Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I Grew Up To Be A Farmer

There is an article in the NYT that has gone fairly viral, especially if you travel in circles where this type of thing is a major topic of conversation. It's about one farmer's fiscal reality, and the challenges of trying to keep oneself afloat with agriculture as the primary source of income. It's a great read, and you should definitely take a minute to read through it. 

The article contains things we have discussed out loud in our home, after a weekend at a Farmer's Market, or when a customer has again failed to pay an invoice or share on time, (or at all). We're both incredibly grateful for our respective college experiences, but we've also thought longingly about a life without a big circle of student debt attached to it. A student debt we don't feel we understood completely when we signed our names to it without a fully formed frontal lobe.

And, we're fairly fortunate in that our business has grown quickly, and has proven to be more often than not-- solvent. We have the privilege of having the education to write a business plan, being white, young, able-bodied and that Kim's career has allowed us to get the business up and running. We had the opportunity to lease land, I was able to do an apprenticeship. We have sought counsel, we have done online courses, we have read for days. These things have given us even the option of pursuing agriculture. Not everyone even can look at agriculture as an option, even if it's their dream.

Still, those moments, those deeply dark moments, where you know there is no way to deal with the budget shortfall other than just wait until the next opportunity to sell more product, be it an online promotion, or a market, or a CSA season. That's when you look at whether anything at all can be cut, if it's time to get another job (on top of the 60 hour min. you're doing on farm) or if you need to liquidate an asset like an unused set of tires or something. And the reality sets in that you don't know if you'll ever own land to run the business, and to live on. You don't know if you can make it through one more explanation of how your prices are fair, that the cost of food isn't so simple, and that you aren't just out to 'make money'.

And I also whole heartedly agree with friend and fellow farmer, Jenna, when she talks about the absolute, soul lifting, rewarding experience that farming is in her latest blog post in response to that same article.

In fifth grade, we all sat in a circle and our teacher went around and asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. When it got to me, I proudly announced "Farmer" and was a shade of magenta when the circle erupted into laughter and some "ewwws". I was honestly, shocked. I still can feel the eyes staring at me, I can feel my hands looking for something to do- pulling at my sleeves. I, in my socially awkward mind, hadn't realized that this was something to be ashamed of. And my aspirations remained shameful through high school, in pursuit of college, and, even in some of my romantic relationships.

I can't tell you how many people have shamed my agriculture passions, or assumed some kind of intellectual default in my chosen profession. I thankfully no longer shrink. I'm no longer a shy 5th grader. I'm intensely proud of the work we do, and perfectly capable of telling anyone that if they think farming is something to turn up one's nose at- perhaps they should quit eating.

And as aware of the benefits of farming as I am, my own schedule, the smell of fresh air- the freedom of my own destiny- I don't think that's enough. And I don't think it's solely my responsibility to take on all of the risk of farming, because that's what I 'chose' to do for a living. We all must hold responsibility for what we value in our food choices. If you are buying from our farm, you're our partner. We will work tirelessly for you, we will forgo years of vacations, we will be up late, we will get totally soaked and frozen. We will shovel shit. Actual Shit. But your end of the bargain is- you make sure we can pay the bills, you say that our kind of small farming is valuable and worth support. 

I don't want to live in a country where it's farmers vs. consumers locked up in a battle over prices. I don't want to live in a country where only the biggest farmers get to live comfortably. I don't really want to participate in a financial economy that says that we deserve to suffer because we grow food. I do want to feel all of the beautiful, wonderful things that Jenna describes in her post, and I do feel those things. That's not where the story stops for me but it is often solace, and a job perk unmatched by many. I do want, desperately, for children to grow up to farmers. I want little 5th graders dreaming of mud and chickens to be supported in their quest.

