Sunday, December 26, 2010

End Of The Year Musings

Wow, here we go AGAIN....turning the page on ANOTHER year! And what a year, or two for that matter! From a farm/business and personal standpoint, I am amazed to see the things that have passed us by. The sub-prime mortgage debacle, BIG bank closures, high unemployment and for some reason I am always drawn to the ever widening class gap. Did you know that a quarter of the top 400 "richest" people are in the financial services sector? Did you know that in 1982, that number was closer to 1/8? Hmmmm. Your bank as well as mine is not just a bank, but an investment house, too. Lending into the community is at a standstill because you will not get as rich from your neighbor as you will by taking your deposits and rolling the dice in a game of fancy derivatives! Now, this dumb farmer is connecting the dots. I've been uneasy about taking charge cards for the business and now I can put my finger on it!! What true value will that bank who services it add to my bottom line? The answer comes in negative terms; their hands are in my pocket!! Monthly fees, swipe fees, terminal rental fees.....etc. Who puts out the hard dough, rolls up the sleeves and does the real pulling in the economy? Those true working, innovating folks aren't as rewarded as they once were. Working toward the American Dream? Work hard, get ahead........not so fast! We do need banks, yes......don't get me wrong, but these days the banks are investing outside the community to chase higher profits. Local business, innovation and community health suffers as a result. Big time!

Ok, ok- so what's my point? Take a moment to ponder where your money goes in a monthly budget. Who gets paid, and what happens to that money? Is it worth it? Who's adding true value to your life and to the American dream?

We won't take charge cards and we work with banks that take a real and personal stake in our business and our community and country. It is hard to ferret the facts out, but alternatives exist! Starry eyed over that super low advertised mortgage rate? Read the fine print! Do you have a mortgage? Who owns it? Who are you working for? When the chips are down, will they listen to you?

We work hard toward a simple principle; do it right, work hard, work smart and make damn sure whatever you do nourishes your soul, your family, your community!

Best wishes to all for a super 2011! We'll be there!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chicken is here!

Hurray! Our long list of patient customers who ordered chicken are getting their orders filled, at long last! Are we ever thankful for your patience!

We are extremely pleased with our new hatchery that delivers us healthy, live chicks (Mount Healthy Hatchery) and to our new processor, Westminster Meats of VT! We can toot our horn here by now offering a full interstate trade legal USDA inspected product to all of our customers. No more reservations and deposits for both farmer and customer to keep track of. Chicken is now a standard stock item along with our USDA inspected beef. What we trade for this simplicity, will be swapped for some marketing "soothsaying". How many birds should we be growing, what will the demand be, will we have scores of new customers? If you are either a new or returning customer, you could help us by giving us some guidance as to how much you might want in 2011. We went through growing pains with our beef business; we've expanded production and our land base several times....from 20 acres and 4 animals to over 24 animals and over 150 acres, with all the necessary investments to make it all work. In our early years, we turned away many customers due to low stock. We are hoping to advance the curve by getting some insight on the poultry market so no one goes away empty handed.

The market season is winding down, and the farmer is getting some respite from the frantic pace of farming and markets and buying clubs! We will go into our shop this winter to fix the fleet of aging iron and we'll go into our office and do market research, customer outreach and planning for 2011. What did you like, or not like in 2010? Let us know!

We are looking forward to 2011 already!

Thank you for your business and support!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

You deserve more explanation!

