Monday, March 31, 2014

Barnyard Management

[ed notes: Periodically, we will ask some of the critters on the farm if they would like to have anything in particular put on the farm blog.  Since the chickens are finally getting more opportunities to roam around outside, Harold the rooster wanted to remind everyone about the responsibilities he, as barnyard manager, must deal with.  After all, Harold needs to feel appreciated.  So - without further ado...]
 

Guest Writer: Barnyard Management
by Harold



As the chicken flock manager here at Genuine Faux Farm, I thought it would be useful to provide an insight into a job that is under appreciated by most - including, I think (ahem ahem) that odd guy with the red hat.

Management of the barnyard can be difficult and challenging, but there are some things the astute rooster can do in order to maintain order and control:

First, personal conditioning is critical. For example, a rooster should be certain to work on his lung capacity on a regular basis. Poor lung capacity can result in inadequate volume and duration of the crow. However, few understand that the real key to a good crow is a strong diaphragm muscle.  It is also important to have strong legs for striking the necessary authoritative poses.

The good barnyard manager must also maintain the perception that he is a good provider for the flock. I have found that keeping an eye on the humans is a good way to be forewarned of the appearance of food resources. Once I have determined that food is most likely going to appear, I do my best to distract the flock with an emergency drill. Once the drill is over, it is a simple matter to saunter over to the food and announce its discovery.

Another well known tactic to building a reputation as a no-nonsense barnyard manager is to periodically take on opponents bigger than you. The easiest target would be one of the big humans that come out to the barnyard.  But, a smart rooster must balance one's reputation with the flock with the good will of the humans.  Only use the technique of pretending aggression with the humans when your approval ratings within the flock require a boost.

I should stress that the selection of an opponent must be carefully undertaken.  The 'threat' should certainly appear real enough to impress the flock, but it is best if no real danger is likely. For example, I find it works well to employ a confederate at times.  If you can identify a hen or two that is a bit flighty, you could imply that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.  Once they are over the fence, wait until the humans come to collect her and put her back into the pasture.  At that point, you should make a big fuss.  This shows everyone how much you care about the well-being of your flock.


Finally, domicile identification each evening is important to maintain a safe and healthy flock. I have found that going back to the location we stayed the night before is an excellent approach. The good rooster must make certain that the entire flock is discouraged from aberrant domicile identification behavior. Proper use of crowing and posturing, combined with some pecking and flapping should do the trick.

Friday, March 28, 2014

What Does It Mean - Sustainable Agriculture?

Field with Short Season crops
What is Sustainable?
One of the current buzz-words in the media is 'sustainability.' But, of course, media or popular recognition is a two-edged sword. On the plus side, a broader segment of the population will be ready to learn about sustainable practices. But, unfortunately, the concept also becomes prone to corruption as it gets misused and abused. Since we've been asked by a couple of people to explain what sustainable agriculture is, we thought we'd give you our perspective. Then, you will understand what motivates us as we grow food for you.

1. Sustainable Agriculture provides us with "Food with Integrity" for our consumption. 

Consumers are easily able to see who raised the food, what methods they used and can confirm that the farmer avoids exploiting resources (labor, environment, etc). In short, there are no "smoke and mirrors" here. We grow using approaches that we believe are best for your well-being, the well-being of our environment, our community and our farm. And, as we learn and gain experience, we make adjustments. We constantly ask ourselves if our choices are the best we can make and we challenge ourselves to improve.

In this definition, interaction with the community is important. This is where the 'connection to our food' component of sustainable agriculture comes into the picture. Everyone who eats should be concerned about their connections to the grower and how they do their job. One implication is that responsible methods of farming are preferable. Why would any of us want to support businesses that willfully mistreat workers, pollute the environment or sacrifice quality to acquire every last penny possible?

For that matter, why would you want to put anything but the best fuel into your and your family's bodies? You want food that is fresh, tasty and healthy. If you know the farmer, you have a better idea as to how it is grown and whether it is being produced in a way that makes you feel that you are doing the best you can to provide excellent food for your table.