I grew up to a be a farmer, perhaps significantly because I can't imagine anything else to be and feel whole. And I'm willing to sacrifice for that end. But, I guess I'm asking, why should farming in an ethical, small scale way have to be synonymous with sacrifice? What would it take for a conversation so broad and changing to happen in this country that we would lift up our small farmers, nurture them and ensure our own food security? When we will as a country decide that real food matters, for everyone? Not just for the wealthy, not just for the savvy, but for each person. That we all should push our plates away from us and sigh, bodies nourished and taste buds elated.

I'm not sure what it will take to change the perception of agriculture, and to really shift minds about food access for all. But I hope we'll be here when it does change, we'll still standing at the farmer's market, waiting to sell you a meal. And that somehow, we're helping create that change we want to see.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Complicated truths of a 3rd season farm

In our third season of this farm business, there are a few things we know to be true, almost all of the time. Farming never allows for absolutes, so we won't say these things are ALWAYS the case, but it's a safe bet.

For example, if you are trying to rush through chores, it will be at least 90 degrees and a sweat lodge, or you will need to fix a fence and chase pigs, or you will need to refill every water trough.

If the barn is dirty, someone will want to tour your operation. If you need the tractor for all of the days tasks, it will not start properly in the morning. If you are down to the wire on finances, you will run out of feed on the same day because someone broke out and ate a bag, or you accidentally spilled a bucket of water into the feed bin, or you just misjudged supply. If you are counting on a good crop, something will go wrong. It can be produce, or livestock, something will go wrong and your crop with be half. Maybe.

It doesn't sound fun, really, does it?

It guess, it's really not. But it is a lesson. We control absolutely nothing, really. Our roll is to just mitigate risk, to plan for most eventualities, and to exhibit self control when it all hits the fan. It's a lesson in being resourceful, problem solving and anger management.

Farming has forced more emotional growth out of me then anything else. I don't allow myself to get riled up, I just try to figure out what the plan is. Sometimes, the plan kinda sucks. Sometimes, it means we don't get a rest, or we are scrambling to figure out where the extra cash is going to come from. And it can wear a person out.

This isn't to say I ever don't want to go to work in the morning. Even when I'm standing, shaking my head as 100 chickens break free through a hole in the fence while 2 goats scream at me from behind and I'm bleeding from my shin because I slid in a patch of mud, I am satisfied with my work. I know my place in the world, I'm grounded. It's honest work. It's work we all need. Food never goes out of style, we're all going to need to keep eating. I know what I'm meant to be doing, and this is it. We can't always do things in the ideal way, but we don't compromise on the care with which we do things, and I think that matters most.

We've built this business from nothing. We have had help and breaks on the way, but it's mostly been our backs, no big loans, no heavy equipment, just hands and sheer determination. (Though the tractor has certainly save our backs, it's also tested our patience) We are so grateful for the helping hands we have had. But it is a labor of love, and it continues to be a scrappier version of what we envisioned. It's sunsets and quail hatching, it's selling out of farmer's markets. It's delicious dinners. It's sweat, and sore muscles, and running constantly behind. It's tight finances. It's blood, and death, and gore. It's the smell of decay. It's birth. It's making mistakes.

In our third season, we have found ourselves on the cusp of where we are, and where we want to be. The farm is growing, it's stretching tight against our limits, and we're just digging our heels in until we break through the other side. We've hit the point where we really need to streamline our operation, without sacrificing the quality of our products. It's a terrifying, lose sleep point, and also profoundly exciting and inspiring. I don't know if this is how it is for all small, first generation farmers. Maybe it is. But I know that we are getting there. It's not always how we planned, and it's never easy.

One of our New Year's resolutions this year was to become Resource Full over resourceful. And that has meant making some big decisions, most of which we will be talking about soon enough. One of those decisions involves doubling down on the farm work load for me, while Kim goes back to work off farm for a really great organization so we can fill the coffers high enough to make some big investments, rather than exploring taking out loans for those things. It feels more self sufficient to pay outright, rather than relying on some outside funds, and long term- it's more inline with what we want. It's a hard transition for us, a wonderful opportunity, but an adjustment from our routine of solid companionship and team work. But now, more than ever, it's the time to look at the farm as it is now, and envisioning it in the future. And it's also about changing our quality of life too, practicing self care (even farmers like the idea of a vacation maybe once a year, in the dead of winter), and making sure we feel secure. We rolled the dice to start this farm, and are coming out ahead, now it's time to double up.

The messiest truth is that that vision for the farm will continue to change, and so will we. But I think that's amazing--that you can transform so completely, even when the routines stay mostly the same. All the animals need to eat, have water, get cleaned up. The daily list is fairly regular, but each day it molds me into something different. Somehow simultaneously stronger and more flexible. Physically, and mentally. There is something so transformative about the mundane.

So yes, being a third season, first generation farm is not always what you want, but is more often than not- it is exactly what you need to become a fourth season farm-- and that's enough.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thanksgiving Turkey Orders

Yes, it's that time already- we're taking orders for Thanksgiving turkeys! For those who have been eating the delicious summer birds, don't forget to pre-order your holiday feast! For those who haven't, but need a holiday bird- same to you! We will likely sell out, and getting your reservation in early helps us plan a delivery schedule and what size birds will be most popular. Our turkey is DELICIOUS. It's pastured and fed with our custom non-gmo feed, and we've been known to let the feathered friends get into some additional treats like watermelon and tomatoes. They live a wonderful life, and then they make a perfect holiday meal. 

The price per lb of our premium, sustainably raised turkey will range between $5.70 and $6.20. The final price will be available about three weeks before delivery, which is determined by the variable cost of feed. We will be doing our best to keep the cost on the lower end of the range. Turkeys will be delivered in the Capital District the week of Thanksgiving, or picked up on farm that same week. If you want us to consider an additional delivery location, contact us for our site minimums! Pick-Up Time/Dates will announced once we receive confirmation from our butchering partners of our scheduled processing.

Though we created this meme for our meat share- we still think it's pretty perfect for this time of the year too. 

To order a turkey, check out our online order form. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Easy Come, Easy Go and Other Farm Updates

A few weeks ago, we had a windfall of good luck when a neighbor offered up his old shed if we would move it. We were glad to do it, as we had been sourcing a new shelter for our summer flock of turkeys and planning ahead for our Thanksgiving batch. We decided to use the Farmall A, our flatbed trailer and a whole lot of gumption to get it back down to the farm. The shed was relatively light, and our neighbors helped us get it loaded and we literally screwed it down to the wooden flat bed. Then, we slowly puttered down the road to get it back here. It all went smoothly, remarkable so.

We were pretty happy to upgrade our temporary turkey shelter (built from a cattle panel) to a nicer model, and it made locking up the birds at a night a bit easier. We positioned the open side away from the direction we most often get winds, and for added measure secured it to the ground. Then, last Wednesday we headed out for our latest addition of the East Greenbush Farmer's Market and our regular Albany delivery. We both got drenched that night, and made it home at dusk, still damp. I was getting the heat lamps positioned for the new turkeys still brooding when I glanced out the back window of the barn and saw the big flock of summer birds standing, drenched, shivering, in the rain. But the shed was nowhere to be found. Literally, the 300ish lb shed was just gone.

We had branches down in the yard, and some storm damage, but the pallet coops and other infrastructure seemed fine. Finally, in the low light of a setting sun, I spotted the shed, at least an acre up the hill, totally crushed like a soda can.

Nature always wins. We'll get something figured out to house the turkeys for the fall season, and in the meantime the rest of the summer flock have take residence in the run-in shed, where they are quite comfortable. 

In less dramatic news, we have finally hatched our first little ducklings. Well, we didn't do much to make it happen, the call ducks did all the work. We have three little ducklings marching about, causing a ruckus, and they are as adorable as you'd imagine, though they spend much of the day in the barn splashing in their water dish and creating the worst kind of mud indoors you'll ever find. Their mama is constantly teaching them new duck things, so it won't be long until they can spend more time outdoors and in the streams/marsh. 

