Locavore vs Carnival-vore
A local farmer at the Art Fair
by Kelli Conlin
From the September, 2018 issue
Having grown up in Ann Arbor, I was eager to show off my frozen custard at one of the city's premier events, the annual Art Fair. I have owned and run Fluffy Bottom Farms for three years now. Although we're mainly known for our fresh Jersey cow milk cheeses and yogurts, I have a wonderful recipe for frozen custard.
Last year we bought a soft-serve ice cream machine and converted an old trailer into a charming little cart, complete with a handmade sign proclaiming "Frozen Custard." We even painted a smile on it, imagining our customers' happiness as they tasted our artisanal treat, so different from the soft-serve product that comes from powdered mixes (it's a stretch to call it ice cream).
The nice folks at the Main Street Area Association, who run the food court on Liberty during the Art Fair, were kind enough to let us pay the hefty fee for a booth at their food court in increments. It was still a huge stretch, but I was sure that once people discovered our custard--fresh milk, plus eggs, butter, sugar, and Madagascar Bourbon vanilla--we'd sell more than enough to make up for it.
To say I misjudged the situation is an understatement. As we set up our little hand-painted cart with the cute yellow-and-white striped awning, I realized how outdone we were by the carnival-style vendors that surrounded us. Next to our small, six-foot-long booth was a Chinese-style chicken-on-a-stick vendor. Their trailer was thirty feet long, with all sorts of grills, refrigerators, and prep tables. Across from us was a Greek gyro vendor with signs that reached almost two stories high! There were two nonlocal ice cream vendors on the block with big flags at the corner of Liberty and Main proclaiming their product!
Suddenly, the analogy of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree from the Peanuts classic came to mind ... what had seemed so simple yet beautiful was completely overwhelmed by the glitz and blaring signs.
We were at risk of being swallowed up by the Art Fair itself. My nephews
P.J. and Jack, who staffed the booth, yelled out with all their hearts, "Local ice cream!" "Fresh frozen custard from right here in Ann Arbor!" "Sanders chocolate toppings!" and more.
We ended the weekend in the red financially, but with a healthy education in the profession of carnival vendors who travel from fair to fair and somehow make it all work so seamlessly. The chicken-on-a-stick folks were from Texas, and no doubt right now are working in some other far-off state doing the same thing they did so proficiently at the Art Fair.
Fluffy Bottom has learned a big lesson from this event: we will never be able to compete with the glitz and downright loudness of the carnival-style vendors. But, luckily for us, we live in the greatest local food community in the world. While many will flock to carnival foods, we know that Ann Arborites also appreciate a picnic on the Diag with a baguette, a good hunk of cheese, and a local peach. At the end of the day, even the kids from the Peanuts Christmas Special appreciated the specialness of Charlie Brown's little tree.
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