2. Sustainable Agriculture operations work to minimize external inputs to maintain the operation. 

If the operation cannot provide certain necessary resources, a sustainable response would be to work with a local provider. In our case, we try to find a source that best fits the mission of the farm and is closest in proximity to us.

We can look at farming from an input/output standpoint. An increase in materials we bring in from 'off-site' to grow the season's crop increases cost. The more self-sufficient the operation is the better. So, if a farm can develop its own composting operation, it can maintain soil fertility without relying on other sources exclusively. This links back to food with integrity. If inputs come from the farm, then it is easier to trace and assess appropriateness. If the farm cannot provide the input on their own, then due diligence needs to be taken in order to vette the source.

We are also concerned that inputs, whether they take the form of an action or addition of physical item(s), are more likely to do good than harm. For example, reliance on Round-up will impact long range health and productivity of the land where we grow our food, so we opt not to use synthetic chemicals such as glysophates. This is where organic practices usually enter the picture. Inputs to the crop are carefully selected in an effort to reduce residual deleterious effects.

3. Sustainable Agriculture stands on three legs: Community, Environment and Profitability

Each of these is important for a sustainable system. (Dr. Francis Thicke, PFI Conference keynote 2007)
What I like most about the third definition is that it encompasses the other two. But, it also makes no bones about the business side of sustainable agriculture. If there is to be a sustainable agriculture system, it has to be attractive to new and existing farmers, otherwise, very few people will fill food production needs. What we want are healthy, prosperous farms with people who love what they do.

For some reason, many people believe that profitability comes at the expense of ideals. And, frankly, if it were a matter of starving or being fed, I might agree. But, when did we decide that having enough wasn't enough? There is a difference between healthy profit and exorbitant growth and income. We can provide our food needs AND pay the farmer fair prices AND the farmer can use practices that are environmentally sound.

While this may sound too idealistic to work, we'd like to point out that as of 2014, we will be entering our tenth season. Over the last ten years we have had challenges and successes. Weather patterns have changed, economic climates are different than they were when we started and our own perspectives have developed as we gained experience and learned. We are a living farm. We experience, we learn, we adapt. With every change, we do our best to find the balance that best meets the principles we set forth or the Genuine Faux Farm. In the end, we find that we are still here, striving to do our best to be a positive force in the local and sustainable foods movement.

It can be done. Let's encourage more people to do this.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Plant Starting and Variety Show

We have started the process of planting tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and many other plants at GFF, so we are thinking about vegetable varieties more than ever.  One of our goals is to grow a multitude of varieties in order to provide some insurance that we will get crops most year and also in recognition that everyone has different tastes and preferences.  We are also committed to selecting open-pollinated types whenever it is feasible, with many of our selections being heirloom or heritage strains.

Since we grow so many different varieties of produce, we have been working to provide you with some descriptions on our website so you can see what we are growing and why.  If you are CSA member or produce customer, this can help you determine what you might want to select from our table for eating.  If you are a person who grows your own and wants to make the best choice for your own garden, then we hope these descriptions will also help you.

If you want to see more, please visit our website and our vegetable variety pages.  Please remember that we don't have infinite time to put material out there for everything.  At present, tomatoes, peppers and winter squash are updated.  Others are in various stages.

Here are a couple of samples from the website.  These pages and the blog give us an opportunity to share some of what we learned and let you see some of our photos.  Slowly, but surely, we're getting a decent library of these put together.  Enjoy!

Tasty Evergreen
Tasty Evergreen tomato
Production
Reliability
Resists Cracking
Disease resistance
Taste
Days to Maturity
80
Fruit Per Plant
7.6
Typical Harvest Period
Aug/ Sept
Size of Fruit
.73 pounds
These tend towards a brownish, yellow/green when ripe and maintain a green gel in the interior with white/green flesh. The taste is quite good, giving a refreshing zing to a summer sandwich, especially if you like mayonaise. The taste helps one to think cool thoughts on a hot day. On the down side, they tended to have deeper cracks on the shoulders that led to rot problems at ripening. Fruit size is highly variable and the shape is rarely perfectly round. The taste treat is enough to grow a few of these on the farm. We find that picking them before they get too ripe gives us a better shot at harvest. Unfortunately, they do not ship well and are difficult to deliver. 

