Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

In case you didn’t see it, we were recently featured in the Salt Lake Tribune with a very flattering article written by Kathy Stephenson who is the Food Editor at the Tribune. You can read the article here. Right after that, Stephanie Brubaker who writes the popular blog, wrote about her recent order with our farm which you can read here. As you may be able to imagine, this brought a flood of business that has us sold out until early summer. We are also in talks with a couple of larger businesses who could easily double or triple our pork and poultry sales should we decide to pursue these offers. Hollie and I have been very busy just sorting all of the orders we have received. We are not talking about hundreds of orders but a solid 50+. For a small family farm like ours, this many orders keep us hopping as well as feeling somewhat overwhelmed.

As we have explained before, we started our farm only intending to raise our own food and perhaps a little extra to sell to help offset the cost. It has grown like a wildfire! We have been caught up in the momentum and now find ourselves in a bit of a pickle. If we grow anymore, it will require more time than our part time schedule will allow. In order to support ourselves full time, we would need to quadruple our sales. With all the leads we have, we could likely reach this within 1-2 years if not sooner. However, we are also very limited on space. Currently we run our entire operation on just three acres with the cows on leased ground. We are already fully utilizing the land we have and would have to buy more acreage to grow our farm. Most of our money is tied up in animals and we would need to borrow money to buy the land. If we are making a land payment, we would need to double our current sales bringing our total increase in production/sales to five times our current level. We can’t grow without the extra land and time and we don’t have extra land and time because we can’t grow!

Of course there are solutions to this predicament. One is to stop where we are at or even scale back a bit. Another is to seek out funding in the form of a large agricultural loan or seek investment funds. (I don’t like borrowing money nor do I care to answer to an investor.) Another option is to try and find a new job elsewhere in Utah where farm ground is cheaper making it easier to keep more animals while still supporting my family with a steady paycheck and benefits. This way I could just buy another house that comes with more land.

I would like to grow our farm as that is the ultimate dream. My entrepreneurial spirit tells me to grab every opportunity and run with it, take out a loan or find an investor. My body on the other hand, tells me to slow down, I am exhausted. The past few weeks have brought me little sleep. I stress about responding to emails, returning phone calls, updating the blog, finishing the website, sorting orders, taking care of the animals, managing the land, finish applying for more water rights, trying to talk every neighbor into selling me more land at a price we can afford, keeping a steady supply of feed for the animals, projecting sales so that we have enough animals to keep up with orders, contact vendors about ordering chickens and turkeys, figure out where the electric fence is grounding out, finalize with the State of Utah and USDA about processing poultry on the farm, etc… On top of farm duties, I have my full-time job, I am a member of our town council and town treasurer, teach the teenage Sunday school class, and most importantly am a husband and father.

Hollie and I are very passionate about farming the way we do which is why it is hard to not pursue it with all our might when there are so many people interested. It isn’t a high profit venture. Raising heritage breeds costs a lot more than commercial breeds. The heritage breed animals are more expensive to purchase, are slower growing and therefore require more feed. The feed itself is more expensive since we refuse to use slaughterhouse wastes in our feed, as well as donuts, breads, restaurant scraps and other cheaply attained foods. We always buy the highest quality feed we can find that has been raised locally and sustainably. But once you bite into our beef, pork, chicken, or turkey and taste the flavors and feel the moisture and tenderness you realize that it is absolutely worth it.

Since our article in the Tribune we have had several farms or interested future farmers contact us about what we are doing. Mostly they are just trying to find Berkshire pigs to breed because they see the prices we charge without learning about the way we farm. They mistakenly think that we make lots of money, that we are simply marketing ordinary pork using catchy terms like humane, free range, grass-fed, and heritage breed. For the record, last year we lost money. In fact, most of the year we used our own money to help cover the animals’ feed costs to the tune of $800-$1200/month on a very average salary. (You can afford this when you live in an 800 ft2 house) : ) It wasn’t until recently that the animals started paying for their own feed. We hope this year to see our first profit. We have learned first-hand, why most farms offering similar products charge $7-$10/lb. We hope that we are correct in our belief that we can raise our meat utilizing ethical, sustainable, and responsible farming practices while keeping prices at a level that the average family can afford and still be profitable. We welcome anybody who is interested in similar farming principles. We wish every farm in Utah would be conscientious of animal welfare and sustainable farming. There are actually many farms who take very good care of their animals; many just aren’t interested in advertising themselves as such or growing more than they have. I suspect they may be in the same situation we are.

We have been very fortunate with our farm’s growth due to the numerous opportunities we have seen simply fall in our laps. We hope that as we struggle to know which route we should pursue that the best option will again fall in our laps. We recognize that there are many talented and skilled people out there and welcome any ideas or suggestions you may have. While I am tired and sometimes stressed out, we absolutely love what we are doing. Hollie has figured out a good way to relieve the stress she feels when the pigs give her a hard time. She simply marches into the house, opens the freezer and begins cooking pork chops for dinner! We are thrilled and honored to play a small role in raising food that so many of our customers are so passionate about. We encourage others to join us in raising gourmet quality, humane, and natural meats. We sincerely appreciate the huge response that received from the recent publicity. We also want to thank the Tribune and its staff especially Kathy Stephenson as well as Stephanie Brubaker. 

We would also like to thank Crystal Keating a recent photography major graduate for visiting our farm and sharing the beautiful pictures she took for her senior project.  We look forward to her new coffee table book titled "Ripe" which features farm to table farms in Utah.  You can preview her book here.


Christy P. said...

Glad to know that you are sold out and even more glad that I got my order in early. I have been fielding questions about your pork, too!

Ben said...

At the very least you should charge more next time around! That much demand also means you're not charging enough! Congratulations on bumping up the supply and demand curve!

Kelly Billings said...

Congrats on the nice article. Congrats on the orders you must be doing something right !

jillybean said...

Hollie this is so cool. I have been looking everywhere for home grown beef. I just can't take the store crap anymore. Wow, I am so proud of you! You don't want to add Logan to your delivery route do you? Just Kidding, I am sure we could pick it up if necessary.