Life lessons from a fig farmer

Tony Inzana farmer's market 2

Tony Inzana owns a 190-acre ranch in central California and brings his organic produce every Sunday morning to my local farmers’ market.  He grows the largest, juiciest, most mouth-watering delicious figs in the galaxy.  His pistachios and walnuts have a just-picked freshness I can’t find anywhere else. Each black mulberry bursts with sweet, intense juice.

All this abundance is harvested just yesterday and brought brimming with a life and flavor that make your taste buds stand up and sing.

Tony also has the distinction of having, not only the longest line of customers waiting to buy, much longer than of any of the other farm stands in the market, but also the slowest moving one.  This line moves REAL slow.

The reason for that is because Tony talks to each person as they get to him.  He tells you what time he picked whatever you’re buying, what’s happening with the weather, what the crop will be like next week.

He wants to find out what you’re going to do with it (are you going to grill the figs or put them in your salad?). You’ll hear about his friend coming to visit from Australia and he’ll want to find out what’s going on in your life.

The people waiting in line have no recourse but to talk to each other, which they do. You find out new recipes, you learn about fruit you never thought about buying that the person in front of you has loaded in their basket, you get talked into trying the kiwi.

The lady behind me this past Sunday got impatient.  It was her first time shopping in the stand.  She was huffing and puffing and commenting on how slow the line was moving. Tony noticed this and gave me a fig to share with her. That shut her right up.  When she tasted her fig, she wanted to find out what else in the stand was that good, which I was happy to tell her.  She got friendly and talkative along with the rest of us.

In today’s age of modern efficiency, in today’s age of impatience with slow-moving lines, Tony’s business model defies current wisdom.

Everybody wants things fast, they want to get in and get out and get on with the next thing.

I have never seen anyone approach life and business as leisurely as Tony. He is slow on purpose.  He is very deliberate about building a relationship with each person who buys from him.   If you don’t like it, you don’t have to shop there.

When you finally make it up to the front to pay, and it’s your turn for him to talk with you, he’ll still continue to take his time.  Tony makes unusually direct eye contact and listens intently.  He carefully considers what you tell him, what kind of salad you’re making, what your friend said about the dried cherries you got last week, how much you miss the pomegranates when they’re out of season.  He’s interested in everything about you.

Business is personal in Tony’s world.  Very personal.

He’s a happy man.  Very few eyes in this world twinkle like Tony’s do.  Looking into them is magical.

The sellout crowds in his stand don’t just come for the figs or walnuts.  Two weeks ago Tony wasn’t there.  It was his birthday and he was off celebrating.  His replacement kept the line moving fast and there was a second person helping too.  Hardly any waiting.  But when Tony came back last Sunday, everyone was asking him, “Where were you??????????  We MISSED you!!!!!!!”  The slow, long line was back and the sellout crowd was happy again.

You can watch people who just paid walking away, laughing, beaming. And as you walk away, you find yourself grinning a happy grin that stays in place for several minutes after you’ve gone.

You’ve received so much MORE than the fresh and dried fruits and nuts in your bag.  You’ve just had a powerful conversation with a man who really cares.  He cares about what he grows. And he cares about you.

Not everyone is willing to wait in a slow-moving line, to wait for the seemingly endless conversations ahead to come to a finale.

It’s surprising how many are though.  The combination of extraordinary food and soul-nourishing conversation makes it all worthwhile.  They respond and are drawn to it.  Tony has a long line from the moment he opens to the very last.  No one grumbles.

What it tells me is that, MANY people care not only about the quality of what they’re buying, but also about the quality of real communication and, as a result, the quality of relationship, they experience.  That it’s worth waiting for.  That it’s valuable to them.

In truth, I think the world is hungry for it.

If that’s what you choose to serve, people will come, they will stay, and when they leave, they will REMEMBER.

Wishing you great figs and meaningful conversations!

Love,

Ingrid

 

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