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October 07, 2010

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Congyu

What a great idea. We just bought into a herd share here in New Zealand so we can have aesccs to raw milk, otherwise it's illegal. I picked up my first bottle last week and found out about the farm through the local chapter of the Weston A Price foundation. My farm is organic, pasture-based and heading towards being completely A2, so I'm happy with that.

Nena

Count me in. I'm not a farmer (well cfnriomed by my depressing little veggie patch) but I've read So Shall We Reap' and I'm on a sharp learning curve. I want a future where my son can afford to feed his family good, healthy, clean food, sustainably/humanely produced, so I'd be very pleased to join you in this campaign.

Douglas Campbell

If a consumer is concerned about Mad Cow, is even the very finest of pastured animal raising technique nullified if the animals are slaughtered in a facility that slaughters factory farmed animals also? This question is regarding the BSE issue only. I understand that there are a small number of slaughter house facilities in CA, and would like to know to what extent the pastured animals are processed through the same facilities as the factory farmed animals. Thank you.

Lisa

Rebecca - I heard about the shutdown of TLC Farm and was saddened - then found your blog. Gosh - so many of the issues you bring up strike home. Meat processing is a HUGE issue - I refuse to send my animals to a processing facility where they could potentially be abused, the meat soiled by improper treatment, and where I might not even get back the meat I sent in at all. It is an injustice that I cannot have a ranch kill and then use a small processor and still sell cuts of meat. After all - its safe and legal to do that if I am eating the meat. What is the difference is someone else is?

Some of your customers have started ordering pork from me - I appreciate the new customers but I sure wish you guys were still in business to take care of them. If you ever decide to give it a go again let me know - I have 75 very usable, flat, fertile acres in Colusa County I could rent to you. My primary farm is in Yolo County and I just don't have time to farm the Colusa place myself.

Lisa Seger

I just found the link to this post on grist. I loved your original article and shared it with all of my farm's facebook friends ... who are mostly doing the right thing, anyway. But, still...

I hope you will start again when your tour of the country is over, having found a community that better supports sustainable farming.

I also hope you might find your way to our small goat dairy outside of Houston - Blue Heron Farm.

Rebecca T. of Honestmeat

Wow Mark- you may want to refrain from commenting on my blog if you rely on assumptions only. First off, farmland rent prices around the country are skyrocketing. If you want to farm within 3 hours of a good market nearly anywhere in the country, land rent prices are high. Despite 6 years of looking for better land, trying to negotiate with our landlords, working with a land-linking organization, & more, we were unable to find cheaper land. So we stopped farming because the situation was untenable. Isn't that the correct decision? Is it my fault that land prices are overvalued in California- does the blame for that lie on my shoulders? I don't think so. You can blame that on subsidized water, land-use policy, and many other govt. policies, as well as speculative real estate investors.
The "trends" that you say we are following are what we consider the rules of sustainability. We are not going to farm if we have to do it unsustainably. I don't want to run a business that I don't feel good about, that pollutes, that treats animals inhumanely, or exploits people. If we have to do those things to stay in business, we are going to change businesses- hence why we closed up shop.
As far as marketing- do you even know what we did for marketing? Do you know about our website, Facebook page, Twitter account, work with local radio & newspaper, logo development, t-shirts, event sponsorship, e-newletter, You Tube videos, farm tours, etc? Do you know that other farmers in my region come to me to ask how to do marketing? You probably don't because you make the assumption that we don't know how to market.
One interesting thing we are finding as we travel the country is that nearly every other farmer we talk to has the SAME problems. Are we all poor businesspeople? Do we all deserve to fail? Or are there serious cultural, political, and environmental issues that are creating insurmountable walls for family-scale sustainable farmers in this country? Let's talk about those challenges and not blame them all on the individual farmers that are trying their best to produce good food.
We realized that we did not have the proper factors for success so we closed our doors. That is not failure- that was a keen business decision.

Mark Renfrow

Rebbecca,

Having just now read your story having linked to it from a Grist's year-end recap and couldn't help but comment.

Leasing bad land at too high of a price seems plenty to sink any farm. The blame for your failure lies squarely on your shoulders.

I am not sure how the organic/free range/ grass finished/ whatever trend somehow suspended the rules of simple farming or business 101.

It does a great disservice to the movement to blame others when you ignore the obvious. Farmers need good land, low overhead and a market for their products.

Lastly you must market. Even producing a high quality egg at the same price as grocery store eggs it wouldn't guarantee you success. You still have to address customer's needs and wants. Like safety and convenience.