Our last newsletter has brought out some comments that have prompted me to write further on our poultry pricing and our slower response times to customers. We got lots of letters in support of our price increase (thank you!) and some alerting us to some frustrations (thank you for the honesty!) . First, I was able to keep up with upwards of 20 customer e-mails per day and now that isn't possible. With more customers and more plates spinning on the farm (and life in general) and a decidedly slower farmer, it is becoming really hard to keep up with everyone and everything. I set up one heck of a precedent! You can help us now by remaining patient and giving us time to meet your needs. We may need a new software package to help us deal better with what is turning out to be a larger retail business. Or, a combination of things to help you stay in better touch with us. So far, we don't have a dedicated person to help in the "office"- the farmer is it. We have great help, but we cannot afford it all the time- but we could REALLY use the help all year 'round! The farmer is the animal tender, mechanic, carpenter, father, husband get the picture. Boy could I run.....all day and halfway into the night....every day......before this summer. Not now. New game plan. Now!
The price increase on our poultry brought lots of questions. What is going on there? Where's my chicken? Why a price increase halfway through the season? We got shipment after shipment with upwards of a 100 dead chicks. Talk about a horror upon horror to open up boxes of dead chicks! Our hatchery said "well that happens", really no big them! They are now our ex-hatchery! Our many small lots had to have separate housing and we weren't ready for so many multiple lots of birds. We stretched ourselves pretty thin. And we fell short on the first part of the season's orders. And then there is the big issue of processing. Many governmental agencies came around to the region's poultry processors with heightened regulations- aka spend more money to stay permitted. The costs to use a permitted custom processor is now nearly the same as going to a new USDA plant in VT. With our "old" system, we were not allowed to sell out of state or from our freezers to a walk-in clientele. This partly explains our deposit system. This is the essence of the custom processing, USDA exempt rule. The legislature in VT told both the USDA and their own agencies to make it possible to have farmers sell their poultry direct to any customer, and they put up the money to help make it so. Wow! Now, in 2010, New England has a fully licensed USDA facility for poultry. This is a very big deal for the region and for small scale farmers who wish to retail more of their farm's products. There have been similar pushes in MA to have this done, but our legislature and agencies have been far from helpful. Voices from a small population does not get things done a lot of the time. VT's commitment to their farmers came from the very top- and many good things happened! The price to process in VT is virtually the same as for a MA exempt custom processor. The USDA stamp helps us open our marketing options and offers us more service. We absorbed the extra processing fees this summer, but with finances already pretty thin on a farm, we have to become frank with you and ask you to help us. We understand if the price is now just too much. We have to be ruthless and objective when an enterprise is losing money. The recession and realities of business and life may bring in more changes for us. No doubt that we are in the best of times, and the worst of times!
We have a new lot of beef to offer which is among our finest for flavor and tenderness! Our beef animals had excellent pasture from very early on in the spring, and it shows!
Thank you!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Egg Recalls and California Chickens

Well, here we go again, another food recall...this time a vast mountain of salmonella tainted eggs.

LOTS of eggs being recalled........which brings to mind that a short explanation is indicated for our friends and customers.

ALL eggs can potentially carry these pathogens. Free range eggs are not exempt from this issue. However, when hens can have lots of room and fresh pastures to roam in, then the chances that their eggs come into contact with fecal material is much less. So, free range eggs from flocks that are properly managed should have a much lower rate of contamination. When we collect eggs, we discard all stained and contaminated eggs right away- they never enter an egg box. And, we use a sanitizing egg wash solution to further knock down any bacteria that do wind up on the shell (that can then migrate into the egg). Also, due to the anatomy of a chicken, with the reproductive and digestive tracts sharing a common opening, there is always some risk involved that even hens from a pristine environment can impart contamination. We strive to drastically minimize the risks for you, but personal responsibility always reigns supreme. Discard cracked eggs and buy from a reputable source. Thoroughly cook egg dishes. Keep raw eggs refrigerated.

California wishes to redefine how eggs are sold and produced in the land of mega farms. This is a good thing- perhaps a beacon to the future? We hope so! As much as we wish all food were produced on a scale that brings back local production, we fear that it may not be realized in our life-time. Too many people really don't care that much, and with economies of scale, much of our food will remain very cheap. We see Wal-Marts springing up in droves (and in many cases on old farmsteads)...not small farms! Reality 101.

We do care and we really appreciate those who care enough to vote with their wallets and time!

Thank you!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Follow-up/Article of Interest

Wow, two posts so far in summer! What's up with that? Well, in today's NYT (8/1/2010) there was an article showcasing an iconic feature of our region's agriculture that has thrown in the proverbial towel-

This article has touched something rather sensitive and VERY telling to me.......

The Tuttle Farm of Dover, NH- a vibrant farm that I considered emblematic and inspirational, as an example of a successful family farm, is calling it quits. They've been in existence since 1632. Yes, you read that right- over 300 years ago! I have studied farms like the Tuttle's that have persisted over the generations and was looking to see how they did it. A common thread is direct marketing with a diverse product base. Most to all the farms I studied (that still stand today) have done this. And now, the model is not as rock solid as I once thought. One can burn out, drain the coffers and for a sobering kick to the head, not come up with an option to move forward. Game over, no more options.......Argh......

