Monday, March 15, 2010

Defining Ourselves

As the word spreads about our little farm, it is interesting to see who contacts us.  We get all sorts of questions and requests from people.  If I get a call from somebody wanting to order a pig, I will always ask how they would like the pig processed.  (Cured or fresh ham etc...) Once in a while, before I have a chance to explain their options, a customer will eagerly give me their order.
"I would like 100 lbs of bacon, 12 pork chops, and the rest ham."

While this may seem humorous to those who understand a little bit about the various cuts of meat, it is somewhat reflective of how disconnected from our food our general population has become.  If I could grow a pig that would yield 100 lbs of bacon, I would be a rich! : )  I don’t want anybody to feel bad if they are one of the customers who tried to place an order like the one above.  We welcome all questions and want to be perceived as approachable.  I just offer it as an illustration that part of our role as the farmer is to help educate our customers about their food.  This is not something we foresaw when we decided to offer the food we were growing for ourselves to others.

Because the supermarkets have their meat processed a little different than what we offer, some customers don’t always know what to do with certain cuts.  The frequently asked questions we get are what do you do with a ham hock?  (Hollie will be posting a delicious ham and bean soup recipe soon.) What do you do with a beef soup bone?  What is the difference between cured ham and bacon and fresh ham and bacon? (Another post coming soon.)

Side Note: We are working on improving our website with a FAQ section and adding recipes, ideally at least a couple for each type of cut.

It is actually fun and rewarding for us to share a little bit of what we know with others.  We always try to remember to offer the disclaimer that we are not chefs!

Speaking of chefs, we have had a quite a few restaurants contact us wanting to buy our meats.  As a small farm this can be exciting and overwhelming.  For example, we have had companies like Creminelli Fine Meat and Café Rio who could potentially purchase thousands of animals per year express interest in purchasing from us.  We have also had smaller local restaurants contact us and inquire about our meats.  In these instances we have had to decide who we are as a farm and where we want to go.  We love getting out and meeting with our customers on a Saturday morning.  However, from a business perspective, having customers like Creminelli and Café Rio could offer some big opportunities.  It pleases us that companies are starting to show interest in buying local, humane, and natural meats from sustainable family farms.  (I hope I don’t get in trouble for posting this, but we have decided to supply Creminelli with a very small supply of pork as they test the market with delicious sausage and salami made from heritage breed pork.  Look for it this holiday season.) 

At this time we really aren’t interested in supplying the bigger customers with all of their meat needs.  For one, we don’t have the resources.  There isn’t a processing facility in Utah that could handle the quantities.  It would require thousands of acres of land and gobs of money.  In principle, we would like to see Utah be able to raise all of its own food which will require more farms and certainly farms bigger than ours.  It would be good for the economy, residents, environment, and animals, and it reduces dependency on one source which reduces vulnerabilities.

Working with restaurants can be a little tricky.  Chefs are used to ordering by the cut and getting terms on their purchase.  We try and carefully explain that we are a farm and not a processing/distribution facility nor are we a bank.  I could be wrong, but it seems that some chefs want to be able to offer buzz words like “local, natural, humane, family farm” on their menus but don’t understand what it means to work with and buy from a local family farm.  For us, these aren’t just buzz words but rather principles that we live and work by.  As a small family farm, we can’t just sell one cut from an animal.  What would we do with the rest of it?  We don’t have the time to go and find a home for each cut of meat.  Unfortunately, some of the local restaurants don’t care to work with us once they find this out.  (It really isn’t that unfortunate in a business sense, since we can’t keep up with orders as it is; just in principle.)

Other local chefs like Colton Soelberg with Communal Restaurant in Provo have been wonderful to work with.  They understand what it means to buy from local family farms.  They have even adjusted their menus to utilize the entire animal.  We hope to work with more restaurants like these in the future.

Some people contact us pretending to be customers but are actually interested in setting up a farm similar to us.  It is actually really funny when this happens because they will ask a few general questions and then slip in a very specific question that only a farmer would care about.  I usually will just ask if they are interested in farming and if so, what questions specific to farming they have.  We do not view it as competition.  We wouldn’t even be able to raise enough meat to support our little town of Vernon.