If you cant do those things then you should be out of business.

All that to say it's only business fundamentals that you lack. You're probably great at the farming stuff, just get the fundamentals right and you'll find rock climbing boring compared to success at what you do best, providing great food.

Business demands failure, it's good if you can heed it's lessons. Business success is steeped in failure, but you must keep trying. (And get better advice).

Souriya

As a chicken farmer, I get all kinds of fairytale requests, my favorite is do you let your hens live a natural full life on the farm? I answer no, and they say why not?or Do you feed them flax seed, the ones in the store do. But the best is when a customer comes to my self-serve stand and takes as many eggs as possible without paying, the least he could do was take the conventional eggs and not Organics. I definatly hear your frustration.

chris

If you're interested, I recently inherited quite a bit of acreage with a farmhouse in Minnesota. I don't live close to the area and I'm trying to figure out what to do with it. I want to keep some of it and either sell some or lease it for a minimal amount. I've recently gotten interested in csa type farming, so perhaps we could help each other out.

Kathryn Johnson

Hi ! I am sorry to hear that this has been a tough time for you and your family. I am not a farmer, but I work for an alliance of small family farmers and I am also a consumer. I think we have worked out the problems that you have faced, but our farmers in some cases have had family on their farms for 115 years. So we don't have to rent or lease. I am not sure that is the case for all of the farmers, but I know at least some of them are in this situation. We face similar problems with people one fad or another without really knowing all of the facts, but I do give them credit because they are at least doing something to make their life better and healthier. If you are still in California, I recommend Abundant Harvest Organics. Our primary farm is in Kingsburg California and I know they have had interns in the past so I am sure you would be welcome. Vernon Peterson really knows a lot about all of this and seems to be doing an excellent job. I know you would be blessed to meet with him. Take Care and I pray you will find a spot to call home and that you will be back on the land soon .

Rebecca T. of Honestmeat

Dana- how does a soybean differ from any other bean? Are you suggesting we don't use any legumes to feed poultry, or just soy? Why single out soy instead of say, field peas or lentils or black beans? Chickens are omnivores and need protein. We could feed them mice, worms, tarantulas, etc. but don't have access to lots of them, so we use legume protein and we allow the hens all day access to pasture to look for bugs & worms, etc. What is wrong with that? We don't cut corners, we are raising the best, pasture-raised certified organic eggs in the region! Find a better egg if you can.
What I am complaining about is that people are more concerned about their soy & corn hysteria (it is hysteria) than they are the treatment of the hens- do they have access to fresh pasture? Do they have to live on top of their manure all day or do they get rotated around? Are they fumigated to death (what large barn-raised operations do, even organic). Your soy hysteria does not concern me- being pasture-raised and having a diverse diet is what concerns me.

Jill

I recently attended a seminar about conflict, and one of the things that I noticed is that a lot of people think that they are having an interpersonal conflict, when, in fact, they are simply trying their best to deal with bad policy.
You say that people shouldn't "skimp" on their food, but around here, organic chicken is $20 a lb. Who could afford to feed that to their family? It isn't that the farmer, or the retailer are asking an unfair price, it is that the way we get food to feed our food, and the government's reactionary and cherrypicking regulating has led to bad policy, and bad policy has made it impossible for anyone but those who starve and mistreat their food animals to make a decent living.
I hope that you find what you are looking for outside of California. We live in Northern Minnesota and it's very cold here. It is virtually impossible to grass-feed any animal year round, since Winter has begun, and won't end until April. However I support a local farmer who grass finishes their beef, and is able to raise grazed pork and chicken, also eggs and milk. I purchase my milk off the farm, providing my own containers for $3 a gallon, and it is wonderful. When her flock starts laying again (wolves got the last flock), I'll be able to buy eggs at $3/doz. They sell their beef for $2.99/lb. Land is cheap here, however heat is expensive, and there are a lot of trees. Also, the people are the most provincial I have ever run across.

Dana

OK, I am one of those people who would really rather have soy-free eggs. I am not there yet, but that's a goal of mine. And no, I am not ignoring the realities of livestock production. Since when is it natural for chickens to eat soybeans? It would actually make more sense for them to eat, for instance, coconut because they are from southeast Asia and would have encountered that food from time to time, especially once domesticated by humans. Soy, though? Not so much. I'm sorry it reduces the output of each individual chicken, but if the point is to get back to more natural and sustainable production, having a more natural egg output is going to have to be one of the goals we aim for. And isn't it better for birds to not lay as many eggs over a lifetime anyway? It stresses them out to be higher producers, and depletes their calcium reserves faster.