The picture above is from the very dry 2012 season. Like many tomatoes, they liked this weather better than some of the wetter, cooler ones we have experienced on the farm. We are getting better at growing these, but we are still not convinced that we should grow much more than five or six plants. They are still finicky and we get discouraged by the number of fruit that start to show rot spots up by the stems in some of the creases. We get the feeling that they like being picked in warmer weather, so we're wondering if an earlier start might actually result in more marketable fruit. As it is, these are enough of a taste treat that we'll offer fruit that have some blemishes just so people can have the option of taking them home and enjoying them. Results with Tasty Evergreen are far better than those we get from Aunt Ruby's German Green, but that's our farm. We encourage you to try both head to head to choose. Taste for this tomato is, in our opinion, tangier and much more interesting.

Jimmy Nardello's Frying Pepper
Jimmy Nardello's Frying Pepper
Our 2007 Veg Variety of the Year.  Jimmy Nardello's looks alot like a hot pepper, so you'd better set them on a different part of your counter so you don't confuse them.  These are fabulous sweet peppers that get even better when cooked.  They freeze well, they dry well.  Plants easily produce twenty plus peppers per plant.  Fruit shapes can be curled and knotted.  Sizes later in the season are smaller when they turn red simply because there isn't time for them to grow bigger.  Harvest begins peaking mid-August and continues until the plant dies (usually October).  Excellent response to the high tunnel environment with increased uniformity in fruit size and shape.  Taste *may* be slightly better, but that's hard to measure as we may have been letting our enthusiasm get the best of us. We unabashedly will encourage people to buy these at market when we have excess beyond our CSA need and easily gain converts. All we can say is that it isn't hard to promote something that really is this good.

Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato
This IS an acorn squash. It just has a cream colored skin. Size can be slightly bigger than standard green acorns such as Table Queen, but not much bigger. These vines are very hardy. Dry year - no problem, just get them started as seedlings. Wet year - it can do that. Cool year - ok as long as you get them in on time. Hot year - it doesn't really notice. From a production standpoint, we can't do better for an acorn squash. We also like the taste of these better than standard green acorn squash. We find them to be a little less stringy. We've had them store into January, but don't expect it. It would normally be safe to save them into December. Vines crawl around a bit, but not much more than average winter squash. Easy to pick - in part because the color makes it easier to see them. We don't lose much of these to pests or other problems. We have noticed that if the stem comes off flush with the skin, you should eat that fruit sooner than those that maintain their stem.


Boothby's Blonde
boothby's blonde cucumber
The key to having productive Boothby's vines? Keep them picked. Pick the fruit when they are anywhere from 2 to 5 inches in size and before they start to show deep yellow or orange coloring. Don't peel them, just wipe them off and much away. Taste is milder than many cucumbers. After convincing people that they were cucumbers and getting people to taste them, they have become a CSA Farm Share favorite along with True Lemon. The good news for us is that Boothby's is often more reliable than True Lemon and a bit easier to pick since the vines are less aggressive.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

March Newsletter

What's going on at the farm?

Since we are fielding more questions along those lines, it must be time for us to start putting out periodic newsletters.  So - here we go!

Seeds and Trays Everywhere!
Our seed orders are in with the exception of a few this's and that's that always follow.  This year, or vegetable seed orders came from Seed Savers, High Mowing, Johnny's and Fedco (in that order of volume).  Our seed potatoes were delivered to an intermediate point from Colorado just this weekend.  If seed availability is any indication, we must be committed to growing some things this year.

