Monday, July 22, 2013

Increasing Sustainability; Managing Unintended Consequences

In conjunction with our last post on the woes of hot summers, we are no doubt on high alert to set more plans in motion to deal with an increase in summer temperatures. Can you say "New Year, more of the same, maybe even more?" For the end of July, things around here look eerily like mid-August. And our grazing critters know it, too.

We are feeding more hay and grazing less again this summer. The pastures are taking a pounding when hungry grazers are filtering through dormant pastures looking for their favorite plants. Dormancy coming 3-4 weeks early. AGAIN. Animals coming back to the barn way before August peeks in to our routine. Feeding hay costs more. But we have to do it to save our pastures and grass. Nub anything to the ground it takes a LONG time for the plant to recover. So, we must not let the grass get grazed down too short. The grazing season is shorter this year. AGAIN.

Chickens are stressed in heat and lay fewer eggs and produce less meat. A loss in production costs us in many ways.

So, costs are up. And we needed to react by raising prices. We kept the increase lower on products we feel are a better value for you- ground beef, sausage and our economy steaks and whole chicken.

The harvest window for optimal quality grass- either by grazing or by machine- is shorter and much sooner in the season. We are really scrambling to either get it stockpiled as hay or into the bellies of grazing critters as fast as possible. BEFORE the quality and quantity hits the bottom of the barrel.

Talk about unintended consequences! Grazing is best for the animal...and then in turn for us as consumers. But grazing animals need a constant supply of high quality grass to thrive. But lately, that window of quality and quantity shows up earlier in the season and it is an increasingly small window. So, we must put people and machines to the task of harvesting the grass when it is the best quality. Harvesting from pastures and dedicated hay ground both. Then when the heat comes barreling in and the rains stop then the grass stops growing and we must pull the grazing animals off or else they'll stunt the grass so badly that we can kiss the rest of the grazing year good bye!

We can irrigate our pastures- we are indeed thinking about it- but it takes investment. We can add extra fertility into our grass lands to help them stay productive and of high quality. That takes investment, too. We also need to harvest our grass when the grass is ready.....not necessarily when it is best for us. New and specialized equipment can help us here. Again it takes an investment. And in the dog eat dog world of business and agriculture we may need to turn to the USDA for help. And we'll look at MA state programs, too. We're too small to get great loan rates like Facebook or Goldman-Sachs. The great consolidation and credit crunch of the post 2008 world has produced other unintended consequences- an unfriendly world for small players. At a time when we need them to help pull a load and spur innovation.

So, the caboose to this train of thought? Keep buying local clean foods! We feel we produce wholesome food and we do it in a sustainable fashion. We aren't dumping tons of pesticides and herbicides on our land. We don't use antibiotics. We don't use lots of fossil fuels either. In essence, our footprint is pretty small. Your support of this system can help show others that we hold important answers to producing food for a burgeoning population in an increasingly hot and dry world.

There's an unmistakable knock at the door.........

Friday, January 11, 2013

Thoughts on 2012 and plans for 2013

The hot, dry summer of 2012 battered us a bit- our pastures were stressed and our hay yields were down a bit. BUT- we'll take a hot and dry summer over a cold and wet one! An old-timer once told me "A hot and dry summer will scare you but you'll starve in a cold and wet summer!" How true!! We were able to have a full harvest at the farm- from our vegetables and greens to dry hay with fair ease to boot! In wet and cold summers- no tomatoes or dry, mold-free hay!! There is something afoot on the issue of climate change......the signs are hard to ignore! Thankfully with our rich soils and still adequate rainfall, we should be able to get by. With some tweeking that is......

The implications of climate change have forced changes in our pastured broiler program. The new weather patterns have thrown us some very hot and dry conditions earlier in the season, when the broilers are are busy growing. During this stage, the added heat stress presents us a management challenge. We have to reserve our shaded spots for chickens. During high-summer, there are few of those shaded field borders! And we will be postponing much of our production into the late summer and fall, when conditions are markedly better for growing chickens.  Just when you think you have a system in place..........

We brought chicken parts to market this year with a very warm reception, thank you! We'll bring more in 2013 for sure!

Do you want other convenience items such as pre-marinaded beef kabobs and steaks? How about low-fat chicken sausages with fun ingredients such as sun-dried tomato and feta cheese? We can use your thoughts and ideas as the marketplace seems to demand more and more convenience.

