I spent a lot of time reading, listening, pondering, and reflecting while writing last weeks blog about what being a livestock farmer during COVID-19 has looked like. It wasn’t a nice and sweet story about Romney Ann bottle feeding a lamb or a fun new recipe to try. But honestly, it was more the type of stuff I am eager to share – not the bad necessarily, but the honest. The genuine reflections of what life as a farmer is really like, the beautiful right alongside the hard. The learning curve I have experienced since being exposed to this life has been incredibly steep, and it has given me so much more respect for all those in this profession and in this industry. Maybe I’m naive, but I guess I genuinely think that people are interested in knowing more and if we know more, than as a collective whole we can all take steps to do better. If this is you, if you would like to learn a little bit more, then definitely keep reading.
The issues in our food system were not developed overnight, nor will they be fixed overnight. At this moment, you may have lost your job, and are wondering if you’ll make rent. The last thing you may want to think about is trying to find a farmer who sustainably and ethically raises livestock for you to buy from. I get it. None of this information is meant to guilt or shame anyone, but rather to create some awareness as to why these things are happening during this pandemic. We can’t fix it right away, but maybe we can begin thinking about what will be next. What CAN we do differently, even if not right in this moment, with our buying power, our voting power, our voice power to share a different path forward?
I don’t have all the answers to those questions. But I do know part of the solution is decentralizing our food industry. What we have now is a highly centralized commodity-based grocery store sourcing system. And generally each of the main commodities that are stocked on the shelves were produced by a shrinking number of massive farms. These farms often only focus on one commodity (problematic) and what they produce is then processed and packed through a small number of plants and warehouses. It is a bottlenecked system where one blip at any point of production impacts the entire flow. This is what we’re seeing and hearing about now on the news. There was a break in the system that impacted the whole chain.
Decentralizing the system would look like all communities sourcing their food from within their general area. Let’s look at an area as a state, though please know I’m not suggesting it would be this strictly defined, but picturing it like this has helped me understand it better. This would mean that if there became a problem at a pig farm or an infection at a plant in North Carolina, South Carolina would be undisrupted. Our links here in the state would continue to function because we aren’t dependent on NC’s system. We have our own farms and we have our own ways of processing and packaging the products we have grown. But when NC does have this problem arise, this break in their chain, while they’re getting the link fixed, Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia can come alongside the market in NC to help them out and supply what is needed out of their excess. Again, it wouldn’t be strict boundaries like state lines, but the point is that there would be many different “food sheds” and communities would support their farmers and growers in their own areas.
Well, we’re one of those farmers, and we are hopeful that this is the direction many head. To vote with their dollar and support their local food shed. This hope is not just so we can make more money, if that was what we were interested in, we would find something else to do with our time. I promise. We genuinely hope it moves this direction because farming impacts so much more than just the food on our plate – farming impacts your health, farming impacts the environment, farming impacts the economy, and as we can see now, farming impacts a communities stability in time of difficulty.
I mentioned last time that I would share a little more about our personal decision as Bowers Farm when this all began. I shared in the last blog that we made the difficult decision to stop all our sales, except to our loyal customers who buy from us on a regular basis. During that first week of receiving so many calls from new individuals, we felt our responsibility at that time was to supply those who had already, pre-pandemic, made the decision to source the meat for their family through us. This was our decision when all this began, and although things have slowed down, the calls and emails haven’t, so how are we moving forward now?
Well, honestly, it is really hard to plan a way forward. How long will this fear of scarcity last? Are these people who are reaching out going to go right back to the convenience of a grocery store when the shelves are stocked? Or will this actually lead to more people sourcing their meat from their neighborhood farmer rather than their neighborhood Publix? These are questions we are asking.
The other reality is the processors we use are getting booked so quickly right now. Just two months ago, they were taking reservations a month or two out, and now they are 10 months out! So do we put our name on their books and pay a deposit when we’re really not sure if this will continue? Do we go ahead and order the chicks hoping a space will open up? Can we afford to keep those pigs on farm another few weeks incase they don’t have room for us right away? There are so many chicken and egg questions we are asking ourselves, what comes first, how much is it going to cost, what’s the risk? We ask many of these questions every year, but right now it’s different. We had found a processing schedule balance we were comfortable with based on our customer base, and then this came along. Our deepest passion for doing this work is to provide healthy meat for our family AND then to our community and it appears that our community is in need, so we want to respond.
I always knew farming was a stressful job, even before I met Brandon, but it did not take long for me to realize I didn’t even know the half of it. Even while we were dating, I was very clear that farming would never be my full-time job because I thought it was so scary. I was also very open that the idea of Brandon farming full-time scared me as well. The fear of the unknown was really what got to me in the beginning, but now it’s all the questions you have to ask yourself and all the scenarios you need to think through that can be so taxing at times. And just in case you were wondering, a pandemic, doesn’t help the stress level of this profession.
So, where are we? Well, we are trying to make the best decisions possible for our family, our farm, and our customers. We are filling in the calendar with new processing dates, calculating the feed we will need, putting deposits down on calendar spots, hoping for the best, and as always praying. When Brandon and I started dating, I wasn’t super into farming (as I shared above) and I didn’t really care where my food came from. But, I can get on board with passion, especially passion that is rooted in a deep faith, and that’s what Brandon has and that is the bug I have caught. We both know, deep down, through all the questions, doubts, and concerns that farming and farming this way is what God has called us to. It is what God has called us to as stewards of God’s creation and our farming practices care for all of God’s creation – the land, the animals, the humans. We are not in this for fame and fortune, we are in this to make this world a little better, the air a little cleaner, our community a little healthier. We are in this to see a change in the ways communities support agriculture. We are in this for our family and we are in this for our neighbor, the neighbor who recognizes and values the importance of the work we do and how we do it, and even those who don’t.