The cold weather has us making some adjustments to our seeding set up (at least for a little while).  Typically our early seeding is done in our basement.  The down side with that is that the ceiling is a little low and the lighting is not optimal.  We moved the seeding operation upstairs.  The downside there is that we now have to haul everything up the stairs (including water).  But, the atmosphere is so much nicer to work in, so we'll call it a good thing.  It's always nicer to do all of this seeding outside.  But, that isn't true when the temps are in the 20's.

Currently started in trays are onions, leeks, tomatoes, some kale, lettuce and pok choi.  Much more will be done each day of the coming week.  Peppers, eggplant, basil and some brassica are coming up.

CSA Spots Available
While there is apparently a rumor out there that we are full, this is not true.  We are currently around 75-80 members for 2014 Regular season.  We want 120 members and could go higher than that this year.

Our Spring shares are, in fact full.  More on that in a bit.

So, tell your friends.  Let's get this CSA full soon.

CSA Billing
We were hoping to fill in more spots before we sent out the billing.  But, since it is getting late, we're just going to finish what we have and go from there.  So, if you have signed up, expect something in the mail from us.  It will include your billing status and a SASE so you can mail your payment easily. 

If you are wondering why we wanted to wait on the billing until we were closer to full, consider the fact that billing takes some set up and time to do.  If Rob can do them all at once, it actually reduces the total amount of time tracking and handling the billing takes.  But, we can't always get what we want, so we'll just make do!

Drifting Along
Sadly, this post won't have much for pictures in it.  However, we're working on taking some pictures so we can get you a 'picture this' post soon.  However, we can tell you that there are still drifts on the farm that are as tall as we are.  It's really quite interesting to be standing on bare ground and have a drift immediately to your left that you can lean on.

On other drift news, we are hopeful that we can set some numbers and move forward with our suit for the spraying incident in 2013.  That's about all we'll say about it at this point.

Broiler Chickens
We do still have broiler chickens available from last Fall's batch.  We are getting to the point where we would like to shut down another freezer for part of Spring until we get the Spring broilers processed.  For those who do not know, we have 3 chest freezers to go with the freezers that are part of our two refrigerators.  We'd like to enter April (or soon thereafter) with only one of the chest freezers running.  This gives us a chance to defrost and clean them up for the season and reduces our electric bill a little bit.

speaking of that...

Electric Bills and Plants for Sale
Our heaviest season for the use of electricity is upon us.  We use grow lights and heat mats to get our seedlings started (and to keep them alive during cooler Spring weather).  These eat the electricity.  One thing we do to offset that bill is to sell plants in May (sometimes into June).  Typically, we have sold heirloom tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.  We also plan to sell basil, lettuce, broccoli and other plants this year.  So, if you are a home gardener and like heirloom plants, or are simply looking for quality plants to put in your own garden, please keep us in mind.

Service Trip Group on the Farm
We were honored with the presence of a Wartburg service trip group on the farm this past weekend.  Since it was blustery and cold, we decided it would be better to work in the high tunnel.  We got some broadfork work done, some weeding and some other bed prep.  A few other small tasks were completed much more quickly than if it was just one person doing them.  We are grateful for the willing hands!

Dream Big, Grow Here Part II
This May, Rob has the opportunity to go and present his pitch in an effort to secure the state fund level of $10,000 or the high tunnel project.  Thank you once again to all of you who have supported us.

Speaking of the High Tunnel
The cold weather has us wondering what sort of schedule we will follow with regards to this new structure.  We can't do any work with the grounds until the snow is gone and the frost leaves the ground.  Who knows when that will be.  We'll keep everyone posted.

Spring CSA Shares
The most common question here is : "When will it start?"  The answer we have right now is: "We don't know."  The spinach in the high tunnel is four weeks behind other years.  Much of the kale did not survive.  So, we're trying to get things moving, but if it doesn't warm up soon, it will be later than we want.  Safest bet would be mid April through May.

