The First Twelve Months: Month Seven The Expectations and Reality of a Brand Newbie Market Grower


The Expectations and Reality of a Brand Newbie Market Grower ~ Black Fox Homestead

Summary: Over the past several months we’ve been keeping a monthly journal of the first year on our homestead with all of the high points, as well as the trials and tribulations of transitioning from life in the city to life in the country.

In March, our fourth month, my husband took a leave of absence from our computer consulting business to see if full time work on the homestead was a possibility. 

We have been working since January to have enough produce to sell both wholesale to a small local grocery and at the local Farmer’s Market.  If you want to read our entire journey from month one up to this point you can find all of the posts listed here.

Month Six was entitled reality check.  Month seven was basically a continuation of that as we made our first sale to the local co-op and made our first appearance at a few local Farmer’s Markets.

Expectation:  The Farmer’s Market Community with the vendors and market managers is a friendly community.  Everyone works to help each other and everyone observes the rules and regulations. The manager is there to see that everything runs smoothly.

Reality: This is only partially true.  Some markets did have a friendly feel amongst the members, and the market manager was supportive and helpful to potential new vendors.   But there were those that were not.  We learned (the hard way) that it is entirely possible to show up on time, registration papers in hand, market fee paid in full, set up, and then be asked to move some of our stuff to accommodate a returning member ~ even though that member had arrived late after the market was open.   We also learned it is possible that said member will proceed to ignore the rule of having prices set before the market opens, thereby undercutting you and keeping you from making a sale for the first few hours.  It is also possible that the market manager will fudge certain details to save face with said returning member, never take the time to introduce himself, make sure you are comfortable, or learn your name; preferring instead to smoke and hobnob with fellow long standing vendor buddies.

I left our first farmer’s market feeling like I had been shunned from a middle school clique.

Expectation: Everyone loves locally grown, striped tomatoes in funky colors.

Reality: The majority of the people who stopped by our booth could have cared less where our stuff came from or how we grew it.  We were later told that this crowd preferred round, red hybrid tomatoes.  And many want them out of season.  I was shocked and saddened to overhear a conversation between a prospective customer and vendor in the neighboring booth:

Customer: What makes your garlic different from what I can purchase in the store?

Vendor: It is healthier for you!

Customer: I don’t care about healthy.

Expectation: Fellow local growers are knowledgeable about cultural practices and have no problems visiting with their customers about how their produce is grown.

Reality: When I was a potential customer scouting out a local market I was taken aback when I asked about some radishes.

Me: Can you tell me about how these are grown?

Grower: I’m not sure I understand.  What do you mean?

Me: I mean are they organic or conventionally grown?

Grower: What does conventional mean?’

Me: Do you use pesticides?

Grower: Oooooh!  Oh no. No. We don’t spray at all.  If we have to, we start with something mild like Sevin, and then work our way up to something much stronger such as a pyrethrin spray.

Expectation: All the growers sell produce they have grown themselves.

Reality: In Oklahoma the only requirement for selling at the farmer’s market is that 70% be grown by the vendor.  The remaining 30% can be purchased from someone else.

It is very difficult to set your table loaded with your own vegetables you’ve struggled to grow in wonky weather next to someone else’s who purchased out of season produce from a much larger grower.

No one is really enticed by baby kale when they can get 12” cucumbers, chard the size of elephant ears, or red tomatoes that have apparently been grown in a green house.  Although the vendor was upfront about the fact that they were not hers and she did not think they were organically grown, hers was the busy booth that morning.  We didn’t make a single sale.

Red Russian Kale: From the garden to the market

Red Russian Kale: From the garden to the market

Expectation:  A pretty booth will draw people in.

Reality: We went to a lot of trouble to put together what we thought was an attractive booth

Our booth!  Open and ready for business

Our booth! Open and ready for business

with a tablecloth, pretty baskets, chalkboards,  cut flowers, and recipes for our produce.  I even bought a cute gingham pinwheel and stuck it in a tin milk pail.

However, few people paid attention to our display.

While we did get customers who eventually came our way, they immediately bolted from their cars to those who had little more than a table set in front of their pick up.

Expectation: Home grown heirloom produce commands a much higher price than conventionally grown in the grocery store.

