Growing Dinner

I’ve always been a gardener, inspired since grades school by my Dad’s backyard plot of tomatoes, squash, corn and more. He taught me how to make black gold, layering kitchen scraps, brown leaves, grass clippings in thirds, carefully watering and turning the piles  like a chef, until I learned when the “compost is done.”  Years ago, he built the compost sifter I still use today.

My love for gardening has, for years, has been expressed with flowers, where I’ve created over 24 years, nice beds of good soil instead of the clay that is so pervasive on the hill I live on in suburban Detroit. Once in a while I’d sneak some peppers into the flower beds, but veggie growing has always been a sidebar; whatever I could get going in a large pot on the driveway. My veggie source default has always been the farmer’s market.

But this year, my gardening passion has morphed, thanks to my nephew and son, who built a frame structure for me, and filled it with free compost from our local community, combined with as much black gold as I could muster from my simple composting operation. I’m growing organic vegetables, many of which I acquired from the same farmers I’ve been supporting for years at the market.

In the space of only six weeks, my garden has stunned me with its amazing progress. From salad lettuce and arugula to golden beets, from bok choy to yellow wax beans, my dinner table is now graced with an abundance of amazing flavor. Thai basil, lemon thyme, parsley, greek oregano are rosemary are snipped with glee.


I’m thankful for the abundance provided by my little garden. It’s immensely satisfying to grow your own dinner.

Your brand has lost our mind. Can it get our hearts?

My friend told me a few weeks back that she somehow spent $7,000 last month on her Amex card. She was rattled by the depth and breadth of her spending, even though it did include a new furnace and some vacation airline tickets. But she paid it and then went back again the next day to Costco for supplies for a trip to her lake home. She’s lucky. She only spent seven minutes thinking about that seven thousand dollars.

Think again about that seven thousand dollars. That is the total amount of discretionary spending that 34.5% of U.S. Households have in a year. Over 50% have less than $10K to spend on non-essential items.

These stats from the 2011 Discretionary Spend Report (from Experian Simmoms) are troublesome for the economy, for retailers and especially for brands that used to command a price premium because they occupied some favored space or status in our minds.

Now, most of the consumer mindspace is crowded with fear. Not brands. And with math formulas that subtract from the weekly food budget the outrageous prices we pay for a freaking tank of gas for the car! And our minds are full of endless marketing, ranting at us to devote lots of time to online shopping before we go shopping because we must, we must, we must seek a discount or coupon for every single purchase we make.

Can you stop and think right now what brands really make a difference in your life when you’re in that crazy space of being on the edge of household poverty after twenty some years of prosperity? How many brands even have a tiny sliver in your mind anymore when all you have for discretionary money is ten grand for a whole year? Think of what Groupon has come to mean in your life. Is it meaningful or is it fearful?

What’s fearful to me is the fact that Groupon is now turning their monstrous machine to supermarkets. Classic brands should be sweating in the heat that is about to crank up to enable any growth, even growth with no margin, as the CPG brands clamor after share of wallet in the most aggressive way.

A surge in the endless round of discounting, some of it even disguised as “shopper marketing” is like getting out more nails to pound in the casket of the concept of classic CPG brands. IF HALF OF THE U.S. HOUSEHOLDS HAVE LESS THAN $10K TO SPEND IN A YEAR ON THINGS THEY WANT, WHAT ELSE SHOULD YOU DO TO ENCOURAGE SHOPPERS TO SAVE A SPACE IN THEIR CLUTTERED, FEARFUL MINDS FOR YOUR BRAND?

Yes, brands could shout. And many do. But who’s listening? Plus, all the shouting is about deals. We run after them like mice on the wheel. So uninspiring.

I want to know which CPG brand is going hire ambassadors at retail to hand out hugs? so many of us need them. They can create just a moment of heartfelt empathy, or caring, of joy. Maybe a few brands won’t jump on the Groupon coupon wagon….. Maybe they’ll capture our hearts, which is really the path to our wallets.

(Note: as I wrote this, I started thinking about Coke’s open happiness campaign. They manage to find great high ground for branding and stick with it. And then the old song came into my head: “things go better with Coca-Cola, things go better with Coke.” I’m no soda drinker but suddenly I’m craving a Coke in a green glass bottle.  It might just feel like a cold, but warm hug that’s worth a couple of bucks.)


Shopper Evolution in the Garage

I’ve always been mystified by garage sale mavens. You know the type. Throw things on a table and $300 later, they go to the club and play tennis, then to Nordstrom for new sandals and a little Kate Spade bag. Total $300.

I, on the other hand, have to suffer through two days of pain for $50, waiting endless hours for a shopper, then getting one right in the middle of a business discussion. That one shopper will browse for ten minutes and leave with nothing. Not even my hand-me-down Kate Spade bag.

I’m left wanting to give each shopper something, anything, just to get my garage clean again. I should just post a sign that says, “Please just take this stuff somewhere, anywhere.”

But, in today’s world of garage sales,  even the browser is rare.  The garage sale shopper has evolved. Drive-by’s with rolled down windows and a shouted question  is now the norm – “do you have any (fill in the blank).” Be it golf clubs to power tools to kids toys, today’s shopper lacks the impulse to even get out of the car, let alone to fall in love with a vase I’ve had in the basement for four years.

Mission based, needs focused and clearly making efficient use of time, today’s garage sale shoppers could just as easily go to Walmart. And based on the drastic reduction in traffic at my recent sale compared to the one five years ago, that’s where they all must be. Although I suspect in my area it’s really Target that’s getting the shopping trips.

Despite Facebook, Twitter and Craigslist, plus the scale of many sales in a concentrated geography over a two-day period, the shoppers were scarce all over town.  Salvation Army locations made out like bandits taking the leftovers from weary sellers.

In my world, once items we no longer want or use make it to the garage, it matters less that they sell. It matters most that they exit the household for good. Decluttering is just as evolutionary for today’s seller as mission-based cruising is for today’s buyer.

And that’s why, next time I need to rid myself of superfluous stuff, I’m bypassing the signs and balloons and going straight to the Salvation Army for the donation. That feeling is the one that feels better than being a pop-up retail resale maven no shoppers any day.