And more....
As I write newsletters, I am always surprised by how much more it seems like I should write.  But, I also know that we can only put so much into one effort.  I should save some for later! 

so, until next time....  we'll continue to mind your peas and cukes.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

2013 Crop Report

The following is for those who were curious about some of our production levels for the prior year.
We post this here in the interest of full disclosure to our customers to aid them in deciding if our farm fits their needs for the coming season.  If you see what we produce and at what levels we produce them, you can get a better idea what to expect from us in coming years.  And, it is an exercise for our own planning in 2014 and future years.  The effort of trying to make this something that conveys information to others is one way we can glean useful information for our own use.

Boothby's Blonde Cucumber
Vine Crops

We had a bit of a mixed bag in this area in 2013 with the cucumbers doing quite well.  This was true in large part because they are a shorter season crop.  The same could be said for the zucchini and summer squash.  On the other hand, the longer season vine crops such as watermelon, melon and winter squash suffered due to the wet Spring.  Most of these crops were not able to be planted until mid June at the earliest.  We found ourselves throwing many plants we started as the seedlings got too old and the ground didn't dry out.

Cucumbers:  5821  -  9.2 per row foot
Summer Squash: 1133 - 2.5 per row foot
Zucchini: 1892   - 2.3 per row foot
Melon: 153
Watermelon: 37
Winter Squash: 250

Sweet Siberian Watermelon

Eden's Gem and Minnesota Midget produced well enough for the melons to give us something and it was no surprise that they were the producers since they have the shortest days to maturity.  And, Sweet Siberian is the shortest season watermelon we grow.  All but four of the watermelons were this variety in 2013. 
The shorter season crops were within tolerable levels, though our per foot numbers on zucchini and summer squash show the shortened period of time we were able to get production from these crops.  We would be happier with summer squash per foot numbers in the 3's and zucchini in the high 2's.

Greens

The good thing about greens is that their short turn around time allows us to keep planting and hopefully get a crop on one end or the other of a season.  If one batch dies due to weather extremes, we just plant another batch.  


 Turnip Greens - 33.0#
 Spinach - 24.2#
 Mustard - 30.8#
 Lettuce - 1034.5#
 Kale - 418.2#
 Chard - 116.0#
 Arugula - ?

Some of our early harvest numbers are missing, so there is some upward adjustment for a couple of crops here.  Overall, these are perfectly acceptable numbers.  We can always make some adjustment on timing, but all in all, this is fine.  We lost some of our early field plantings and our latest plantings didn't quite get to where they needed to be when the sun failed to shine for much of the Fall.  We'd like to bring the spinach and chard up a tick or two.  Lettuce is most easily sold of all of our greens excess, so we are fine with higher number there.

Brassica

Brassica crops include broccoli, cauliflower, brussels, cabbage and other like crops.  Again, we had some issues with getting earlier successions in on time and that rolled over into some of the later plantings.

Koboko Chinese Cabbage

Pok choi: 691.6#
Chinese Cabbage: 553.2#
Broccoli: 517.2#
Cabbage 202.2#
Cauliflower: 92.6#
Kohlrabi: 1140 heads
Romanesco: 103.2#
Brussels Sprouts: crop failure

These are very good numbers, especially if you consider that a couple of varieties of cauliflower, romanesco and broccoli failed to produce at all.  The chinese cabbage and pok choi were most reliable, but also had the advantage of shorter seasons to production.  The broccoli was average and has been better in the past, but we were pretty happy with the taste.  Romanesco was a nice addition that we look forward to seeing more of this season.  For 2014, we hope to bring up cauliflower, broccoli and romanesco production and perhaps slightly curb the pok choi/chinese cabbage combination.  At the least, we hope the season will let us spread out that production a bit more.

We knew the Brussels wouldn't go anywhere by the time we were able to get them in the ground.  But, we tried anyway.  We also lost two successions of cabbage, but persisted in getting one to go.  The chinese cabbage helped pick up that slack.