All of these people help us define who we are.  They require us to make decisions that we wouldn’t have made otherwise.  I suppose like anything else in life, figuring out who we are as a farm is a journey. We will likely try things that work and others that won’t work.  We are learning to structure ourselves better.  By this I mean having guidelines that we operate by.  We have limits and cannot accommodate every customer’s request.  We try and be flexible but can only do so much.  This year we sold out of turkeys very quickly.  We simply don’t have the room to raise anymore than the number we have offered and it is very difficult to tell our customers that we won’t have any more turkeys this year.  We could put some turkeys on a neighbor’s land, but this would strain our time running back and forth several times a day.  We hope that the land we are trying to buy will work out.  This will allow us to raise a lot more turkeys next year for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We have had several requests to raise guinea fowl, geese, ducks, sheep, goats, etc… While we would love to do more, at this time we are choosing to focus on our current offerings.  We can easily spread ourselves too thin.  We enjoy what we do and want it to stay that way.         

5 comments:

only a man said...

"it is somewhat reflective of how disconnected from our food our general population has become"

So very true! Even for those of us who have tried to learn more about where our food comes from, it's isn't easy, and we are losing the educators: great farmers like you guys.

We love Communal and P712, and have enjoyed the wonderful taste of your "happy pigs" as Joseph likes to call them!

One of the questions that we have been trying to figure out is how to change our buying and usage of meats. We are used to going to the store to buy "steaks for 4." We're just not sure about buying 1/2 a cow, or 1/4 cow. I guess that is part of educating the consumer, educating us on how to buy and use the meats you offer.

Also, is it possible to visit the farm sometime? We would love to see how the animals are raised and show our children.

Thanks,

Bryan

Christiansen's Hog Heaven said...

Bryan,

Thanks for your comment. Buying a 1/2 of a beef can be intimidating. We have tried to help our customers ease into the idea by offering portions as small as 1/8 of a beef. This creates a lot of work as we have to get 8 customers to buy one cow where the typical farm will sell a whole cow to one maybe two customers. We have also set up a CSA Share that offers 10 lbs of meat/month. This is a great way for people to try new cuts. We have had some customers respond that they are excited to get a mix of cuts that will force them to try new dishes. That being said, there aren't any strange cuts like beef tongue etc... A share of a beef will give you steaks, roasts, hamburger. Some roasts come from different parts of the cow and will have a slightly different fat content or texture, but they are all yummy. Some chefs will shoot me for this, but we grill all our steaks the same and we crockpot all the roasts the same all with excellent results. But as I said before, we are not chefs.

I have mentioned this before, but the meat quality is so fine that it really doesn't take anything fancy to make a wonderful and delicious meal. Our pork chops are so finely marbeled that it is difficult to overcook them. While I don't want to come across as boastful, it is difficult to justify going to a typical steakhouse because the steaks just never taste as good as the ones in our freezer. My long-winded point is; just give it a try! You won't be dissappointed. : )

As far as a farm visit goes, we are trying to coordinate a farm day for a weekend in April. You will be able to see the pigs out running around, young chickens pecking around, and new chicks in the brooder. (The cows are kept on leased ground elsewhere.) We will post this event on our blog.

Matt said...

Christian,

As I have mentioned before. I enjoy your posts. It is great to get your "front-lines" view of what it takes to produce quality products.

Matt Steiner

Anonymous said...

I'm excited to hear more about a visit to the farm. I'll be watching for more information! Thanks for the good work you are doing.

Marci~ said...

Christian I just wanted to let you know how much we are enjoying our order! Man are we amazed at the quality of the ham and the bacon ,oh the bacon, we've never seen anything like it... So meaty and delicious!

We just made our first hamburgers last week with the ground beef and were amazed at how little they shrunk up compared their store bought counterpart and of course they tasted amazing!!

We're so excited for your success and glad to be a part of this whole process as a customer of such a great local product! We'll be watching for the April farm visit day. We'd love to come see the operation and show our daughter the animals your raising with such heart. Thanks again for all you guys do!

Marci Jenks