managed to pull it off more gracefully than others. For a local scene, if a band made the transition to a more national audience, there was no greater scorn than for a band that sold out.

What exactly does it mean to sell out?

In our society today, everything is measured by price. The only recognized value is price. Even our time has a price on it - time is money. Some people's time is worth more than others. My time is not worth quite as much as my bosses, but more than our office secretary. Yet, intuitively, we all know that some things in life our priceless. We sell our time to pursue some things that cannot be valued in a marketplace. Eight hours a day, five days a week buys us a few precious hours a week for such pursuits if we can make all of our payments necessary to maintain our lifestyles. Sometimes we dream about combining our priceless pursuits with our work. We think about making our hobbies into profit-making adventures. What would it take to profit off of our hobbies?

Selling out, of course.

This is the dilemma. As many jobs I have had, I have also had hobbies, dreams or goals. Each time my hobby has run up against the market, it has evaporated into a fine mist and blown away with the wind. For anything to have integrity and value that is long lasting it has to be motivated by something close to the heart and not by what can be obtained in the market.

This does not mean that anything that has sold for a price in the market is automatically crap and of no value. There are many examples of successful artists who have made a good living off of their art. However, their chosen craft would still be the same whether they made money or not off of it - for they are motivated by something that comes from within.

Right now I garden when I am not working. Someday I would like to farm, but this notion of value and markets has me worried. I can see what happens to farmers and the economics of agriculture. There is an incentive to get into organic farming because right now there is a large demand for organic products. Walmart, Target, Sam's club and many other retail stores are devoting several aisles to organic products. However, farmers should never forget that these outlets and buyers of their production are forever in search of selling at the lowest price to their consumers and generating profits for their shareholders. When agricultural products are in large supply, the market place will lower the price. Eventually, the market for organic products will bottom out and farmers will get lower and lower prices for their ever-increasing yields.

The temptation to produce one crop on a farm is huge. Even local organic farms selling their produce at Farmers Markets are in search of products that will sell. If a farmer just follows the seasons and sells only what is in season, they will always have competition from other area farms and the price for their products will be driven down. Everyone loves tomato season, but it is the farmer that brings the first tomatoes to market that gets the highest prices. Tomatoes in the fall are going to sell for much less. So, one farmer begins growing tomatoes in January in a greenhouse, so they have ripe tomatoes in May or June. Soon everyone has a greenhouse and is selling tomatoes in June. This is wonderful for tomato lovers, but works contrary to what the farmer seeks - high prices.

This is where farming for the love of farming comes in. The first priority of the gifted farmer is producing good food to eat, while taking care of the soil and land. The wonderful thing about farming and gardening is that cornucopias amounts of produce are generated during the season. It is an awesome task to put all the tomatoes, green beans, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, garlic, onions, etc. to good use before it spoils and must be returned to the compost heap. The kitchen is filled with activity this time of the year - cooking, canning, freezing and fermenting. The same goes for dairy, meat and poultry production. What throws all this out of balance is when the farm is devoted to the market and yields of selected crops are emphasized over more diversified production using holistic practices. Of course, farms require land and land costs money that often necessitates debt owed to banks that only care about the profits of the farm. What this means for me is that I can't think of farming as a livelihood, but must instead devote my energies to a garden that produces vegetables and fruits for seasonal consumption of my family and friends. An expanding garden can never come at the expense of "selling out," or the next in my line of hobbies will dissipate into thin air.