Veronica Romanesco
Solanaceous Crops

Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant all fall into the same family.  As with most things, these were impacted by the wet Spring and other weather/environmental concerns.  In particular, our field peppers and eggplant were devastated, leaving us largely with four eggplant in the high tunnel and a few rows of peppers in the high tunnel.  Happily, the high tunnel peppers performed valiantly.  But, there isn't much four plants could do to alleviate the eggplant failure in the field.
Snack tomatoes from the high tunnel
 Potatoes: 858.8#
 Tomatoes (High Tunnel): 580#
 Tomatoes (Field) : 2994#
 Eggplant : 68 (46 high tunnel)
 Peppers (High Tunnel): 1960

Some experience with the high tunnel paid off for us in 2013.  We've posted on the topic before, so there is no need to belabor the point.  But, with the very slow start to the season, our field tomato numbers were lower than they should be.  Plant health indicated that if we could have had the time to mature all of the tomatoes would have landed us around 5000 pounds in the field.  High tunnel pepper production was a wonderful boost.  And, we were glad Tyler grew early potatoes to supplement our late potatoes.  In both cases, production was low.  But, we got something.  And, that simply had to be enough.

 Root Crops

Root crops are yet another mixed bag.  We won't discuss Jeff Sage's beet, parsnip and carrot production here since he is the keeper of those numbers.  

St Valery Carrots

 Carrots: 1079.5#
 Garlic: 1959
 Radish: 3035
 Turnip: 593
 Scapes: 1513
Onions: crop failure
Leeks: 75
Beets: crop failure
Daikon: crop failure

The carrots were a wonderful bonus last season.  We managed to find that tiny window in May where the soil could be worked and got our carrots into the ground.  Our second batch of turnips hit that as well, but we were never able to get them thinned, so production was limited somewhat by that.  We had some radish in the spring and fall, but didn't feel like we had a particularly good set of plantings there, with three successions failing for one reason or another.  Happily, our garlic did reasonably well, with the Blue Gate Farm seed producing all of our crop.  We've saved enough seed for next year to hopefully get back to our 3000 head harvest levels we plan to get each season.

Scapes, while not exactly a root crop, fall into this category because it is the garlic plant that produces them.  We had a reasonable crop of these as well and felt that the quality was good.

We weren't horribly upset by the beet crop failure since it is an intentional redundancy with Jeff Sage's production.  It was sad because we grow the Chioggias and the Golden beets while Jeff concentrates on the red beets.  Onions were picked up by Tyler.  This one, however, is much sadder since we had such wonderful seedlings that never had a chance to get into the ground before they 'aged out.'  We still put some in, but knew the whole time that it was simply too late for them to do anything.  At least they afforded us the chance to work with the new flex tine harrow.

Legumes

We sound like a broken record by now.  Many of our legume crops failed due to the wet start to the season.  But, our diversity of variety, planting times and locations provided for reasonable harvests in 2013 despite everything.

Peas 128.2#
Beans 478.4#
Dry beans - failed to harvest - yep, we messed up that one.

Bucket o' Green Beans
 Life intervened and prevented a dry bean harvest in 2013, but we didn't feel like we were missing terribly much for most of those crops.  In the end, we figure they become a reasonable crop for tilling in and providing a little nitrogen.  Most of the bean crop came from two double rows in the high tunnel.  We're not entirely sure how we would have come up with the labor hours to pick all of the green beans if the rest had produced at any level.  But, it would have been nice to have had that problem.  Despite the loss of 25% of the peas due to a bad seed batch, we are pleased with the pea harvest for last year, on variety even made our top 10 for 2013.  Again, the planting hit that tiny window along with the carrots.  It is really too bad we couldn't have gotten everything in during that 24 hour period.  But, that's wishful thinking.

Other Crops

Then, there are other crops we grow but always have a hard time figuring out where to group them when we do things like this....


Genovese Basil

Basil: 1686 stems
Asparagus: 56.6#  (this number is off, a page of recording is missing that has this and some greens harvested...)
And some nice pickings of rosemary, oregano and tarragon.