The farm shop has been busy with lots of fabricating! We now have a new BIODIESEL reactor....all custom made in the shop! Our feedstock- used vegetable oil, is from local restaurants. We also have a new hay grabber/stacker to replace a lot of the hard manual labor of putting up our hay. And coming up for 2013 will be plans for a high capacity in-line bale compressor and wrapper for high quality grass silage and this high quality forage will be key for happy and steadily growing cows in winter. This will be another farm-shop invention!

And if we have time, we'll start up a corn and soybean patch for growing some of our chicken feed. Not only is chicken feed becoming expensive, an on-farm production program might be cost effective too. The soybeans, being a legume, can help us incorporate nitrogen into our soils as well. And when brought into a rotation program with all our other cropping systems, we should be able to sustain good yields and improve soil health at the same time. This system of crop rotation is not new, but has been side-lined in modern agriculture as a means to feverishly pursue ever increasing yields in our corn and soy-based society. Livestock (cattle, horses and chickens) will be a key component in a pasture/soybean/corn/small-grain crop rotation.......and it should be fun! Read more on crop rotations here, a no-brainer concept but very well presented in this article- Marsden Farm USDA study.

Thank you for your support of our style of farming- a sustainable road map to the future of healthy food production!

Let us know how we're doing and what you'd like to see!

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

NEWS FLASH! Chicken Options!

We are most pleased to offer our legendary chicken in a wide array of convenience-added forms: half chickens (MADE for the barbie); split bone-in breasts with 1, 2 or 3/ pkg; legs/thighs 2 or 3/pkg and wings 7-10/pkg. We've been getting a lot of requests to bring these options to you and we just got through the regulations and got the nod from both the USDA/Food Safety and Inspection Service and our MA Dept. of Public Health to use our hometown butcher shop to help us out. And for all my quiet frustration with government and regulations, I have to say that all the regulatory authorities I dealt with were great! Responsive, helpful and interested in helping us out. Thank you!!

We are especially proud to say that not only were these chickens raised locally on our clean, green pastures, but we used a lot of local resources to bring this to you. We use a USDA processor in VT, we bought our feed from a farmers' cooperative feed mill in CT and the cutting and packaging was done by our very helpful and capable full-service butcher shop and grocery store that is right here in Barre. We are indeed proud to be able to help keep our local economy healthy and churning!

Stop on by and see us in Waltham or Wayland, and we'll be coming out to Worcester, too. Tell us what you think. We fully expect this new addition will be well received; however marketing is a never-ending discipline and we need to know if something could be better/different. We are here because of- and for you!

Thank you!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Thoughts on food labeling

We've fielded many questions regarding additives or fillers in our products; and to my surprise, most people ASSUME there is more in their food than what the label shows! WOW! And another gasp- they are right! It is well known that GMOs and other addiitves are in our food and we don't know about it due to weak labeling regulations. A whopping 93% of people would like to see full disclosure on what is in their food. Where else do you see that much agreement on anything?

Getting back to what we add to our food........very little, and in the case of our sausages, ALL the ingredients are listed. You can decide if the food is appropriate for you because you will always enjoy full disclosure from us!

Not so in the wider marketplace. And the FDA is coming down on the side of consumers on labeling. WOW!

Learn more about food labeling from the Rodale Institute here.

And what the FDA is thinking about sunscreen, packaging and additives as seen on here.

We have a vested interest in your well-being!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Nose-To-Tail Retail Marketing & Pricing Realities

For those of you who also buy meat at the grocery store- we need not remind you that meat prices are WAY UP across the board! RECORD prices in fact. The recession has taken the wind out of domestic consumption and with droughts in the south and west, cattle supplies have dried up. Simple supply and demand. Also, commodity prices for common feed-stocks for livestock feed have been volatile and trending higher still. Developing countries are developing a taste for beef, while they don't have the infrastructure to supply it- hello export market demand!

We're a local producer, but nevertheless not insulated from the price swings in the market as we buy select feeder stock that is becoming pretty near and dear in the marketplace. We buy locally, but those prices are pegged to what the wider market is bearing- and why not? Farmers have had to munch on dry stale toast for years and what a chance to pay down debt, why not?! For the last 30+ years I've seen feeder prices hovering in the $0.50- $0.80/lb range for feeder cattle...that is until recently. Can you say ouch to a doubling to tripling of these prices!!! Our new prices have to reflect this reality.

