Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Little Farm That Could

The hardest thing about being a small farm...is being a small farm. Keith and I are constantly looking at ways to expand/improve/organize/maintain our farm and all its products while remaining financially solvent yet keeping the farm attractive for future buyers and physically able to get up out of bed the next day.

Looking at our farm from a different view point.
I'm not kidding about the bed part. Keith falls asleep HARD, I fall asleep for awhile, wake a while, sleep a while, watch reruns of SOAP for awhile so when it is indeed time to get up I am rarely in the same place in our huge full size bed that I was when it was lights out. Last night was a toss me/turn you night (Just don't) and when I dropped my leg off the side of the bed to get up, I instead slid the whole hippus maximus right off  the mattress that does not need to be 60 inches deep anyway does it ? and slid down to the floor.

Made me mad.

But no one said running a small farm would be easy. For example, Keith and I both would rather be outside providing animal care so we can raise them big, healthy and happy and sell them for a fair price to us, to our restaurants, to our grocery stores and  to private customers. But what is "fair?"  I 'll tell you what FAIR is...FAIR is a huge burdensome, time sucking, brain destroying, Internet searching noun  that cannot be proven or disproven. Don't even get me started on "Fair Trade Coffee" as it seems only depraved old men with donkeys are entitled to "Fair Trade Payment"

Why can't a good, decent, honest, hard working white fellow/gal  get good money for his/her Middle Western Dark Beans?  I said, don't get me started. Thus my frustration. Keith and I have not increased our price of restaurant pork in 3 years. Its way past time. Corn prices are stupid high as is organic straw. So we block out several days to hit the books again (thus my little blogcation) but all our other chores eat into the "free time" and we are not neat as close to coming up with a FAIR price as we want to be.

Right now I am sifting through all our processing receipts, which locker charged us how much for what ? 4 years ago we used 4 lockers then we decreased to 2. Its working well but still I see now all the little details I might want to put in the memo box of a quicken entry. Tidbits like costs of sausage patties VS sausage links. I do understand the importance of tracking ones sausage but I would rather be playing with the newborn sausages in the field.

Even the smallest operations must have the ability to interpret data
otherwise how would we know for sure that mustard is
thicker than cheap syrup?
We easily need a full time secretary/full time herdsman but there is no salary for such.  If I sold lots more hogs in the next few months we might have enough extra for a little tiny secretary on the side. But first we have to figure out all our costs related to raising of the pigs (and later the dairy and the beef and the chickens and the honey and the soap) so we can raise our prices in a Fair Trade manner (don't get me started). We have data but no one to interpret all the data. We have customers, great customers but no one is keeping them well educated and updated, keeping them INTERESTED in the farm, so they will be driven towards future purchases unless they read this blog and some do but it is so ramble ramble sometimes it really cannot be labeled as education.
These are just a few of my favorite things that keep me up at night. Oh and that ridiculous term "Fair Trade"
but please don't get me started.


  1. Sounds like you need another TEN workers. I expect most farmers feel that way; I know most of my neighbours do.

  2. The "hidden" cost of farming is your sanity.

  3. Topcat, thanks for the hug. I can be so ranty sometimes can I not ? My co-workers at The hospital would just back up their chairs so I could get to the center island and use it as my podium. Ah, the good old days...where I Used to be paid to have an opinion!

    Cro, yes we could use 10 workers and then again there is huge satisfaction in being involved in all decision making on a daily basis. We just need more time in the day man.

    MBJ Well said

  4. I understand your ranting about the "Fair" trade / wage / prices. Fair to the buyer is not always Fair to the seller. But if you were to magically swap places, the "Fairness" would suddenly be "unfair" to the other party, wouldn't it?

    Rant on! We're here for ya!

  5. Oh, I feel your pain. I feel the frustration that wants to bust out of me. Back when my sister and I were weaving and maintaining a fairly large studio, at least my training let me make a costed bill of material and know how much it cost me to go to market. But how to get a "fair" price. It never happened. We did what we loved, we worked hard, we paid the bills. We wore out. We all have our own reasons for going on. Just remember those. And, get some more sleep!