The basil crop was a nice little surprise.  They went in late (of course), but had had some warmer weather they really liked and they really took off.  We could have done a bit more of them if we'd had the time.  The asparagus was good enough, but not all that impressive with the cool start to the season.  We keep waiting for this crop to really bust out.  But, it just keeps plugging along.  We'll be fine with that.  We just need to stop looking for the big win and be happy with the consistent trickle.



Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cedar Valley Local Foods Fair

We've got a big even coming up that we'd like everyone to consider attending.

Saturday, March 15th from 10 am to 3 pm.
Located at the Atrium of the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum (part of the Grout Museum)


So, what is this event?

First - it is a free event - so you can attend without pulling out the wallet (unless...but I'll tell you about that later).  Seven local CSA programs (including ours) will be in attendance.  So, if you are looking to join a CSA, come on down and interview us.  See what fits you the best.  Also in attendance will be Hansen's Dairy, Timber Ridge Bison and other local foods providers.  There will be food preparation and storing demos as well.

The Genuine Faux Farm will be well represented.  Rob will be there the entire time.  Tammy will be there for at least part of the event.  In addition, Tyler Albers will join us for at least part of the event.  He will unveil details of a flour/dry goods CSA program beginning this year.  He will be located at our table for the event.  Jeff Sage will likely be there for at least a portion of the day.  And, he should have details about lamb that he'll have available this year.  Come meet your personal farmers and show support for local food production by your presence at this event.
What else is going on at Grout?

I'm glad you asked!  It is DOLLAR DAY at Grout.  For a dollar you can enter the museum and view their exhibits.  It just so happens that the GFF farmers (Rob & Tammy) appear as part of the exhibit "This isn't your Grandparents farm, or is it?"  There will be a series running in the theatre on local ingredients (Iowa specific) and there will be an opportunity to churn butter using Hansen's products. 

All in all, it is a family friendly event and we'd love to have you join us.

Join the CSA while you are there!  We'll be ready for you.  If you have already signed up, we are mailing out the billing statements at the end of the week.  If you attend and think you have signed up, we'll have a list to confirm.

See you Saturday!

Stacking Up

One of our goals with the farm is to maintain consistent pricing that keeps good, local food accessible to a larger portion of the population.  The problem is - figuring out a fair price isn't always as simple as you might think.  I started thinking about this because we were among those recently asked to complete a pricing survey for eggs and poultry (chickens).  So, without further ado, we'll share what they had as the results for LAST YEAR.

EGGS

"In 2013, we discovered the average price of a dozen eggs sold at the farm was $4.59 per dozen and the wholesale price was $3.71 per dozen. Approximately 22% of the respondents had a flock size between 51 and 100."

This is interesting.  Our flock size falls into the 51 to 100 range.  Since it is listed, we assume that it was probably the highest response grouping in 2013.  Our direct sale price currently stands at $3.25/dozen and has been there now for about a year.  Prior to that, it held at $3.00 for some time.  On the other hand, when we've had the opportunity to travel, we have looked for local eggs and have paid $5 per dozen in Oregon and $7 in Hawaii.  Granted, the costs of feed, egg cartons and other things for the Hawaii producer were very high.  She had to charge that much just to earn something back.

So, like many things, it can be a matter of regional economics.

BROILERS

"In 2013, we learned that the average broiler cost was $3.99/lb for on-farm sales. Wholesale price was $3.57/lb. Boneless/Skinless breasts retailed for approximately 2.5 times that of the whole bird cost. Approximately 22% of the respondents indicated they raised between 500 and 1000 broilers in one year."

Our prices have been $3.25 per pound for some time now.  We have tried a few other approaches for sales, setting a per bird price regardless of size for example.  But, in the end, per pound pricing usually seems the fairest way to handle it.  However, we find it interesting that our price is not only below on-farm sale pricing, it is also well below the wholesale price.  Once again, we need to consider the regional economics of the situation, among other things.  After all, an average is made up of several data points.  There will be prices well above and well below this average and there is nothing that says we must charge within a certain range of any established average. 