How can we help you keep clean, local meat in your menus? Our imminently due price list update includes a modest adjustment to our lower end cuts while putting a premium on our higher end steaks- in keeping with our philosophy of acknowledging the reality of supply and demand (a mere 10-12% of the animal is premium steak), but we should be casting our imagination and menus toward the cornucopia of great tasting, lower end cuts. Those lower cuts have been relegated to the back burner for years during the booming years of only a few years ago. But alas- a new reality! Plus, we produce whole animals and we must market the whole animal. By pricing the higher end cuts appropriately, we all can eat great clean beef during this time of high prices.

We will be working hard to help you make the most of our lower end cuts- from recipes, special sales and promotions and tastings at markets! We really know how to make the most of all our cuts and we're happy to share our ideas and love of those great under-appreciated cuts!!!!

We'll marinade a great chuck steak for dinner!!

Peace and great eating!

Hope to see you at the markets starting 6/16 in Waltham!


Friday, March 16, 2012

Ground Beef and The Lean Trimmings Debate

No treated lean beef trimmings in our ground beef!
Talk about a firestorm of news around "pink slime"! The City of Boston is immediately pulling over 60,000 pounds of ground beef containing pink slime from their schools' cafeterias! But, they cannot find a replacement for it as only 30% of our country's ground beef is certified to be free of pink slime..... and the pink slime may even be in grocery stores! There is no requirement to state treated lean trimmings content on the label, too! Whoa!

The USDA strenuously states that ammonium hydroxide treated lean beef trimmings are safe- maybe they are somewhat right- maybe. How many umpteen-thousands of tons of beef has been consumed with apparent little ill-effect? Ok...point taken..however precariously.

But, what about the issue of not telling consumers what they are eating? Was it really tested for safety? Is there any residual ammonium hydroxide in the meat? What is a safe level? What else will be learned tomorrow?

What is pink slime? Well, when beef is processed into familiar retail cuts, there is a lot of trimming.....a lot! In the name of efficiency, this trim loss does contain protein- a very important and expensive commodity, so it is an opportunity to increase efficiency. But when you include trimmings from the outer layers of the animal into ground beef- this layer is often contaminated. Fat is then separated out from the lean and a gooey protein rich product remains and pathogens are killed with gaseous ammonium hydroxide. Then add this protein back into the ground beef and stretch it out. And decrease the waste stream. Efficiency taken to an exponential level! There is an excellent story on this from NPR here:

What happens when our farm's beef is processed? There is a lot trim loss and the outer layers are discarded and sold to renderers (pet food, cosmetics, other fillers). Trim pieces that are too small for cubed stew, kabob meat and other small cuts goes into ground beef and sausage. We take a lower carcass yield due to the trim that goes to the renderer. And pink slime is thankfully not an option in small-scale processing houses anyway. Along with us, our processor is committed to producing clean, safe, minimally processed and wholesome food!

So.....if you buy your food from a store it can be a puzzle to find out exactly what's in it and how it was produced. But there are moves toward greater transparency... a very good thing indeed!

AND, you should get to know your producer- whatever the product- meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables- as they'd be happy to tell you all the details of how your food was produced! And we all need to work toward consuming a lot less processed foods, too. Priceless information for a properly informed decision!!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Eat our ground beef!

For those who follow our blog, the following plea is not new. We need to have you buy our ground beef! Sure our steaks are quite the treat; but one cannot live on steak alone! We cannot process more beef until we move our low-end cuts that is overwhelmingly our ground beef.

Ok, ok you say. You've talked about this already in previous posts- what's different this time?

Well, LOTS of things are different. Previously, our sales and promotions worked pretty well. But not now. Its not news that we are in extraordinary times! Not only are we in a persistently soft economy, but the collateral damage from this translates into a change in demographics and buying habits. There are lots of people who simply cannot afford our products. We know that. Then there are those who will only buy steak- as a result of only having enough money to buy that occasional "treat" of a steak or those who simply have more money these days. The widening class divide promotes a lot of steak eating for those who have more money now while at the same time we see a weakening of purchasing power for those who are falling down the economic ladder- no doubt these folks won't be able to buy even our value priced ground beef. We see this a LOT now. These two factors collude to keep ground beef in our inventory. A ground beef mountain has always been a problem for us, but more so now. So.........

If you buy our steaks, we thank you for your business and support! When you buy a steak, buy ground beef for your everyday eating! While it seems counter-intuitive, we'll sink out of sight if we can't sell our ground. We cannot process animals only to store ground. We cannot sell more steaks unless we process more animals. We cannot stay in business by sitting on inventory. Solution= buy ground beef (or patties or sausages). We have recipes and ideas at the ready to help!

Questions? Comments? Let us know!
Bon appetit!