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!