Reality: Farmer’s Market products were, relatively speaking, priced much cheaper than I had anticipated; and most customers will only purchase a few small items at a time.  Where we live, customers have not really seen the value of paying a higher price for better food.  If you don’t price your products comparatively, they won’t sell no matter how healthy or unique.

Expectation: It would be more advantageous to sell full price at the Farmer’s Market that to be the middle man selling wholesale to the co-op.

Reality:  The local co-op was more than willing to give us a fair price for our lettuces, a price that was only slightly less than the going rate at the Farmer’s Market.  They were also willing to take whatever we could give them while at the market we have yet to sell out.

Expectation: Once we figure out the right combination or hit upon the right series of events this endeavor will take off. We have the technical knowledge, so all it takes is hard work.   One year, or even two, will be sufficient to establish a thriving little produce business.

Reality:  Given the opinion of our general public towards locally grown, this will take a marketing strategy that includes educating those around us about why we do what we do.

Given the going rate of products sold both at the market and wholesale, this will take a much larger infrastructure and much more volume than we had originally planned.

We were not given the advantage of inheriting the family farm.  We purchased an empty pasture with a pond and have literally started from the ground up.

All of these things will take more time.  Much more time.

Expectation: It’s just vegetables.  You don’t take it personal.

Reality:  We have invested much blood, sweat, and tears in what we sell.  We personally selected varieties that were favorites of ours for significant reasons.  While harvesting, we thought often of those we hoped to bless with what we’d grown.

When someone takes a passing glance and wrinkles their nose, it really does sting.

But at the same time, when someone lovingly takes a bunch of your rosemary, inhales deeply, and says wistfully “This reminds me so much of my grandmother…”

…it totally makes your day.

Fresh Cut Herbs ~ Black Fox Homestead


Takeaway from Month Seven:

In spite of the harsh reality, we still believe in what we do.

We love yellow cream sausage tomatoes.

We  think Forellenschluss leaves are the most beautiful things we have ever seen.

We still love our over-decorated booth with the chalkboards and the obnoxious pinwheel.

We believe naturally grown, local, in season, is the best thing you can put on your table.

We believe that if we persist, others will come to love and believe in those things too.

We may need to adjust our plan, it will take much longer than we expected but we intend to keep at it.

And anyhow, the chickens will be here next week.

Find this post and others like it linked to: Clever Chicks Blog Hop, The Homestead Barn Hop, The Scoop, Tuesdays with a Twist, The Backyard Farming Connection Hop Frugal Days Sustainable Ways, Wildcrafting Wednesday, The HomeAcre Hop, Down Home Blog Hop, Simple Lives Thursday

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The First Twelve Months: Month Seven The Expectations and Reality of a Brand Newbie Market Grower — 59 Comments

  1. I hope you will continue doing things as you are now. Hopefully, people will learn to appreciate your hard work, both in growing healthy food and having an attractive presentation. I can only imagine how disappointing this has been for you.

    • Thank you Kathy, we’ll just keep going, trying to learn from all this, and eventually we’ll end up right where we should be. :)

  2. Continue to do what you do. I have been gardening for 8 years now and it is my goal to own a farm one day. I had a very small CSA two years ago because so many people said they would love to buy vegetables from me. The year I did the CSA only one person signed up. I know how it feels to have people complain about prices yet will go to a grocery store and pay extremely high prices for pesticide-laden produce that has no nutritional value. Here’s what I learned while I participated in the Maryland New Farmer Trainee program: continue to go to that farmer’s market. It may take a few seasons, but you will develop a loyal following and it will be well worth the wait. Thank you for sharing this post with me!

    • Thanks so much for the advice Audra! We’ve decided we’re just going to keep going back. It is amazing what people are and are not willing to buy when it comes to food.

  3. Maybe I am just weird, but I would have gravitated to your pretty booth! People are just funny (and I don’t mean humerous) and I see that poor attitudes/behaviors are not restricted to those “non-farmers”. Thank you for sharing your journey and for being honest. You will be a positive change in your town!

  4. Thanks for sharing your struggles during your first year farming. I think a lot of times farming is romanticized. As a beginning farmer myself, it’s nice to know there are others out there figuring out similar challenges.

    Also, I came across an interesting podcast from Farm Marketing Solutions the other day on visual food marketing that might give you some other ideas for your vendor station. I found it pretty useful for thinking about signage and other display setups.