Why bring this up?

First of all, I found the reported information interesting and wanted to share it.  But, perhaps more importantly, we also prefer to share with everyone some of the reasoning that goes into our pricing.  And, I suppose, it doesn't hurt to show everyone that our prices stack up favorably to the national average from a customer's point of view, if price is your major criteria for what you purchase.  But, there are a few things that bother me that I wanted to point out to you.

1. Local growers charging $1 a dozen for eggs
Why should this bother me?  It's their call to do this, right?  Yes.  Maybe what bothers me the most is that there are people that purchase from them and let them get away with shorting themselves.  They lose money with every sale they make.  And, if you buy dollar a dozen eggs from someone like that, you should feel guilty.  Give them at least $2 and maybe they'll break even with their expenses, but it will do nothing to defray other costs that I'm guessing they have done nothing to track.

I realize some of these folks raise the chickens for themselves and figure a few dollars here and there are just a bonus for something they do anyway.  But, in my opinion, they would do better to donate their extra eggs to local community dinners, church dinners and the food bank.  If you are going to 'give' your excess away, then get it to people who really need the break rather than people who could afford to pay you a fair price.

2. Comparing $1.89 dozen eggs at X store to $3.25 dozen free range, local eggs
Most people who have had our eggs, or the eggs of another local grower who lets their birds run outside, etc etc will tell you that there is no comparison as to the quality of one egg over the other.  In fact, these folks will tell you that the best way to find this out is to buy the local eggs for a month or so, then go back and buy some cheaper eggs from the store.  You'll taste the difference.

Eggs we raise are better for baking.  If you need to separate the whites or yolks, it works far better with our eggs instead of the weak yolks and watery whites you'll find in the 'factory' produced eggs.  But, rather than get on to a soapbox about it, let's just get to the point.

These are two different products that just go by the same name - "eggs".  So, comparing prices between the two makes no sense. 

But if you insist...

3. Why do local farmers charge prices that are sometimes higher than the grocery store?
Think about this question for a second.

Ok, second's up!

A small farm such as ours, that sells all of its eggs direct to consumer must do all of the following:
   acquire chicks, have brooders to raise the chicks, keep the birds fed, keep them watered, give them secure places to live, give them the ability to have access to the outdoors, deal with any illness or injuries, cull the flock as birds age and replace with younger birds, collect eggs more than once a day, clean the eggs, check for broken eggs, put eggs in cartons, keep eggs refrigerated, advertise the eggs, arrange sales locations, deliver eggs, collect payment for the eggs, handle customer relations, maintain a an insurance policy for liability etc etc etc.

Unlike the grocery store, we have to handle the entire production side.  Also, unlike the grocery, we have to handle delivery logistics.  The grocery promotes, orders, stocks and sells.  Other organizations handle transportation and production.  And, in almost all cases, one of their top priorities (if not the top priority) is to cut costs so they can have a higher return.  And this is true for each step of the process.

While a small farm might also consider cutting costs to improve the bottom line, it is also true that it is the quality that makes a small farm's product different.  Excessive cost cutting does not maintain quality  And, a small farm is not able to take advantage of specialization and bulk pricing as much as an industrialized operation anyway.  So, it makes sense that farms like ours should focus on the better product and simply charge what is necessary to earn a fair profit as well as cover the costs of producing quality eggs.

Thank you for your support!
In case you were wondering if someone complained to us about our prices or if there was a direct confrontation that spurred this post - the answer is no.  We have many very supportive people who happily pay the price we need to receive to keep our laying flock happy and producing.  Typically, we will sell between 25 and 35 dozen eggs per week without great amounts of worry.  But, we are also fully aware that there are many people out there who undervalue quality local foods.  We are hopeful that saying something is better than saying nothing.

Enjoy your eggs!