  6. Keep breathing, everything else is a theory!

    Farming, the ultimate multi-tasking scenario.

    Hang in. Fair? Would you buy this chop for 42$ a pound? Farming is one thing and Marketing another. I remember when I was hiring people. If their resume said farmer it went to the top of the pile. And I was rarely disappointed.

  7. Let's face it: running your own business is just plain hard work. I get a kick out of the Pampered Chef, and Premiere jewelry gals at the craft shows who have it so hard. Some days I'd gladly give up my handmade craft just to sell something pre-made by a company.

  8. Excellent post Donna. I think "fair" is a relative term, just like "quality." It often seems to depend which side of the fence one is on.

  9. donna... I am so lucky that I only PLAY at being a small holder... the reality of life on a farm is that things are tough...

    I apologies for making everything on my blog seem so easy and fluffy

  10. Hang in there, sister!
    The question of "Fair" has been around forever. I've yet to see anyone be able to define it satisfactorily. Nor have I ever been able to quantify everything that goes into producing pork- like sweat, tears, cuts, bruises, laughter, smiles and farmers' muscles.
    I always figured if we were making enough to pay the bills and put a bit by that was fair.
    Customers must understand that if you can't make a living then you won't be there anymore. It's that simple.
    Support the businesses/farms you want to be there when you need them or they will be gone.
    For example: I take my car to the local garage even for an oil change. It's inconvenient and it costs a bit more than say Walmart. But if customers don't make a commitment of loyalty then the business will go under- they won't be there when you need them.

  11. Carolyn, I try often to swap places and then "Fair Trade" seems just that. The more I can buy from folks I know or know of, the better I feel . Always willing to pay more for those I know who have worked hard to make or grow their goods.

    Joanne, when you said " We did what we loved, we worked hard, we paid the bills. We wore out." I felt so beaten FOR YOU. Are we so archaic that we still beleive a hard days work should mean something ? Well it should !

    Art, I am so glad you are blogging more again. YOU work so hard in your neck of the cold woods I know you understand the meaning of that word so yes, because you told me to, I will keep breathing :)

    Amy, sing it sister ! So frustrated I also get with those who sell premade wares and show up at the "craft" fares and then have the gonds to say "I too own a business" No, you are a salesman for which there is no shame, but please do not pretend to be a business owner. You have no risk, no liability and no real overhead. And do not ever threaten to stop with your soap selling. Just look how far we have nearly converted Mr Cro Magnon in that area !

    Leah. Many thanks. The hard part about farming is that I often really truly am, on either sides of the fence most days

    John, no apologies are needed. Don't you know that being blog buddies means never having to say your sorry ? Besides, because of you I have learned it is OK to admit I love my pet turkeys. In a pinch they may still get eaten but not without me appreciating their sacrifice.

    Dot, I feel the same about our local folks too. Used a small gas station in our little town for years at a slightly higher cost but sadly others drove right by, He closed his station last year. Huge loss.

  12. Donna, I don't know if this will help at all but here is the link to our order form which lists all our prices for cuts and hogs:


    Those are retail prices. Our wholesale prices are typically 50% of the retail price. We charge a $10 delivery fee and the stores and restaurants gladly pay it for the service.

    We live in a different location so things are different both on the costs end and the sales ends. Still, that will give you some data.

    Keep well,

    Sugar Mountain Farm
    in Vermont

  13. Oh, and I meant to add: I would strongly recommend not hiring. There was a time when I had 19 employees in my manufacturing business. Having more employees didn't ever lessen my work load, bring me more money or make me happy. I down sized the company and was much happier. I'm even happier now that I'm farming full time. We do it with family. That's it. Outsiders have different goals, paths and agendas. Yes, I had some gems of employees over the years but most were just punching the clock. It's just part of the way things are. If you can do it yourself, even it it takes twice as long, it is better than hiring.