    • Megan, we were just talking last night about signage and some adjustments we probably need to make. We’ll take a look at that link. I enjoyed looking at your website! :)

  5. I would have totally come to your table! I agree with Audra, I think it will take a few seasons to get a loyal following but eventually you will. I like our local farmers market but it is very utilitarian – nothing like what you’d see on the east coast. And some of the stuff there is not grown by the seller. But our market verifies that the growers and if 100% is grown by the vendor they get a sign to put out.

    Also, there used to be a blog called Farmama and she and her husband did a lot of market gardening. One thing she did was make some very simple muslin reuseable shopping bags with an ink stamp on it to mark it. She sold them and then when customers came back to her booth the next week they would get a small discount for using the bag they purchased from her on what they purchased that week. I thought that was a great marketing idea.

    Hang in there, it’ll turn around!

    • Angi, I think we’re just going to have to keep showing up and stick it out. I’ll take a look at that blog you recommended. We had a similar idea for bags but I didn’t have a chance to make them up. Turns out, the market’s local sponsor had some made up for us to give out for free :/ so I think I’m going to wait a few more weeks before we give that a try.

  6. I love your booth! I usually gravitate to the clean and organized booths when I visit a farmer’s market. I worry that the dirty and unkempt booths grow their vegetables in dirty and unkempt ways! LOL I may be a bit obsessive, but I worry that even organic vegetables can carry E Coli if not properly handled. Anyway – if you were in my town I would certainly visit your booth! So, hang in there. I’m sure there are lots of us out here in “blog world” who will pray for your eventual success! Vickie @ makingoursustainablelife

    • Vickie thank you. :) We feel we’re in the right place so we’re just going to keep at it. We so appreciate your prayers.

  7. I don’t know what laws (if any) there are concerning this, but is it realistic to ship? I live in Indiana and would love to support an operation like yours. I am currently working hard towards my dream of homesteading. Reading your blogs lets me see what I am in for. So thank you!

    • Scott, thank you! I don’t know anything about shipping regulations ~ we actually hadn’t thought about that but it might be something worth looking into. Best wishes for your future homestead and thanks for stopping by. :D

  8. I would go to your booth. I always go to the pretty ones first. I believe you will do it–as long as you continue to believe in yourselves. And you’ll fall in love with the chickens.

    • Thank you Meredith! We’ve just about got the coop done and we’re counting the days!!!!

  9. I am so sorry this was your first experience at your local market! Your booth looks gorgeous and so does the food. We have gotten involved with the “committee” that puts on/supports our local market and found that to be very helpful in setting philosophy and expectations. Just this week we asked 2 new vendors to leave because their products/food were not local enough. All of this was done because we had many open discussions about what we hope the market will be. I hope that this may be a possibility for you to create change in your market. Also, we do A LOT of education about our products. Handouts explaining what terms mean, heirloom, pasture-fed, etc. We find in our local, rural community many people don’t have the terminology, but they can understand it once we put it in another language.

    • I would really like to be more involved at the committee level. I’m not even sure that there is much of one at this point as the first meeting that we attended was very poorly organized. I do agree about education. I have plans to put together some resources for those who stop by the booth including links back to articles and recipes on our blog. I just need to get them finished and printed off. We have all of our warm season stuff planted now and I should have a little bit more time to work on that sort of thing. The garden has been so demanding.

  10. Don’t get discouraged! Perhaps, starting a tiny CSA would be a good idea. Glad to hear the wholesale market wants your fine produce. Your kale looked beautiful, I would have bought the basketfull. You priced it a lot cheaper than the markets here in Cali and people still buy it here. It does take some education to know the reasoning behind the higher prices, but let’s face it, some people just want food as cheap as they can get it. Keep up the great work of feeding our country wonderful real food.

    • Thank you Katrina! I would love to start a small CSA. That is definitely something we have talked about and would like to plan on doing at some point.

  11. Hang in there. What your doing is well worth the doing. It’s just others who don’t yet realise what goodness you’re selling. One day they will wake up. Best of luck for your next market.

    • Thank you. :) We’ll have another go at it this Saturday, and the tomatoes are coming on so maybe interest will pick up as the season progresses.

