I was originally going to title this first post “Putting the U in Untrepreneur” but my wife, (who happens be one of the most brilliant people I have ever met) chided me in the loving way that only someone so intimately connected can, about how if I were anyone else cliche might be ok… Then she gave me the look that said stretch and dig just a little bit deeper, which leads me to my subject.
Lately I’ve heard the word authenticity being thrown around like snowballs in a schoolyard during the first snowfall (believe me, the parallel is remarkable because the look of satisfaction and joy on people’s faces when either is thrown is the same). Authenticity is a powerful word, especially so if we subscribe to the belief, as I do, that says: all things have intrinsic power and releasing that power is conceptually as easy as stripping something down to an atomic simplicity (bringing something to its most primitive and authentic state) and setting it free to catalyze a reaction. But that, of course, like everything worth doing, takes focus, energy, and a great deal of attention to detail.
So what’s the deal with authenticity, why has it become so prevalent?
To answer this question I went to the arguable source of authenticity in New York City: The Farmers’ Market in Union Square. It was beautiful Saturday afternoon, the sun was shining, the air was crisp, and the market was filled with throngs of people. A farmer’s market is an age old tradition dating back thousands of years; it is one of the most basic hallmarks of civilization and in that moment I felt the connection to those thousands of years of human history and it felt good. For some reason my experience felt more real, more grounded, and somehow more natural than any visit to even the most conscientious supermarket.
I spend so much of my day in offices, on phone calls, or with my eyes fixed on pixels spread across varying array of glass surfaces, my fingers or thumbs twitching to generate written language (incidentally, another great hallmark of civilization). I am a contemporary man of business and these are the tools and environments that make up my world; virtual as it may be, it is the world in which I interact and get things done, it is the world in which I have huge levers made of electrons that I power by minute, graceful gestures and subtle variations of my voice. I have power previously only imagined and I still have a long way to go. But before I go too far, let me take a step back to the middle of the industrial age, to a time that brought about the advent of better, more reliable, and quicker transportation. To a time where dreams and necessity brought about refrigeration, an invention that has allowed for the development of a food distribution system that no longer required produce to be brought for consumption on a daily basis. This was most certainly progress because food could now be frozen, packed, and shipped across great distances and across vastly different climates. I swoon with the tremendous economic and culinary opportunities that this opened up — a quick visit to the grocer to gather a feast of mangos, bananas and blueberries on a wintery New England day. What a perfect expression of Say’s Law and yet what a recipe primed for micro-economic manipulation. And so it was…
By the the middle of the 1970’s farmers markets in America had all but disappeared with only about 100 markets operating across the entire United States. This inevitably led to a consolidation in the production, packaging and distribution of agricultural products by a handful of operators, which, in turn led to an increase in pre-packaged consumables and a dramatic reduction in product quality and an increase in price over a short period of time. Seeing the need to continue to foster local farming, the United States passed the Farmer-to-Consumer Direct Marketing Act of 1976. However by this point, suburban expansion had gotten out of control and the reliance on large distributors became even more important as more and more Americans fled the cities to live out their lives in the suburbs. Then, by the middle of the 1990’s, cities started to become safer, and jobs more plentiful so the pendulum began to swing again and populations started flowing back into cities. This migration of more affluent, quality-conscious individuals and families set the foundation for a movement towards more healthful living. As a result, over the next decade a slow increase in the number of farmers’ markets began to take hold and by 2004 the number had increased to over 3,700 and today there are over 4,600 operating throughout the United States. A new culture has emerged, a culture more focused on thoughtful consideration of a range of factors that determine quality of life. And so today in our world of technical wonder the simplest cultural institution, the farmers’ market, is playing an increasingly central role in the lives of people who have thought about and care about the details that make up their lives. For me walking through that farmers’ market made me feel that same connection to the beauty in the details that make up my life. And that is exactly what authenticity is about. It is about doing what we feel is right, good and enriching. And in this case the miraculous side benefit of this is that it makes for a more environmentally and economically sustainable existence.
So thank you to all the local farmers for their passion and for their diligent efforts, against enormous odds, to bring us nourishment and sustenance that not only is good for us but tastes good and is friendlier to our ecological environment and often to our wallets as well.
For more information on local farming and to find a farmer’s market near you check out: