Thursday, May 29, 2014

Community

It all started with a phone call. It was just before Thanksgiving, we were still in high gear. We had turkeys on pasture, harvesting to do- the last thing I felt like doing was answering the phone. But, it was a neighbor, fellow Agland Protection Committee member, and, someone I liked- Jeanne Mettler.

Jeanne is just one of those people who gets things done. She's that rare type- she has great ideas and the kind of dedication it takes to see those great ideas actually follow through. She was calling to see if we thought farmers in the area would have any interest in saving our local general store.

Our local general store isn't just a convenience store- it is a lifeline to many in the community. The current owners needed to close it, and it would certainly leave Copake with a void. We have seniors and other community members who do not have access to cars (and there is no mass transportation). There are other places semi-near by to get groceries, but for many- it would be near impossible to get the basics. For others, it was just needed a place to get local goods close to home, rather than commuting 15-20 minutes just for those pantry items everyone runs out of. The need was clear. But where did we fit in as farmers?

We're constantly struggling to find ways to make our products more accessible. In our rural community, you can set up a farm stand but unless someone drives by- they may not see it. And with our switch to meat products, it's even harder to make sure that you are reaching folks you can hardly leave fresh chicken out all day. Folks barely see what you have regularly- even when they live less than a mile away! We've always imagined there to be a way to get the local farmers together and create a space where our community could get those farm fresh goods on more than one day a week. In the first two years of business, it was impossible for us to even find the time to get to a Saturday market- so when Jeanne called us- it was like she read our minds.

We were in. We wanted to bridge the gap between the general store needs of our community and an amazing array of farmers who could practically cover the food groups. Of course, a great idea is only the beginning.

I could tell you all about the hours of meetings, the setbacks, the renovations. I could tell you about mishaps with electricians, negotiating regulations... but really- what I want to tell you is about the feeling of the first day we were open.

We were there all week, frantically getting the last of the must haves together to get open on Memorial Day weekend. Kim and I even put most of the non-essential farm work on hold, and instead spent the entire week running errands, setting up a register system, meeting with local vendors to go over their product lists... and then finally our big grocery order came in.

This store isn't just run by someone with a good idea and the money to execute it. The funds were raised through the community, and the business LLC is managed by a board (of which Kim is a member), subject to elections. The store has staff, who are wonderful, and care for day to day operations. The board is still highly involved, working together to really make the place run.

So the night that our big grocery order finally came in, we had been waiting for hours on the delivery truck. We had struggled to find a vendor who would even consider delivering to our little town, with enough products to ensure our community would be served well, at good prices. And so we unloaded them, all hands on deck, all 680+ boxes. We got them on the shelves. We got them into our inventory and register system. Volunteers came. We all skipped meals. We all were exhausted. But the doors opened. And this is really, just the beginning of the story.

It may just seem like something small- a little store where you can pick up your coffee, milk, bread... but it's so much more. Along with grocery items we have 10 local farmers bringing in their goods weekly. We have local meat, cheese, granola, bread, produce, canned goods, cookies... the farmers and food producers jumped at the chance to sell directly to their community. This is how we see change for our community. By blending a grocery store model with a daily farmers market we can offer so much more to our community. We can help to reconnect local people with local food. We can provide for those folks who can't drive to get their groceries. And it came together because our community wanted it, worked for it, and funded it.

The doors opened on Sunday. It had hiccups, we have much to do- still. We have kinks, technology issues, stocking problems- all of the things a small business expects. But we also have joy. Or, at least I do. I have such joy at seeing folks come in, grab a basket and grab a chicken I grew- and then chat with them about it. I have joy that you can get salad greens from a small farm run by some of the nicest folks you'll ever meet. I have joy that spices are 99 cents and a local elder told me that we had done a "mighty fine job with the pricing". I have relief, that the doors are open, that I could run down and grab coffee beans this morning when we ran out. I have hope, that this is just the beginning, we're just getting started.

To many in our little town, it's just "nice" to have an open store, and I'm glad for that. But for me, and I think for many others involved in this project- it's nothing short of extraordinary.



ps- if you want to know more about this project, or help us continue to do the work of managing all of the local products, check our our link here! Thanks! 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Missing Links Part 1- The Team

Several folks have been sending suggestions for more things they would like to read about here, so we'll be trying to write about many of them. Today is that first post!

Last winter, we bought our first team of horses. They were a gorgeous team of haflingers, supposedly trained on all the ins and outs of farm work. We bought equipment, and started working them. We trained in classes, kept reading, brought in experts. We loved one of the pair quite dearly, Sunny- who we had been told was a lot of sass. We didn't find that, she was, by all means- the most willing work partner one could ever meet. She wanted us to push her limits, to see how strong she was. And we did, working with her as much as we could. But our older gal, just wanted to be retired. She was long spoiled after a time period of being off for too long. She fought us on ever single turn, and became downright dangerous on several occasions. We sought even more help, and the season started slipping away. We paid someone to plow the field, desperate to keep up with the vegetable planning- despite having budgeted only to make the huge purchase of the team and equipment. Farming is a domino effect, one things breaks or costs more- and the pieces topple on top of another causing a series of challenges and set backs. They just weren't the team we needed.

We were prepared for a solid working team. We weren't prepared for a shattered team. Part of this was inexperience in buying horses. It was heartbreaking, and I think that is why we haven't shared it before now. Our entire vision for the farm centered on using the team for the chores we needed to get done- not as fast as a tractor- but faster than our own bodies could do the work. We kept at it all, and then finally- realized it wasn't just us who were suffering. We had to do what's best for the farm, and what was best for the horses. We began looking for a new home for them. 

Sunny, our prize gal- now lives with a family who uses her to pull the cart of their daughter, who has physical differences that don't allow her to ride along with everyone else. She's had tip top training, is well loved, and is by everyone's accounts- amazing. We keep in touch and check in on her, and miss her often.

Nataya, the grouchy mare- could only find a home as a companion horse. She keeps horses that are still employed company in the pasture. Her behavior only became more challenging the longer we had her, but by our few updates- retirement suits her well and nothing much is asked of her aside from a leisurely trail ride. 

Last season dragged through, we kept up with the work using our truck and keeping very, very long days. We started looking for a replacement team casually, and licking wounds. Then we just stopped- not because we are done having a team- but because the season's work was overwhelming. Farming was still glorious- but it was also far more stressful then it had been previously. Then came the long winter, and our decision to transition to using the land for what it does best- grow grass to feed livestock. 

We love our little piece of land. It's beautiful and in a community we've worked hard to get to know. The pasture that held the promise of a successful horse-powered farm will feed pigs, turkeys and sheep. We still will be horse powered, but like so many things we've worked for- it's just going to take more time. 

I miss the smell of leather lines in my hands, the joy of working with an animal of that scale, doing those jobs. The clips, and snaps of the harnesses, the rough brush and the horse sweat. But I also recognize the magnitude of our struggle last season. We have to let the business grow, and shape to be successful. Right now that means we don't have a team, or a veggie patch. But we do have sounder sleep, happy chickens, a great game plan and a pretty gorgeous 1937 tractor. Our farm is incomplete without equines. But that just means there is more to work towards. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

What do you wonder about our farming world?


So! We have been writing this blog for over two years now, and we're wondering what else you'd like to know about our little world. Send us an emaill, or comment here (we get more emails then comments it seems) and we'll try to answer it.

Are there things you want to know about livestock farming? Gardening questions? Butchering questions? We'll choose a few topics to address! We'd like to make the blog a bit more interactive for all of the readers!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Why we do, what we do, how we do it.

We've given you a lot of reasons to purchase our meat (we think) and we hope that many of you are trusting us to be your farmers. We thought we would take a moment on this glorious weather day (before heading out to lay some new fence) to talk about what we see as our responsibility.

Being an ethical meat farmer is not just about the feed, the water, the space... though obviously those are all important. It's also about studying animal behavior, and looking at stress levels. We spend copious amount of time just staring at the livestock. It must look nuts when folks ride by on bikes. Two people, dusty, staring, fairly stationary- watching a group of chickens, or lambs or pigs... just be those animals. But that's how we get the best information. And we're not just watching for signs of disease, injury or weight gain. We're watching for behavior patterns, personality, preferences for grasses. It's about trying to pick out what makes the livestock the most comfortable, and then emphasize that in every way we possibly can.

We try not to just carry this through the living days of our animals. We truly believe that stress is something to be avoided as those animals become food on our plates. This isn't just some farmer's tale (though it'd be no less valid if it was)- there is real, scientific research into how stress hormones levels affect meat- in flavor AND in health benefits. There are numerous articles on this, but here is a starting point for you.

This is why we operate on a CSA or pre-order only model. We actively choose to limit the way we sell to customers, because it allows us to hire a custom butcher, who drives out to our farm on dispatch day to end the life of all of our large livestock on the farm premises. We handle all of our poultry ourselves. With our own two hands. No trailers, no shipping, no waiting in slaughterhouse pens. No herding through hallways with unfamiliar humans. But, due to federal regulations that means we need customers to partner with us (poultry is slightly different regulations, allowing for farmer's market sales). Lamb and pigs must be sold live, our customers are co-owners. It's a strange regulation, even stranger if you have ever worked with our butcher. No one is cleaner, more thorough, more careful than Greg Stratton. His shop, Stratton Custom Meats, LLC, where he takes the meat back to be cleaned, cut and packed- is as clean as any doctor's office.

We are crazy about our work. It's not just waking up everyday to clean water dishes, fill up feed, moving pastures. It's not just about calling every feed producer within the northeast, and then carefully choosing one that will mill our feed to our specifications, fresh, with NYS grown corn. It's about shepherding the journey between life and death. It's about realizing that raising the animal is the first battle, the second is bringing that animal to a stress-free, dignified end. It's about respecting the meat that will be on our plates, and on our customer's plates. And we take it seriously, because really, do our animals deserve any less? Do we deserve to eat anything less?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Spring Photos

Like a sheep, we've been doing much ruminating on some things we'd like to share with you. But for the moment, try our boots on for size and take a walk around the livestock with us.

project central. recently repaired farmall, work van, half done chicken pen

Whatchu lookin' at?

Call Duck coffee break. 

4 lambs in their rotational grazing pen (they get locked in the barn at night)

The goats look on to the lambs in some kind of goat-expression

Heritage Meat birds, going for a stroll

Upcycled Pallet Chicken coop

The start of sunset and lush pasture

The old hay from winter clean-up crew

Tiny bull-dozer.