  12. I love your “overdecorated” booth – it would have been my first stop. The trend of locally grown/in season is getting there, but still has a long way to go. If you asked anyone around these parts (SE Neb) they would look at you like you were speaking a foreign language. But hang in there, because there are those of us who would love to have a market available with produce like you are growing.

    • I agree. I think in some parts of the country it just has yet to really hit. I saw an article somewhere that rated each state as far as interest in locally grown. For the life of me I can’t remember where I saw it, or why on earth I didn’t pin it but from what I recall the stats were based on the number of local markets available in the state. Oklahoma was very close to the bottom. Granted, that could have something to do with the drought last year and the fact that some stuff just didn’t grow thereby making it available to the market. But still. :/

  13. I would totally buy from your beautiful booth. And, it definitely matters to me where and how food is grown. Isn’t that why people shop at Farmer’s Markets???

    • Thank you Heidi! Yes, I thought people shopped Farmer’s Markets in order to have healthy locally grown stuff. I so wanted to ask that person, “If you really don’t care about healthy? Why on earth are you here?”

  14. Thank, thank you for sharing your struggles! Too often all we get is the pretty pictures from homesteading and not the struggles that come – especially from trying to deal with an uneducated public! Sharing this with our readers at and Keep your chin up!

  15. I live near Madison , WI, in a small community. We have a local farmers market with about five vendors, three of which sell crafts. I always stop by and see what’s available. More often than not, there is not much to choose from and I have to drive into Madison to make the rest of my purchases. It saddens me and I wonder if it is a supply or demand issue. I love your booth and would buy from you in a second! I always try to buy from the booths with less traffic as long as it’s organic and of good quality.

    Keep doing what you’re doing. People will come!

  16. Thank you so much for sharing your trials through this endeavor, I’m also looking to start my own produce and small farm business. I live in Oregon and within an hours drive to Portland (hippie, organic lovers central). So I’m really banking on the local culture as well as the winery country and local food growers co-ops. I’ll enjoy following y’all along on your journey!

  17. I have to agree with most of your readers. I would have been drawn to your booth. The way I see it, if you are putting that much effort in to your booth, you must REALLY be putting the effort in to your vegetables, right? It clearly shows (to me anyways) that you care about what you are doing. Also, I suggest you continue right on with the plan you had. At our market “most” of the vendors carry your typical veggies, but one tries new things all the time…different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, unusual beans, different greens, he was the first to bring garlic scapes. He’s my first stop every time (well, at least he was until he started double wrapping everything in plastic). The first year he brought them, he was giving away the garlic scapes when you made a purchase (which I found amusing because I had actually been looking for garlic scapes for years) but then the next year, he sold out. The only down side is that the other vendors followed his lead and now his unusual veggies have competition. It may be little consolation on a market morning, but you truly are an inspiration. I hope you have better luck next time!

  18. Thank you for sharing this. It’s interesting to see the market from a seller’s perspective and gives me more respect for what you do.

  19. Wow, the whole experience of marketing thru the Farmer’s outdoor market is disheartening. I’m sorry to see the realities, but not surprised.

    I once paid $7 for a half-quart jar of raw honey at a small farmer’s market -knowing it was real honey and knowing the value of it. (Wlamart equivalent of questionable quality was less than half that price). Now I have my own bees because the cost was impossible to sustain (that’s about 2 weeks worth of honey for us).

    My husband once bought a $5 dozen eggs (only barely medium sized) because he was clueless… but once I informed him, I was able to get chickens!

    The price matters a lot-even when you really WANT fresh locally grown or to support locally grown, since it can come down to budget survival over gourmet or quality… though getting ‘faked out’ by someone who re-sells non-locally grown discourages my trust in EVERYONE selling.

    You can’t please all the people all the time, so please yourself first! Some people are just looking for fresh, some for organic, some for a bargain, and I think some people like getting zebra striped tomatoes for a Sunday brunch once a year. (I had to look up what Forellenschluss leaves were though, lol.)
    It might be more lucrative (less overhead) to provide seasonal things to restaurants, where bragging on locally grown veggies has more prestige than the average kitchen table…

    Oh, one other thing I’ve noticed is that people really like to buy pre-made things like salsa and breads and muffins… even pre-made salad or herb combo mixes (French, Italian, etc.), because looking at a lot of raw things can discourage those who don’t know what to do with it. (A 2-cup bag of baked ‘kale chips’ goes for $7 in our natural foods store). We’re in an expensive place to live, but still…it’s a thought.
    I imagine I would buy a bouquet of fresh herbs (say enough for 2 meals) if there was a daisy or something ‘frilly’ wrapped up in them too!

