Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reflecting on 2010

This year has been a very busy year for us!  We have had lots of ups and downs but hopefully we have averaged an upward direction.  This year we were blessed with the opportunity to expand our farm.  We purchased a new parcel of land about 1 mile from our previous location.  We built a new home on the farm as well as a large workshop/barn.  We have some of our pens built and will work on more through the winter and coming spring.  Our new farm will give us lots of room to grow.  This spring we will plant new pastures as well as a small apple orchard.  Our new location seems to have a constant wind, something we plan to utilize.  As finances permit we plan to install 2-3 SkyStream wind turbines (or equivalent) to offset the farm's energy needs.
CSA Shares
Our CSA Share program changed a bit this year.  After delivering 10 lb shares every month to our CSA customers we found that many of our customers' schedules conflicted with our delivery schedules.  (Especially during the summer.)  It was also a little hairy tracking which customers had received their shares and trying to deliver make up shares etc...  We now offer a one time delivery of 30 lbs.  (3 months of meat by the previous standard.)  When you run low on your CSA Share, you can easily reorder online. We have some meat lovers who order this every month and others who can make 30 lbs stretch for 6 months.  We have a 30 lb Pork Share ($160) as well as a 30 lb Combo Share (15 lbs of beef and 15 lbs of pork)($175).  Beginning in February we will be offering a 30 lb Beef Share ($190) and a much demanded 30 lb Ground Beef Share ($150).  Our goal is to keep these Shares in stock ready for a quick delivery.
Raising poultry has been the source of many of our "downs" this year.  In Vernon, our growing season is a mere 90 frost free days.  This is good info for gardening but as it turns out is equally applicable to raising chickens on pasture.  This strong winds proved to be fatal for nearly every breed we attempted to raise.  We have concluded that in order to successfully/profitably raise chickens in our area that we would need to provide the chickens with a heated building that allowed easy access to pastures outdoors.  Another option would be to team up with another farmer in an area with better weather.  However, our plans have recently been squashed by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF).  Last winter we spoke extensively with the inspectors to find out how we could legally and safely process chickens for our customers.  They helped us get set up under an exemption that allowed small farms to process their own poultry.  Under this exemption, we had a young aspiring butcher process our chickens outdoors on our property following safety guidelines set forth by the department.  This has worked wonderfully all year.  Recently, we received a call from the department informing us that we would now have to take the live chickens to each of our customer's private property and process them on their property in order to continue under this small farm exemption.  We protested their request stating that not only would it be economically unfeasible, less sanitary, and ridiculously time consuming, but that no city would allow for processing poultry in people's driveways.  However, they refused to budge.  Our only alternative is a costly one, which would require us to build a full blown processing facility.  Even if we were able to justify such an investment the UDAF informed us that there isn't an inspector in Utah who is even certified to inspect our facility.  So, for now poultry is on hold for 2011 as we explore our options.
Our Berkshire pork continues to be the product that defines our farm.  We are pleased to be acquiring the reputation of raising Utah's finest pork.  Even customers from Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Colorado, and California have found our pork worth the drive.  This year we successfully switched to our own custom feed that consists of 100% Utah grown grains.  Much of the grain is purchased from local farmers right here in Vernon.  The grain we use consists of wheat, barley, triticale, and oats.  These small cereal grains produce an even higher quality pork than pork raised on corn and soy.  The small grains produce a harder and whiter fat that our chef and foodie customers love!  We also love the fact that our grain isn't being shipped in from all over the country.  In 2011 we will began raising our pigs to a live weight of 300 lbs rather than the 250 lbs we have aimed for in the past.  In our own experiments, we found that a 300 lb Berkshire pig offers a higher yield in terms of meat to bone ratio.  The marbling is better defined and the meat develops a slightly deeper flavor.  Overall we feel this will take our quality up a notch as well as offer our customers a little more bang for their buck.
Our beef sales have pleasantly surprised this year.  So much so, that we have teamed up with some of our neighbors to help us keep us with demand.  These neighbors have committed to raising beef to the standards that we have set forth.  We have been fortunate to be able to work with neighbors that have quality stock and well managed pastures.  They also have considerably more land than we have.  Our grass fed beef is complimented by our butcher who does a fantastic job dry aging the beef until it has developed a rich flavor and tender texture.  Our customers have repeatedly been surprised by the mouthwatering flavor of our hamburger.  We frequently hear, "It tastes like steak!"   To which we chuckle and reply, "Why shouldn't it? It all comes from the same cow!"
Thank you!
We would like to express our gratitude to all of our customers for their support; both in terms of orders as well as in the many kind comments and emails we have received.  As we look forward to a new year we will continue to dedicate ourselves to raising the finest, safest, healthiest, and tastiest meats utilizing sustainable, humane, and natural practices.  We are excited to pursue new ideas next year.  This spring we will kick off 2011 with another Farm Day!  We plan to host several farm days in 2011.  Not only do we love to meet and mingle with you, but we also enjoy allowing our customers the chance to see where their food comes from.  Our farm days offer customers a chance to really connect with their food.  As always, we want to be your farmer!  Please feel free to communicate your ideas, suggestions, and comments.  Let us know what products you would like to see.  We have toyed with the idea of offering bratwurst/sausages that are spiced with local Utah flavors.  Or finding a local artisan to cure hams and bacon.  Perhaps Rose Veal is of interest?  We are constantly trying to learn and improve and would be happy to hear from you.  We hope that as you gather with your families this holiday season that the meats you prepare are delicious and nourishing.  
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
PS.  Please don't forget that our farm is very much dependant on word of mouth referrals.  Please feel free to forward this blog or our contact info to your family and friends.   

