Farming often has rough days that cause us to question whether all the hard work is worth it. Of course, we often think in terms of money, of which there is little, especially with feed and fuel prices through the roof. However, there are other rewards that to us are priceless. There is the satisfaction of viewing our happy animals out on pasture, knowing that they are living a comfortable and content life. Hollie and I often observe our animals on our "little pig dates" after I get home from work. One of the greatest satisfactions of farming is the encouragement, support, and feedback we get from our loyal customers. This is what helps us get through the rough days and tells us it is worth continuing. We often get emails from our customers complementing us on the quality of meat we raise and the standards we abide by. We love receiving these little notes.
On our last round of deliveries, we were delivering to one of our customers Nick, who orders on a regular basis. He thanked us for the meat, we thanked him for the business, and then he shared an interesting experience that speaks to the quality of our pork. Nick and his wife recently had guests over that were visiting from Seattle. His guests make a living running a catering business. Nick's wife who is from Asia had prepared a Thai dish with our Berkshire pork. One of the guests took a bite and immediately commented on how juicy, tender, and flavorful the pork was in spite of the strong spices that Thai food often has. She then asked if they were eating Berkshire pork! Nick and his wife were a little surprised by how easily their guests could identify the quality and distinguish the flavor of Berkshire pork. Hollie and I both smiled thought, "Yep, its that good!"
Thank you to Nick for sharing this.
Monday, July 11, 2011
As a small family operated farm we have witnessed firsthand the wonderful ripple effects of buying local. We have greatly benefited from local restaurants, businesses, and families purchasing their meat from our farm. They enjoy the benefit of visiting our farm and seeing exactly how their food is raised. They meet the farmer (our family) and have the opportunity to ask us questions they may have about their food. It offers folks a chance to connect with their food in a way that only a gardener may be able to understand.
Operating an open farm keeps us on our toes. It encourages us to keep our farm clean and looking good. We want our animals to be in excellent health and represent the hard work and care we strive so diligently to provide for them. This in turn, yields an ever improving product for our customers.
As our farm has grown in recent years, we have benefited from loyal customers like Heirloom Restaurant Group who has committed to buying their pork every month from our farm. Knowing ahead of time that we can count on steady sales, helps us run our farm efficiently. It also helps us know where to focus our business growth. As our little hobby farm has grown into a full-fledged farm, we have realized that we simply don’t have time to keep up with every aspect of the farm. One aspect has been piglet production and another has been animal feed.
In order to deliver pork every month to our customers, we have to start 8-10 months prior and make sure we have enough piglets on the farm. This we found was something we struggled to keep up with. We soon found that there were quite a few other small farms that would be happy to do this for us. We started with two small family farms and on a handshake agreed to buy all the piglets they produced. This turned out to be a win/win situation as both family farms were looking for sources of extra income. Most farmers don’t have the know-how or desire to sell specialty (non-commodity) products to direct consumers. This is an aspect of farming that we enjoy, but it is time consuming and therefore limits the time we spend farming. The two family farms now produce piglets for us and benefit from the steady business. We benefit by being able to consistently deliver our pork month after month as well as having more time. Our customers benefit from readily available pork, rather than the sporadic 2-3 times a year schedule we were on. Everybody benefits.
Acquiring pig feed was another time consuming hurdle we overcame. As our farm has grown, the amount of pig feed consumed on the farm has increased significantly. When we started raising pigs, we would go and buy an assortment of grains and mix them ourselves before feeding the pigs. This worked fine when we had a dozen pigs, but as the pig herd grew, it became unmanageable. We then started looking at the feed mills for feed. It was more expensive and we had little control on the feed freshness, quality, and ingredients. Additionally, it took an entire day every week to drive to the mill to get the feed and fill our pig feeders. Out of frustration and desperation, I approached a good friend and neighbor to see if he would be interested in supplying our farm with feed as a business opportunity. Turns out, that it was just the opportunity him and his family were looking for. The quantity of feed our farm required was enough for him to jump right in with a commercial dump truck, grain mill, augers, etc… My feed guy is now able to deliver the feed right into my feeders on the farm which saves me a lot of time. We have complete control over what goes into the feed which helps us maintain the quality of pork we are expected to deliver. I have referred other local farms to him and he has now capped the number of customers he maintains. In other words, he has as much business as he can handle. Because we keep everything local, he is able to offer me a lower price than the large feed mills. I pass this savings onto my customers.
My feed guy has since dedicated himself to buying grains only grown in Utah. He has found that he can get higher quality grain by dealing directly with the growers. He now has a number of local farmers he contracts to buy his grain from. He is able to pay the local farmers a better rate than what the large mills pay and saves them the cost of having to deliver it 100 miles away. Again, everybody benefits.
Our local butcher has also benefited from our business. Just as we enjoy steady repeat business, this benefit naturally passes onto our butcher who puts us on their monthly schedule. The constant interaction with our butcher has built a strong working relationship. We are able to ask for services and favors that we couldn’t have asked for a few years ago. We now have a great deal of control over the way our pork and beef are processed.
As a kid I remember being fascinated by the ripple effect of throwing a rock into a pond. Now as an adult, it is even more fascinating to see the ripple effect in our local economy. It is amazing to see how the money spent at a locally owned restaurant like Communal on a pork chop dinner gets divided. A portion of that money goes to my family as we raised the pork. We take the money and give some to our piglet farms, some to our feed guy, some to our butcher, some to the local ranch and hardware store, and some to ourselves. These recipients are all for the most part supporting local businesses in their industries which at some point comes back to benefit even the customer of the pork chop dinner. Witnessing this has renewed our family’s efforts to buy local whenever possible. As if supporting the local economy wasn’t benefit enough, we have found we generally receive better service, and overall greater value. Supporting local businesses is one small way we can help secure a bright future for ourselves and generations to come.