I started growing a few flowers last year, which has elicited reactions ranging from confusion to rage. I started growing them because they make me happy. When asked, if I give this as an explanation, I get blank stares. Every time. Okay, for better or worse we do live in a culture that values profit and productivity over squishy concepts like happiness. I continue to hear quite a bit of pushback over the flowers, so here's your explanation in profit-and-productivity language.
I have spent many hours over the past two winters analyzing the cost that goes into producing every vegetable that I grow. The cost of seed and plants, soil inputs, what I call field rent (the amount of space a crop takes up + the amount of time that crop is in the ground), the cost and maintenance of machinery and infrastructure. The cost of my labor. I also need to consider the inevitable crop losses. I don't get federal subsidies for growing produce. I don't qualify for crop insurance if it all goes south. I don't get paid for unsold produce on slow weeks when no one's interested in buying. I don't get paid leave or sick days. I personally assume 100% of the risk. These factors need to be considered in the cost of my produce as well.
There is a razor-thin profit margin on most vegetables. A small number are fairly profitable. Most barely pay for themselves. Some I lose money on, even in the best of seasons. All of them need to be grown to create a market draw that keeps you coming back to buy every week. Overall, I am not charging you what it actually costs me to grow a fair amount of your food.
Money is a touchy thing to talk about with the people who buy from me. All say they want to see a farmer earn a decent living, but most will balk at the idea of costlier food. And I don't want good food to be so expensive that only an elite few can afford it. So let's go back to those flowers. When I run the numbers on the flowers, a financial advisor might consider me insane for not throwing the vegetable side of things out the window, and just growing flowers. Flowers pay the bills. Flowers are absorbing the actual cost of your food.
That flowers make me happy, and make me happy to share them with you - I'd like that to be enough. If you think that''s silly, so be it. It's food for my soul, and for many others. If you don't want them, that's fine, no one's forcing you to buy them. Do keep in mind that those flowers are subsidizing the real cost of your food. And perhaps thank that flower-buyer next to you at the market for helping to pay for your produce.