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Whole Truth

I was recently questioned why I post some of our negative experiences on our blog.  It sort of caught me off guard.  Was it being implied that I am a whiner?  Because that certainly hasn't been my intention.  Was it out of concern that it may not be good for business?...something I hadn't considered.  Was the blog perceived as being negative?  All of these questions danced around in my head.

The reason I post some of our negative experiences is because I want to be honest.  I want people to have a well rounded idea of our farm life.  Of course we enjoy sharing our positive stories and at the same time we aren't afraid to share our negative experiences.  Raising animals is something our family enjoys.  But animals are living creatures and susceptible to predators, weather, sickness, their own mischief etc... To present ourselves as a perfect farm where nothing goes wrong would be far from the truth.  We want our customers to have a real sense of where their food comes from.  To use the trendy term, we want to be transparent.  Our hope is that we offer the opportunity for people to connect to their food and even us as the farmer, if that is their desire. 

Some of our failures have been from our lack of experience.  We enjoy acquiring our experience.  We were not born into this lifestyle.  Well, Hollie grew up raising apples.  But I think most would agree that is different from raising pigs! : )  There are times I wish I did grow up on a farm.  It would likely mean that I would have inherited the farm or at least have access to it.  That really would have made things easier.  Think about it, little or no mortgage to pay, plenty of equipment, many more years of experience, good sources and contacts, good established farm ground, and family familiar with our operations that could lend a hand when needed.  But at the same time, I know I wouldn't appreciate what we have like I do now.  I also would likely do things the same way my dad had done things which is the way his dad did things.  This is good and bad because I would likely have continued to make the same progress as well as the same mistakes that had been done for generations.  Instead we have tried (or rather been forced) to take a fresh approach.

Some of our success stems from our non agricultural experience.  For example, Hollie has a degree in Business and has worked for several years as an office manager.  This is critical in keeping track of our growing list of customers and our accounting needs.  I have been employed as a business manager for 10 years.  This has given me lots of experience in marketing, customer interaction, dealing with vendors and so forth.

Other failures we have experienced are just part of life.  Even the most experienced professionals encounter new obstacles or are subject to the ever active and evolving world of biology.  Our little farm has its own unique ecosystem that we learn more about every day.  We prepare the best we can and make every effort to learn from past experiences.  It is a journey.  We hope to have more success than failure.  And hopefully sharing this journey with others will contribute to our success as well as the success of others.

As we share bits and pieces of our farm life, keep in mind that what we share is the truth.  How would we be any different from the large factory farms if all we did was portray this mythical nirvana of a farm?  We would be trying to pretend that we were something other than what we are.  We will continue to share our farm experiences both positive and negative.  We will present our farm exactly as it is.  No rose colored glasses, no fluff, and no sugar coating.  Who wants to connect to that?  From us you can expect the whole truth and nothing less.