We closed last year’s books and, as was documented here, it was brutal. Just like investment portfolio’s we have to diversify further. I do not think the average American understands how difficult being a small farm can be. However, I cannot help but think agriculture is in everyone’s blood. We were an agrarian society not too long ago. How else can you explain a billion dollar home gardening industry? Whether you are planting annuals and perennials around your house or plant a vegetable garden you are working the soil. For the longest time I introduced myself as a large gardener. I still have reservations about the moniker of farmer because I have too much deference for those that do it full-time.
When you have invasive species, (BMSB) that destroy crops being small makes losses greater,. You need to diversify in order to protect overall income if you are a small farm. However, being small can magnify your losses when you suffer damage in those diversified crops too. We thought by adding fruits, jams, honey and cooking classes that we were diversified enough to avoid the devastation of this past year. We have learned we were not.
There is a tremendous unmet demand for humanely raised, free range, organic chicken in our area. Given that demand, we have decided to get into the meat bird market. We will start with about fifty total. We tried to diversify with fruits, vegetables and eggs but last year taught us that true diversification is not just different fruits and vegetables. It is animals, vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs, honey, cooking classes and agra-tainment. Using the financial portfolio analogy it is mixing risky and non-risky activities to offset down turns in one or the other sectors.
Humanely raised free range, organic chickens seem to be one of the ways to augment the fruit and vegetable side. It has taken us nine years to get to this point. It has been an arduous journey and emotional roller coaster. I am not proud of this decision; I make it knowing that we need to survive economically. I know what I have written before and I do feel like a hypocrite. However, I did put my money, energy and time where my mouth was but we have no options left if we are going to be economically sustainable.
We grow the best we can, and price so that we get a small profit after expenses. If we had 100 acres of corn and the BSMB attacked the outside perimeter closest to the tree line (according to current research), we would have harvested more than sixty percent. However, because we had less land, the bugs overwhelmed what we did plant and left us with nothing. Sales in spring crops and late fall crops helped us lessen the loss but we ended up with a net loss for the season.
Polling took place of our customer base asking if humanely raised free range organic chickens would be something they would consider purchasing from us. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The cost/revenue analysis looks promising once we reach the break-even point on startup costs. We are not going to process them we are taking them to a humane processing facility. I do not know what to say or what to expect. I told my wife I would try this one and see how it goes. I look upon this next step as part of my own maturation process as a small farmer. Nevertheless, there is this small voice still inside me screaming to fight to remain a viable vegetable operation and leave animals out. Given what we have learned of the BMSB they are here to stay and either, we fold or role with what we are given.
In order to sell to markets and restaurants, we need certification for on farm processing. We have to submit, plans, process flows, contamination points, process controls and measurement frequency rates and other actions. Then during the day of processing do everything you said you would do in the documentation. There is great demand for free-range chicken and rabbit meat. Each will meet certified organic status. Our processing certification covers both animals. It is a fundamental change but one that will keep us sustainable. In the mean time:
Buy Local: Support your community farmer or start a garden, even if it is two vegetables, it will be worth the satisfaction.