Why my treatise on this subject? It strikes a note that strums through my head lately. You can't run like you used to.....and no matter how hard you work, you cannot make enough money to support a year-round payroll to get the help to keep the ferris wheel turning.

Other parallels come to mind that have strong correlations to our collective pickle. I run our town's food bank and we routinely distribute food from the USDA to our needy. OUR USDA and our tax money. Canned fruit from China. Dried pasta from Egypt. Canned veggies from South America. I'm not sure where the meat comes from as food labeling laws don't require country of origin to be posted. Currency devaluation, budget woes....Hmmm....A multi-generation, "older than dirt" business and farm in NH goes under and Chinese peaches are feeding our people.

The Tuttle's decision to quit is due to overwhelming forces. Fiscal, monetary, economic and social forces are pushing VERY hard now. We feel them, too. Boy, do we feel them!

Stay tuned to learn how we are going to deal with these forces...........

Change is something we can all count on regardless of the times.......count on that!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Some Notables To Note....

Ah, farming in an ever changing world......touched by so many elements that can both help us, or.....hinder us. Some more wild hot weather, a weak economy, regulations and labor issues topped by a hobbled farmer made for a very INTERESTING season here!

A hot, dry spring and summer have doled out some stresses to every animal here. So, we must attend to their need for comfort and shade and more water. NOW. We apologize if we've been hard to contact or receive information back from us. The plus, awesome haymaking weather! We're packing it all away for our long, cold winters. At least what we can get, as yields are way down due to the lack of water. That is farming!

We have great help this year! A weak economy has expanded the pool of available help. Also, the weak economy has also affected our sales, so we must watch our cash flow more closely. Boy, would we love to reward our help with more hours and raises to help our young adult workers and the wider economy...but we must remain cautious so we don't let our cup run low!

The Obama administration has issued a mandate to tighten up our food safety systems. That means the small exempt processors have had to make major upgrades and updates to remain permitted. While all processors large and small are affected to varying degrees, the "smalls" seem to be more affected. That means folks like us. But who would argue that safer is always better? Pro-active is good. We really bristle at the attitudes of regulators that feel part of their job is to NOT help those who are trying. We could go on and on.....but won't now....We do applaud the State of Vermont legislature that WANTS to help farmers. Talk about a change of attitude from the top! Vermont wishes to make local food safe and widely available and seeks to spread about honey to get everyone involved and on board to pull in the same direction. Wow!

This farmer has been on an odyssey to work through some health issues this winter through early summer. Most frustrating and enlightening both. How? Working with our health care system and taking charge to get the many elements that do work to work together for the ultimate outcome....a healthy individual. Let it be said from the must take charge and control of your own health (or finances, or whatever it is!). There are great people and systems out there, but they are mired in paper and dead-end phone trees (among other things!). Your own research and energy has to go into the system! Talk about happens when a phone call goes un-returned and the farmer shows up in your office and won't vacate the front seat! The farmer is feeling much better these days and is getting back up to speed. Lets all keep our eye on the ball! We affect others and are affected by others.
With sincerest wishes for good health to all!

Monday, March 1, 2010

LOTS of Changes coming in 2010!

We've been reasonably happy with how the events of the meat recall at Adams this winter. For those who have purchased from us recently, we now have lot numbers on every package of beef we sell. And, the this recent lot was tested and found clean of pathogenic E. coli. Phew.....we squacked and squeeked and something different has been done....hurray! We are not complacent, though. We hope that enhanced testing will continue at Adams Farm.

Our planning for 2010 has many new projects in the pipeline. First, we are not going to sell at the Barre Farmers' Market this year. Whoa...why you may ask? Well, as our business grows and we need to be ever careful on how and where we spend our time, a harsh reality broke over us. The Barre Market is a great venue for getting out with our friends, neighbors and colleagues, but it creates a business sink. We really did very little business there...and have done so for years. And since my wife works off the farm Monday-Friday, I'm loathed to have to spend over half a day away of the only two she has off with me. Don't despair, we will look to address the issue of local access by setting up a day and time that we'll be at the farm to meet your needs. We will let you know and we will also advertise as well. I could use your input on days and times for our open farm sales day in the summer and fall of '10.

