A few weeks ago at the South Carolina Agritourism conference, the question was asked: “What is something you’ve implemented over the past year that has been helpful to you and your business, or something you tried that didn’t work? Because we all know we can learn from that too.” Oftentimes when we’re on the bus between tour stops, questions are asked to make use of that time together to continue to learn from one another.
I hesitantly made my way to the front of the bus. It’s strange sharing something with a large group of people who are all at different stages of life and within their own agricultural business. Some of the farmers on the bus have been doing this way longer than us, and some haven’t even started. Anyway, I wasn’t quite sure if anyone would glean anything from what I had to share, but I did so anyway.
“Over a year ago we went through the process of redoing our website. Through that process and the time that followed, we were encouraged to really think about what was most important to us, what were our values, what is our why. We played around with a few for a bit, and there is always the possibility that over time they may change, but the process of identifying those for who we are now has been invaluable. We identified our 4 main values as: welcome, education, sustainability, and ethical. Identifying those four have helped us plan and structure our way forward. When we start thinking about a new project, we first try to think through whether it fits into those categories. For two people who love to dream, and for myself who will let my mind wander a great deal, it has been very helpful for us.”
There were a few questions that followed but what was most meaningful were the conversations that stirred because of what we shared. People resonating with both our struggle and the gift of some structure. What I didn’t expect, was that these values could even help change the lens through which we see a hard day on the farm.
Last week our laying hens, 500 of them, shipped. Yes, live chicks can ship through USPS. Once a chick is hatched, there is a window of about 48-72 hours where they do not need food and water. This is all how they were created because when a hen is sitting on her eggs, they won’t all hatch at the same time. She can’t have one chick leaving the nest while sitting on the rest, so they can stay under there for 2-3 days while the rest of their siblings hatch.
Well, our chicks hatched on Wednesday, so we really needed to have our hands on them by Friday morning, otherwise, the likelihood of the majority, if not all, of them showing up dead is highly probable. Well Friday morning came. We know the one and only truck from the West Columbia distribution center that daily comes to our small town’s post office arrives around 7am. Brandon called just after 7. “Did the truck already come? Any chicks?” The answer was no. Brandon spent much of the morning trying to call to find the chicks. They had not been scanned since Atlanta, so we were fairly certain they had made it to Columbia but we were not positive.
“I’m just going to drive down there.” And Brandon hoped in the car and headed towards Columbia while I waited at the farm for a tour group that was scheduled, a husband and wife interested in raising some of their own food for themselves but not quite sure what to do with the blank canvas that laid in front of them.
As the couple was arriving and I was introducing myself, I get a call from Brandon, “I’ve found the chicks, I’m just waiting on someone to scan them and then I’ll be headed home.” This in and of itself was amazing news. The tour took about an hour and as Brandon was arriving to the farm, we were finishing up.
Brandon was definitely a little stressed, I was too. We needed to get these chicks into the brooder quickly. On top of all of the hassle of having to hunt the chicks down, we were also using a brand-new brooder and were really crossing our fingers and saying a prayer that all the heaters worked, and everything worked like we had planned. Honestly, I was pretty sure Brandon was going to set up a cot in the brooder that night to keep an eye on the chicks.
While he didn’t sleep down there, he definitely checked on them multiple times that night. That evening as we were laying down for bed, he shared with me more about the trip to the distribution center. There was one person in particular that in the beginning was not pleased with Brandon showing up there to pick the chicks up. “People don’t come here to pick up their packages,” the man said.
“I get that, but respectfully, I’m not waiting for a t-shirt from Amazon, these are live animals.”
“Well, they’re not supposed to ship animals when the weather is like this.”
“I understand, but the reality is that these chicks were set in the incubator three weeks ago, and at that time, the hatchery has no idea what the weather will be like.”
“Well, they just need to keep the chicks there until the weather is better,” the man definitively declared.
“That’s a really interesting point, I’d love to share more about the reasoning with you,” and Brandon went into a cliff-notes version of explaining the reality of the window of time they have to ship.
“Well then why don’t they keep them there and give them food and water at the hatchery?”
“Because once they have food and water, then they can’t go but a couple hours without it. It is this small window of opportunity to ship live chicks.”
Brandon was telling me about this interaction, and I was getting progressively more and more upset. When I was ready to wage war against them, Brandon stopped me, “I think he was just caught off guard. I wasn’t supposed to be there really, but we can just hope he’s learned something for the next time chicks come through there,” he said hopefully. “At the end he helped me load the boxes and wished us good luck.”
And that was that. We went to bed and the next morning was Rent-a-Chick pickup. It was a FULL but an absolutely beautiful morning, both in weather and in meeting all the families and seeing the excitement on everyone’s faces to be taking their chicks home. We had some sweet friends who came towards the end of the time and stayed for a bit while their kiddos and Romney Ann played on the play-set. We had customers picking up their meat orders and one customer came to share something they had prepared with pork from one of our pigs. We had a Harvest Host arrive and to top it all off we went to my sister’s house to celebrate my brother-in-law’s birthday.
We. Were. Exhausted that night!
As we laid down, I said, “I know yesterday was really frustrating in so many ways, but today was so beautiful in just as many ways and makes all that work worth it for sure!”
There was a pause and then Brandon said, “I’ve been thinking about yesterday, and really it was everything we want days to be. We had those people come for a tour and all the conversations at the USPS facility, while they may have started tense, were filled with educating that man and his staff about why these chicks would be there, what they’re worth, and why it’s important for them to get to where they’re going. And even beyond that, we were making sure that those chicks were given the best chance of survival and making sure they were being treated ethically, and these chicks will be part of helping other families be able to raise their own food and live more sustainably. It wasn’t a bad day. It was filled with all of the things we hope ourselves to be.”
I never thought that identifying our priorities would help in that way. I knew they would help us decide what direction to head, what’s worth the effort, energy, and resources, but they also totally helped Brandon, and in turn me, to reframe a day that on the outset could have seemed less than ideal but was actually equally as beautiful as the day that followed.
What is your why? If you’ve never thought about identifying that before, we can attest to the fact that it will help you in many more ways than you’ll ever imagine. It will help with direction, it will hold you accountable, and it will give you a new lens through which you see your days.