    Good luck figuring this all out. Don’t give up, the world needs you more than it knows!

  20. I really enjoy your blog. It gives me insight on issues I might face when starting my homestead. It is unfortunate you were not welcomed by the other market farmers. It sounds as if everyone else already knows each other, while you’re still new to the area. Don’t loose heart, just keep doing what you are doing. Sometimes people are hesitant to try new things, try offering samples if possible.

  21. Hi Jenny, I have been reading about you for a while now and didn’t realise we share the same name. Today I am prompted to comment, I will try to be clear but succinct. I am LDS church we are commanded to eat fruit and veg seasonally, it occurred to me that having been brought up in a world where lots of things are available all the time, I don’t actually know what is seasonal when. So I thought that probably most people won’t understand seasonally availability, or how this relates to pricing. So yes education is needed, in the wider community, to kids in the techy format that they will get. I hope my comments don’t upset in anyway I tend to be a bit blunt.
    Anyway I think you guys are doing a great work.
    love Jenny

  22. I live in Western Pa and currently our local grocery store gets corn in from Florida ( it is good ) but other than that they don’t have good tomatoes and they never get good fruit in …I travel to a local farm for tomatoes, berries, whatever and pay a small fortune for them but they are worth it in season! :) I recently did a post about my trip to the farm and making fresh tomato sauce ( the farm has a sister farm in South Carolina where the tomatoes are from until local is available ) and I just went out there yesterday for another round. Later on I’ll be eating my OWN tomatoes but basically you can’t beat local fresh produce. I imagine that alot of people don’t remember what it tastes like For instance, we have strawberries from Florida available in the grocery stores. You have to cut them and sugar them and then they are not bad and they are fine for recipes but they are nothing like a local PA berry!

    Anyway ….you have a wonderful blog and just hang in there :) If you can afford to, you might make a batch of something to sample….sauce or salsa or something ? Maybe salsa. A tiny spoon of salsa and a chip and little cheap recipe cards. I dunno….just an idea :)

    • Thank you Debra. We’re taking a step back at the moment and re-evaluating our situation. I really would love to take samples to the market, but here unfortunately, unless they’ve been prepared in an approved kitchen it isn’t allowed. I’m bummed because I think we’d sell a lot more if folks could taste it.

  23. You are further down the path than we are right how, but it is very similar to what our dreams are. I know it will be a slow and difficult process, but worth it. Stay strong, make adjustments where necessary, but keep your eye on the prize. Thanks for sharing and I’ve really appreciated the truthfulness of your monthly updates.


  24. We’re preparing to head the way you are going with selling organic heirloom produce at the local farmer’s market, but being an organic farm that sells pastured organic eggs, we’ve already encountered those who can’t believe our eggs cost $$ much! So much is education! A previous poster asked about samples, but how about taking one of your items (cuc, tomato, melon, etc) and actually cutting it open right there before the customer and offering a bite…as you are happily munching on yours? Years ago I had a vendor do that very same thing…even gave a cuc to each of my boys (he must have had plenty to share) and you know, when you’re standing there eating the vendor’s produce, it suddenly tastes pretty good! We live in northeast Texas with lots of wind too, along with clay soil and not much water during the summer. In our garden, we’ve found we have no trouble growing melons. Lots & lots of melons. And one melon can be cut into LOTS of samples! Praying you can find some way of inviting people to sample the wonderful tasting produce you offer!

    • You’ll probably have to check with your Market Master about cut veggie samples. For some things like maple syrup, or popping a pea or raspberry in your mouth is okay, but our health department doesn’t allow cut veggies unless they follow a bunch of rules (that make it nearly impossible for people to have cut veggie samples). Texas might have more lax rules though than Indiana where I’m from.

