This blog post is not meant to make anyone feel bad nor is it a list of complaints about this line of work we have chosen, but rather observations I have had over the years. What are your thoughts?
There seems to be, at least in some circles, a movement towards buying local. People are looking for and hoping to find local sources for their food. I believe this was already happening, and then, out of a fear of scarcity, it was expedited in some ways by COVID19.
As a small family farm, on the surface this is really exciting! But, once the customers start coming our way, we find there are a lot of hats people are hoping we will wear. It may not be something that would ever cross your mind, but do you realize all the things you are expecting from your farmer?
Most obvious? A farmer. Someone who is up early and out late. Someone who misses meals with their family when they get the call the cows are out. A farmer is someone whose job is never over – there is always a fence that needs repair, a field that needs cutting, or an animal that needs feeding. Especially when the farm you are hoping for is caring for both the animal and creation, the farming practices involved are more than just set it and forget it, but rather hands on every day, moving the animals to fresh pasture, checking on them daily and caring deeply for their treatment.
Second? A business person. Someone who knows how to calculate and keep track of expenses and income. This is important if you want the farm you are supporting to be around for a long time. It is important to know how much things cost, to keep track of your time, and to set prices fairly for what is raised. If there is no business knowledge, no awareness of how the farm is doing financially, it is doomed to fail. Small, local, sustainable farms are already operating at slim margins and the government subsidized meat production industry that can falsely sell chicken for $0.99/lb doesn’t help when we are trying to educate people on the true cost of the meat they’re buying. No, your local farmer cannot match the grocery store prices, nor should they be asked to.
Third? A marketing guru. Most small farms are having to market themselves. To get traction on social media (the most logical space to share a small business) you need to be posting regularly to increase your viewing via the algorithms. People are often wanting these beautiful pictures of rolling pastures. They are wanting perfectly thought out captions and meaningfully orchestrated stories which all takes time that isn’t always available.
Fourth? A producer of only the popular cuts of meat. When it comes to our personal farming practices, part of our conviction is to use the whole animal. This means there is more to a chicken than the breast meat. There is more to a cow than just the steaks. There is more to a pig than the pork chops. There are a limited number of each of these most popular cuts, and this is obviously not something we can control. We can’t make a chicken boneless and skinless, that’s not how God made the animal. And we don’t want to perpetuate the disconnect that grocery stores and happy meals have created between us and the reality of our food.
Lastly? A keeper of time and convenience. Farming is not filled with quick turn arounds. When thinking about a cow, from the time of buying a cow, breeding her, having her calf, and raising the calf to processing size, this is going to take around three years. This is no small investment of time or money. Many are also wanting these healthier meats at the convenience of the grocery stores, but as we have seen from COVID19, the grocery stores have been offering us a false sense of security with the perceived availability of meat. You may have seen, in circles of those who are encouraging people to know more about where their food comes from, information about a slow food movement – that’s us. Food that is raised in ways that is nourishing to creation and to the animal takes time. It cannot be ready right away and, with all the other hats a farmer is wearing, it is hard to be available as conveniently as a 24-hour grocery store for your pickup. We want so desperately to be that, but we just cannot. There is only so much time, unfortunately we cannot add any hours to the day, thought we try hard to.
I am sure I am missing some hats we wear, and this is not just us, this is something we see and hear from other small farms like ours. This is also not meant to be a vent session by any means. These are just observations I have had that would never have crossed my mind at all if I were on the consumer side. And as I have always said, I want this blog to be a place to share about farm life in hopes of opening eyes to this way of life. For us personally, these hats we wear are also in addition to full time jobs off farm. This is not always the case for small local farms, but oftentimes it is.
If buying local, buying meat where you know where it comes from, buying meat where you know how it was treated, buying meat that was raised in such a way that cares for the land and animal, is important to you, think about all the things you’re expecting from your farmer. Which hat hanging on this rack full is most important? If you ask me, it is number 1 – a farmer.
So, with this insight, how can you help? Ask your farmer how you can support them. Ask what pieces are hardest to move or what is piled up in the freezer. Ask about buying larger portions of meat – 1/2 and whole shares of the animal. Don’t have the freezer space? Find a friend who shares your passion for providing the best meat possible and go in together. Share the farm’s posts. Spread the word. And most importantly, be patient. Farmers don’t go into this work for fame and fortune. This is a labor of love. This is a true vocational calling. This is a desire to leave this world better for the next generation than it was when they inherited the land. But when it comes to this, it needs all of us coming together – it takes the incredible amount of blood, sweat and tears of the farmer and their family AND it takes the time and effort of the consumer. Together, we can leave this world better for our children by the way we choose to eat around our tables with one another. And remember what your grandmother taught you, no hats at the table.