On the production side of farming for an ever widening marketplace, we've been confronting two "ghosts in the closet". We've been loading up our home farm with a wide range of critters from cattle of various ages and sizes to an ever burgeoning flock of layers and broilers. The first ghost is that we're getting close to the carrying capacity of our farm and are on the lookout for more land to rent. In the meantime, we are working with a retired dairy farmer who is converting his crop base to grass only (away from corn) to help us with a supply of young stock and properly finished beef according to our specifications. This is a HUGE leap for us, a bit scary too, as we need to think about so many more things now. We built our reputation on transparency and quality based on sound environmental, financial and animal welfare tenets that we also need to reflect on the facts that we cannot do it all. And we need to use our time to make darn sure things are done right. So we swap a manager's cap for our farmer's cap from time to time.

The second ghost is about us having so many animals on the farm...and what they leave behind. We've got our animals in moveable loafing sheds and the pack they leave behind is manageable when we have a modest sized herd. When we need to clean up, we move the shed and scoop up the barn yard gold and get it our to our hay fields and grazing land (in the off season). Its manageable for a modest sized herd.....

For a herd size that we now have, we need a different system. We need an easier system for the farmer and we want to make sure we capture as much of those nutrients as possible to get them back on the land. We are planning for a small composting facility to help us better safeguard water quality and minimize fertilizer needs.

No small endeavor........nor cheap....but necessary. We "gotta walk the walk" not just "talk the talk" so to speak.

For these reasons, we need to adjust our prices from time to time to reflect the realities we are faced with. We qualify for virtually no USDA price support programs, so we are pushed into self-financing any and all improvements, and at our small size, our costs do fluctuate. We feel that the prices we charge are a true reflection of what it truly costs to bring our products to you.

We're working every angle as hard as we can to do things cleanly, effectively and as affordably as possible.

Cheers...spring is here!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tonic of Time...and Reflection....

Now that nearly a week has passed since my near coronary regarding the recall at Adam's Farm, more information has been garnered....and some solid opinions are forming.
First, the very potential for a recall seems a little closer to home. Not only are we not in a vacuum, but the processing of our beef is controlled by others and comes in contact with other farms and individuals. We've been cruising along growing grass, managing animals, developing customer networks and dealing with the bumps along the way. Chugging along as one might say. In the past, we've not thought deeply enough that we may need to call on our customers to announce "there's a potential problem...we need to recall the beef we sold you"!
Secondly, there seems to be more risk, or at least awareness of, that there are more pathogenic bacteria in our world and in our food as well. Be it in our raw fruits and vegetables or our meat. Headline news and solid science supports this observation. By recent USDA accounts, 28% of all the beef carcasses in the USA carry detectable amounts of pathogenic E. coli. While our meat processing industry does not look like a contemporary counterpart to Upton Sinclair's account of the early 20th century meat packing industry, we do need a dose of reality that meat processing is not and cannot easily be made into an aseptic process. Could we do better? YES! How? There lies the challenge! Not only did a consumer blatantly disregard any and all reasonable meat handling practices, then to have subsequent testing on the the plant and the other farm's products come clean, only to have my pleas for tightened testing fall on deaf ears. "See, the system worked, we're clean, the USDA and Adams did their jobs"!
Thirdly, we're back to thinking more deeply about how we can tighten up our farm to keep safe, clean, transparent and accountable. Not that we lost sight of this, but since we are not at an industrial scale that seems to promote the proliferation of pathogenic E. coli, we tended to rest on some laurels. We thought since we use a processor that does not deal with such industrially produced animals and is just another small-time business trying to fill a need and do it well and cleanly, we should be pretty safe. Well, it seems pathogenic E. coli appears to be around these parts- in central New England. In an unemotional, coldly scientific analysis, the large amount of food that got processed and how many people ate it and did not get sick might suggest something about the processes involved. Something is working....though emotionally, we NEVER want to be in a situation where we slam the doors shut after the horses escape! So, observe, test, change, act.....never rest on your laurels!
So, we've insisted on lot numbering on our product so we can deal decisively if a recall should haunt our doorstep. This will start on our next lot. We've asked to meet with the USDA to learn about their testing and sanitation regulations. We may visit new ways to bring in independent testing. This is expensive, but maybe a cooperative system to share the costs could be started? When we lose control at such a critical step and hand off our animals to someone else, we need new lenses in our glasses!
Since it is a safe assessment to contend that we live in a world populated with very adaptable bacteria, please handle all of your food with an extra dose of care! Wash those fruits and veggies, properly defrost and cook that meat and properly handle all leftovers. Can you hear your mother in the background.....?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Warning Shot Over The Bow....Recall at Adams Farm

Hello! What a day we've had when a customer calls us to inform us that our beef processor has been involved in a beef recall. An amazing tribute to those who are paying VERY close attention to developments in the spheres of food safety. A well deserved hats-off!

