Keefe: The price of romance, turkeys and more |

Keefe: The price of romance, turkeys and more

Joni Keefe
Special to The Aspen Times

As the young farmer handed over the bag he said, “That’ll be $40.” Pausing, in shock, I collected myself and stuttered, “I’ll just take one, make it the smallest of the three, please.” I walked away with not only a tomato costing more than ten dollars, but with feelings of disbelief and, curiously, even embarrassment. Far worse, I felt the sharp sting from having overpaid.

I wondered if it was out of my own greed I had chosen the largest and most expensive farmers market tomatoes. Or maybe the scale was off and I should return to ask this to be checked. But one thing I was sure of was that no salad of mine justified this price.

To make my loyalties clear, I support farmers sunrise to sunset. I was raised on a farm and even had my own produce stand as a kid. There I learned about neighbors, hard work and responsibility. Small farms offer communities healthy food, but they’re also a conduit to a way of life that is losing ground to Big Agribusiness.

But no matter how deep loyalties ran, that single tomato transaction had me asking questions. Do beginning farmers find the work so intensive they lose sight of basic business economics? Worse yet, could farmers markets become so expensive they could turn customers away? Whatever the case was, I knew I had opened a Pandora’s box of new questions about romantic notions, food and money.

In grocery stores, I checked tomato prices and compared these to the price-per-pound of filet mignon and lobster. Then, a few weeks later, I returned to the same farmers market and asked the man why his tomatoes are so expensive. He proudly stated that they were organic, local and above all, heirloom. The very same terms those premium-priced whoppers use in the impersonal grocery stores.

I wondered how that was going to make my salad taste so much better, change local economics or improve my health enough to justify this price? Where were the basic garden variety of sun-ripened, local tomatoes, without all the bells and whistles? Are consumers themselves the guilty ones of driving this craziness in food marketing?

Again, I returned to the grocery store, but this time headed for the interior aisles, the morgue for lifeless food. There I found shameless terms of farm-fresh, organic, local, sustainable, free-range, all-natural and many more. Can words really add a greater value for the dollar? The bigger question is this: Do we really believe the hype? Isn’t healthy food a matter of making our own intelligent decisions and to stop buying into misleading marketing?

Last week, turkeys were the stars in grocery stores and arrived with a vocabulary that some could consider fowl play. “Fresh” simply means it has never been frozen. The key term here is “not previously frozen,” and consumers should realize it is not fresh from the farm. However, it is worth knowing the National Turkey Foundation reports turkey meat freezes at a lower temperature of 26 degrees and not 32 degrees. So, this lower temperature lengthens storage time greatly.

Those turkeys labeled organic, free-range or all-natural are USDA-certified for no antibiotics or hormones. (Hormones are prohibited in the poultry business anyhow.) These birds that have enjoyed “organic” feed and are “free-range” implies the turkey’s room was upgraded to “outdoors,” but definitely not home on the range.

Those self-basting versions are injected with fat, brine, flavorings and other approved substances that increases the purchase weight. The 1 percenters of turkeys are called “premium” and base their turkey sales on quality versus volume. But most every brand has a “premium” choice.

Interestingly, small specialty farmers who raise heritage turkeys are a unique choice. These birds do enjoy the outdoors, and because they’re of heritage descent they have to be raised naturally.

Ninety-nine percent of all turkeys sold in supermarkets are one breed: “Broad-Breasted White.” These are the mass-production bird of choice because of consumers demand for big breasts. Local turkeys can be the best choice because they have a verifiable reputation. Plus, you can inquire how they are raised or even go for a pre-purchase viewing.

Now that the holiday season is here, along with its food-laden tables, consider how much romance you will serve up. Whether it is tomatoes or turkeys, simple, healthy food is the best value, not marketing words.

Joni Keefe writes about all aspects of small business and agriculture. Her websites are and She can be reached at jkeefe7825@

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