The pasture is at it's fullest now too. We don't mow, which sometimes gives the farm more of a meadow look then the organized madness we're going for. But it's really a growing strategy. We only have a limited amount of pasture, and we need it all to keep our animals fed and healthy. We let it get a little long for added shade, and as much feed as we can get from it for the amount of livestock we run. We've gone through about half of it, and have plenty of meat left to grow on the second half through the fall. By the end of the year the animals will have cleared all the acreage, and it will be well fertilized for the winter.  The sea of green, brown, and red smells fresh and sweet- and will do a better job of feeding the animals then the milled grains we use alone. Plus, it helps keep the water log down, especially with the amount of thunderstorms we've had. 

It's definitely summer. The humidity, the storms, the work load. Each day is packed with chores, and we are hustling to keep up with all of the tasks. We've gotten a bit behind with some of the things we like to have done (mowing the lawn, for example)- but are happy with the quality of life for the livestock. In between storms today I hauled a full bale of shavings out to the field, for feathered and porcine bedding. Keeping everyone dry is a challenge, but the pigs don't seem to mind the mud, as long as their beds stay dry. The mud keeps the sun off pale skin, and apparently is also good for snacking. We'll just take their word for it though, as the garden is prolific and we eat to match the work load!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fool proof Chicken Wings

Ahh summer, when you can eat so well, so easily... there is abundance everywhere you turn! So many farms have so much to offer right now, and one of our favorite treats is to turn every seasonal veg into some kind of tasty pizza. And what goes better with pizza than chicken wings? Here is how we make our not-fried chicken wings, including sauce and we've never had a complaint! We thought we'd share, so you too can sit on your porch with a good brew and the classic pizza/wings pairing- but far more delicious because it's FARM style!

1 Dozen Wings, split
1/2 stick of butter
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1/8 cup ketchup
1/8 cup brown sugar
liberal amounts of salt, chilli powder, pepper, garlic powder and smoked paprika
olive oil

Par-boil your wings (probably for about 5-10 minutes) while you are preheating your oven to 425.

On the stove-top, mix all of your sauce ingredients and let it cook down at a simmer for at least 15 minutes. Don't be afraid to add spices, take some away or just generally change the entire sauce recipe. Though the butter is key to make a smooth sauce.

Spread your wings out on a cookie sheet, and toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast them until golden brown, crispy and cooked thoroughly.

Pour your sauce over your wings once they are ready to serve. Eat them immediately, and provide ample napkins!!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Meat for Sale!

We are having a great summer, and have some really wonderful offerings for anyone looking to grill some locally grown, non-gmo, ethically raised meats. If you would like to order anything, let us know! We can arrange a convenient time on farm or we'll be in Albany this Wednesday, and can bring it you then. For those who would prefer to pay ahead, we now accept credit cards and can send you an invoice through square.

What's available:

Boneless Skinless Turkey Cutlets (12.50/lb, packages are usually about $7 each based on their weights. Approx 2 good size cutlets per package)

Turkey Drumsticks (7.50/lb) roughly 1lb packages (2 drumsticks)

Turkey Thighs (7.50/lb) roughtly 1.2lb packages (2 thighs)

Turkey Wings (7.00/lb) roughtly 1.5lb packages (2 wings)

RABBIT!! Whole, $30/each approximately 3.2lbs each

We still have 2 sides of pork available for our fall delivery date, for details on ordering a side of pork, check out this link. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Tough Choices

Well, as we mentioned in a previous post, we've been without a horse team for quite some time. While we are focusing on our meat operations (and loving that) we do miss the equine spirit around here. But, with the knowledge that our resources are better spent elsewhere, we've made the gut wrenching decision to sell off our equipment, hopefully to someone who wants it for active use! You can find the full listing on craigslist here.

Pick up only, we can't ship or trailer anything.

It's one of those choices you have to make as a small business with limited resources. We make them all of the time, and mostly, it's not public. But if you are going to succeed, you have to remember what's important. Plus, it really is a bummer to see such nice equipment not in use.