Years ago, I used to party with some folks from Centerville, Virgina's Cox Farms, a well-known and well-loved family farm, produce market, and host of an amazing annual Fall Festival. I found them a bright, creative, and fun-loving gaggle of humans who were extremely passionate about food production and building community around food. There was always a sense of mirth and mischief about them, too. Back in the 80s, their T-shirts and bumper stickers read: "You can't lick Cox for fresh produce" and (IIRC) featured a cartoon of a picker holding a basket full of phallic-looking vegetables. They've also displayed messages like: "Dad loves Cox, too!" (for Father's Day) and "We're so excited, we wet our plants!"
No stranger to the negative reaction of their provocative signage, the Cox farmers have created a new round of controversy with their latest series of signs taking a stand against white supremacy and Islamophobia. The response they posted on Facebook is wonderful. It's astonishing that speaking out against white supremacy would be a controversial position, but hey, not here in The Upside Down. Here is their response to the naysayers in the community:
Our little roadside signs have power. Most of the time, they let folks know that our hanging baskets are on sale, that today’s sweet corn is the best ever, that Santa will be at the market this weekend, or that the Fall Festival will be closed due to rain. During the off-season, sometimes we utilize them differently. Sometimes, we try to offer a smile on a daily commute. Sometimes, a message of support and inclusion to a community that is struggling makes someone’s day. Sometimes the messages on our signs make people think… and sometimes, they make some people angry.
Last week, some of our customers and neighbors asked us to clarify the sentiment behind our sign that said “Rise & Resist.” So, we changed it to read “Rise Up Against Injustice” and “Resist White Supremacy.” We sincerely believe that fighting injustice and white supremacy is a responsibility that can- and should- unite us all. We struggle to see how anyone other than self-identified white supremacists would take this as a personal attack.
Some have asked why we feel called to have such a message on our signs at all. Here is why:
Cox Farms is a small family-owned and family-operated business. The five of us are not just business-owners; we are human beings, members of the community, and concerned citizens of this country. We are also a family, and our shared values and principles are central to our business.
We’re not seeking to alienate folks who have different perspectives on tax reform or infrastructure spending. But when it comes to speaking out against systems of oppression and injustice, we see it as our moral responsibility to use our position of privilege and power, along with the tools of our trade and the platforms available to us, to engage visibly and actively in the fight for justice. Our roadside sign messages are one small way we do this.
Some folks have expressed that they would prefer not to know where we stand. We appreciate that being an informed consumer can sometimes be exhausting, disappointing, and frustrating. It can involve making hard choices about values and priorities. We respect that some have decided to no longer patronize our business as a result. We also know that there are some who may see our signs, roll their eyes, and still choose to come back for the kettle corn. We get it.
Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” We consider the present state of our country to be far beyond partisan bickering or politics as usual. We see our nation in crisis, and peoples’ lives and safety and humanity are hanging in the balance. We are gravely concerned about the hateful words, destructive actions, and detrimental policies coming from this administration. We are not neutral, and we will not feign neutrality to appease our customers. We are committed to speaking out for love and justice, even if it costs us some business.
Almost twenty years ago, some visitors started a boycott because we fly rainbow flags over our hay tunnel, and they were concerned that Cox Farms was “promoting the homosexual agenda.” A few years ago, some folks got very angry about the Black Lives Matter sign hanging in a window of an owner’s home on the farm. Last year, some locals took offense at our “We love our Muslim neighbors” and “Immigrants make America great!” sign messages. What do all of the messages have in common? They are statements of inclusion. They attempt to tell members of our community, people that might feel discriminated against or alienated in a particular moment, “Hey, you are welcome here, too.” To our customers and neighbors that feel that this is somehow a divisive stance, we ask you to reflect on the possibility that your lived experience may be one that hasn’t necessitated a message of inclusion to make you feel welcome.
We’re not strangers to controversy or hard conversations. When we take a stand, we do so knowing that it could hurt our bottom line, and we are comfortable taking that risk. As a family, we know that when you’re on the right side of history, love wins. Right now, it means that some people in our community no longer feel comfortable supporting our business, and we respect that. While our intention was not to make anyone feel unwelcome, we certainly respect every consumer’s right to decide which businesses to support in our community.
[H/t Anne Lee Carpenter]