    • I would love to give samples, but what Megan said is what is true for here. It isn’t allowed by the health department. :( We can’t even slice a tomato and offer it as a sample. Anything that is offered for consumption has to be prepared in an approved kitchen. OK is getting ready to allow some cottage laws, and I’m hoping that may change things somewhat but for right now we can’t offer anything like that. It is frustrating because I’m sure that would really help the vendor a lot. I’ll have to see if we could get some melons going. So far our kale has done wonderfully, and we’re growing some nice sunflowers in our poor soil. Best wishes Sherri! I enjoyed looking at your website.

  25. A friend on Facebook shared your post, and since we’re in our second year of direct-to-consumer-only farming, it really hit a chord. :D

    We’ve been lucky – we started out selling through our group here in Georgia. They specialize in promoting pesticide-free, chemical-free, local produce, meats, dairy, etc. (You can check to see if there’s a group near you. Ours is, but there are others in our area, like, etc. You can search the site for online farmer’s markets near your homestead.)

    Since we started, we’ve found other farmer’s markets who cater to the organic, locally grown-loving crowd. We participate in one that doesn’t focus on locally grown, and it’s tough to compete with the folks who truck in 4 for $1 corn from who-knows-where, or $7 a gallon strawberries from Florida. The folks who patronize that market don’t care who or where the produce came from, just the price.

    My only suggestion, other than simply keep up what you’re doing and the folks who value you will find you, is to find your niche market – the folks looking for good, clean, high-quality food. Find other organically-inclined farmers and find out where they sell their produce. Check with local medical students/organizations, healthy kids initiatives, or nutritionists in your area, anyone who you think might be working towards healthy eating/community education. We’ve found churches and medical students working together to bring a mini farmers market to an urban area “food desert” – they even got a grant to double those residents’ food stamp dollars. Those kinds of grass-roots groups are going to be your best networking opportunities to find the right outlets for your produce.

    And by the way…the pretty booth WILL help draw people to you. We’ve found with some of our markets that it’s taken until this year to develop a following – people who come every week to see what we have available. Branding is important – they need to know at a glance that you’re the same folks they saw last week, or at the last market, or whatever. We’ve always tried to keep a consistent “look & feel” to our booth – including branding, logos, or other easily-identifiable things – to help people “remember” who we are from one market to the next. It does help. We now have people who “follow” us to the various markets (i.e. they missed us at the Saturday market, so they catch us at the Tuesday market over here, or the Thursday market over there.)

    Keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t lose hope! There are people who want to be a part of what you’re doing…you just have to dig a little to find them. :D

    • Sandi, thank you so much for the encouragement and the advice. I really appreciate it. It is nice to meet a fellow grower. :) I will definitely look into locallygrown.

  26. Your crops sound wonderful. Sorry to hear you have uneducated (regarding heirloom, organic produce) customers! Come to Georgia! We love and seek out exactly that quality. My entire home garden (small) is heirloom, non GMO items and we’re purchasing almost entirely organic from local area. I figure in the long run the extra cost for the healthier produce will result in lower medical bills.

    • Thank you Lynn! We have friends in GA who have a market so yeah, I think a lot of it just depends on where you live. :/

  27. Thanks so much for the reality check. This pretty much confirmed my suspicion. I have been an entrepreneur for most of my life and the farmer market seemed like an expensive and inefficient mechanism for selling. We started a huge garden this year. We are looking at different avenues. Is there a way to create a product out of your veggies and sale that? We were thinking of doing salsa or spicy sauce. We have lots of tomatoes and peppers.

    Thanks again,

    Matt Sullivan

    • Yes, we have been brainstorming to come up with a possible product that might work. Good luck with your salsa!

  28. Oh jenny, I am so grateful for your blog:) You’re a year ahead of us..we’re still getting ready to move and it is so helpful to learn from you. We’re heading to a place that sounds so similar in culture. :) Happy that Wardee “introduced” me to you. :) Praying for creativity and perseverance for you!! Hugs, the other Jenny :)

    • Hi Jenny! It has been quite the ride but we’re so glad we did it. I’ll keep you all in my thoughts and prayers as you make your transition. And yes, one of the things I have enjoyed most about writing for Gnowfglins is being able to meet and learn from all of you. :) Hope you and your family have a great weekend.

  29. I’m a farmer’s market shopper…I ONLY shop at organic stands, ONLY local, and I love love love the most nutrient dense and unique produce! Black radishes, purple cauliflower, striped and weird looking tomatoes, squash that no one has ever heard of…we’re out there, Jenny!!