SFN: Slow Follow-Up

By now you’ve no doubt heard that the Labor Day Slow Food Nation event in San Francisco went off with at least a couple hitches. Negative chatter and blog posts have popped up regarding the organization, the cost, and the overall tone of the event. Our SFN coverage wraps up with two looks at pricing and organization at the four-day food-fest.

The biggest problems with Slow Food Nation, in my opinion, had to do with money (don’t they always?). Specifically, why participants had to part with so much of it, and what they got for it. I found the biggest financial discrepancies in the Slow Marketplace, and the Taste Pavilions — not coincidentally, the two focal points of the event.

Walking from the bi-weekly Heart of the City farmers’ market in United Nations Plaza to the Slow Marketplace in Civic Center Sunday, you’d see prices jump by as much as 100 or more percent for the same items.

Peaches that went for $2.00 a pound at Heart of the City ran $4.00 a pound at Slow Marketplace. Plums went from $1.50 to $3 a pound. Pears and apples stayed the same, but organic melons jumped from $.50 a pound to $1.00. What’s going on here?

Slow Food Nation director Anya Fernald acknowledged the price discrepancy, but pointed out that farmers who traveled to Slow Marketplace did so as a one-off, for only three days., and were instructed to only sell one product per stand, in contrast to Heart of the City vendors, who maximize sales by carrying a variety of fruits and veggies. The combination of those factors influenced prices, she said.

“It’s the type of product and also the distance from which the farmers had come,” Fernald said. “We did collaborate with heart of the city leading up with the event, to make sure we weren’t taking vendors from them… we wanted it to be something like an educational market where people would come once and buy something and then maybe go to markets back in their home town.”

Well, that’s fine, but didn’t Fernald say before the event that the Slow Marketplace was meant to be accessible to people of all income levels? Yes, she did. But she pointed out to me last week that it’s only by comparison to the deliberately low-priced Heart of the City market that Slow Marketplace seemed steep.

“Had you gone to Ferry Building Farmers’ Market or Noe Valley, you would have seen that prices at slow market were less expensive [than those], Fernald said. “People in heart of city have been selected because they are competitively priced.”

But my friends, whom I accompanied on their weekly shopping trip Sunday, didn’t seem to care a wit for comparisons to other farmers’ markets in the city, nor for the lessons to be learned at Slow Food Market. They wanted organic vegetables they could afford, and they got them at Heart of the City.

Slow Food Nation [Official Site]
Something is Rotten in the State of the Nation [Bay Area Bites]
Slow Food Was Here [San Francisco Magazine]

[Photo by Adam Martin]

SFN: Slow Follow-Up