Our beef is processed by Adam's Farm of Athol, MA and they were just involved in a beef recall that affected over 2,000 lb of beef from local farms in our area. The link is here:

The official recall is here:

While our beef is not involved in this recall, a shot of panic shot through my very being as the beef we are selling was processed the day after the beef in question was processed. After a healthy dose of expletives and OMGS, I regained some of my composure and called several key people. Among them my wife, a research biologist who is in the midst of some of the best minds in biology (and is one of them!), to help me gather data, information and composure. And a call to Adam's Farm.

The recall is a result of a consumer falling ill from consuming pathogenic E.coli, from ground beef from a farm that had its beef processed at Adam's Farm on November 11, 2009. Since Adams Farm processed beef from 3 farms that day, all beef processed that day was recalled as a precaution. I learned by the end of today that the testing results from the other two farms' products were complete and no pathogenic E.coli was found. A single source was identified and no detectable cross contamination (by USDA protocols) was found.

It was reported to me later that the consumer who fell ill consumed the ground beef raw as tar-tar AFTER having left the beef out at room temperature for 24 hrs. My microbiologists, on honorary retainer, say that this makes for incredible bacterial multiplication......or should we say- exponential (super size me !) growth!

However, now that the cat is out of the bag, I am asking Adams and the USDA just how often testing occurs, as by USDA accounts, testing is characterized as "random-though-frequent enough to catch potential problems". I have a very hard time with this assertion since a month has passed since the contamination event occurred. As of today, I'm not sure if there was testing conducted during the processing session of November 12, 2009. I am awaiting confirmation. I am convinced that the facility undergoes extensive cleaning and sanitizing at the end of each day, so there should have been no cross contamination from the processing session of November 11, 2009 to our processing session on November 12, 2009.

The official guidelines for testing are here:

I've also looked into independent testing of our own beef, and what I found was a very expensive routine to sample, transport (for chain of custody integrity) and then testing.

Should we be doing more testing ? Can we bear the weight of independent 100% testing for our own beef ? Can we gain enough confidence from the current USDA practices ? We've chosen our processors on the basis of cleanliness and demonstration of capability and transparency. We are also at the mercy (or benefit?) of the agencies charged with assuring safety and wholesomeness.

Why do we bring this to your attention? It is of high concern to us and we expect it to be of concern to you. We are now on the trail of discovery to learn in greater detail how things get tested in USDA-inspected facilities. Maybe we can promote changes.....certainly become a squeaky wheel !

Warning Shot Over The Bow....Recall at Adams Farm

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Industrial Food and Unintended Consequences

Hello all ! Long post, and some fun things have been rolling across the big screens and the big press lately! If you've not seen Food, Inc. and you are interested in getting a feel for how industrial food is produced- then you should see it! For those who already know some of this big story, we have a new twist to add to the subject- a New York Times expose on ammoniated ground beef

Ammonia treated ground beef is coming under scrutiny as are the very agencies that oversee the safety and wholesomeness of the food we eat. One has to wonder, what will we learn next ??

Give it some thought whenever you eat out, or your children eat lunches prepared at school, or you shop through the aisles of the market. Whatever your take- be it a triumph of technology to be able to produce sheer mountains of food so cheaply, or an abomination to the very nature of what helps define us- what we eat.

No, I'm not advocating a wholesale rebuttal to large scale agriculture, but I do urge you constantly ask......."WHY?"

Why so cheap ? Why the other ingredients ? Why are the regulations written so ? Who is in charge ? A big part of the ANSWER is YOU...with your food dollars. VERY powerful ! Give it some thought ! Shunt a portion of your food dollars to.........
You fill in the blank !
Thank you and be well !