Unless I'm somehow confusing chickens with something else, like iPods or sports cars. Silly me, the city slicker.

Sorry... I just get really, really annoyed at this stuff. I've lost count of how many people like y'all I have run into over the last few years who are all "we want natural and sustainable and organic and etc." but when pressed, would rather cut corners and get quite outraged when called on it. I'd have more respect for somebody if they would just admit they can't be perfect at achieving their goals but "thank you for understanding" rather than this defensive-posture stuff.

It's a human impulse to *get* defensive, and I understand that too. But we're all on a learning curve here. It's going to be a while before we get where we want to be.

I really, really, really wish the USDA would quit subsidizing grain and soybeans and start putting that money toward small farmers and ranchers for healthier/organic produce and animal foods. Of course, if they did, they'd have all sorts of strings attached that would dumb down the food production. Sigh.

Lisa

Do you know the Magruder Ranch? 5th generation, sustainably raised beef, pigs, etc. in Mendocino County.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Magruder-Ranch/260482504033?v=info

http://www.magrudergrassfed.com

Healthy Republic

Thank you for sharing your story. I keep hearing and reading more and more stories like these. Its disappointing that our nation can't seem to keep proper farms alive anymore and it's really rather scary.

All the best in your new journey. Perhaps you can finally get in some of that rock climbing and biking now!

Keep us updated on your findings!

Almira

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks

Sorry to hear things didn't work out the way you hoped. We moved to the middle of nowhere in 2002 and are still here. You can visit our website at http://www.antiquityoaks.com -- and if you're passing through Illinois, you're welcome to stop in and visit for awhile!

tim

Excellent story !! Sad but eye opening. I have been trying to restart my farm and it is taking years since the farm is miles away from where i live and is not liveable andi am now 50 and in not the best shape.

angela

Your post is very eye opening to me as a consumer. Thank you for bringing up additional thoughts and issues I never would have thought of that face our farmers.
Best wishes on your new ventures

Carol Ritter

I don't know you or your family, but your story makes me feel so very sad. I grew up on a small farm in Southeastern Sacramento County. We grew our own chickens, rabbits, goats, cattle, veggies, nuts and fruits. Every summer I hated life because I had to be up early every morning to help bring in the produce and then spent all afternoon canning and preserving. When I became an adult, I realized what a blessing that lifestyle was and I tried to find a way to get back to that lifestyle again. Unfortunately, the land prices in the central valley skyrocketed in the 70s and 80s, encouraging developers to build acres of tract homes, for which they charged exorbitant prices. Now, many of the homes sit empty, because their owners could not afford to keep them. The rich farm land of the central valley is mostly gone now, paved over, built over, and polluted, perhaps beyond redemption. I often wonder: what will people eat when there is no more ground to grow their food?

Pete Gasper

Sounds like our farming experience, with only minor variations, except that we're still struggling to keep it together. If you're in KS your welcome to come see/work our operation.

Pete

Brian McGinness

Hello,
I must confess that throwing in the towel and cruising free does sound pretty liberating! Just in case you're heading up north, WAY up north, please make plans to stop by Mandan, North Dakota and visit Riverbound Farm for as long as you like. We're cheating by leasing "family" land, and it seems to be working pretty well. We threw in the towel on another farming operation (meat CSA) in Vermont that was taking more from us than it was giving. It's no fun being a guilty parent. But, North Dakota has been treating us well. Hope to see you some time.

Brian and Angie at riverboundfarm.com

Julianna Sauber

If you are going to make it to Michigan, there are lots of amazing farmers here who you could work with - just let us know ahead of time.

Julianna

Dawn

re your note:

P.S. if you are a farmer or rancher that is somehow successfully balancing environmental, social, and economic sustainability, we would like to volunteer for 2-4 weeks with you. Please let us know if you would like our help!

fr: Michigan

It sounds like you are off to a tremendous adventure! It must be sad to leave after all of the hard work you put in though you will never forget the wonderful experiences ahead of you.

I am writing from SW Michigan. We have a growing local foods movement. As an FYI / should you run out of farms to work/learn at, you could post your ad to our yahoo group and you will, more than likely, come up with an offer

Search/Join yahoo group: EatLocalSWMich
and post away.

Best of luck to you and your family!!
God's speed

Jerica

Come and see us. We're in Jefferson, Texas, on a farm raising grassfed beef, pastured pork and chicken, veggies, eggs, turkeys, etc. I'm sorry to hear about your struggles. I will pass this on to folks in our area to help shine the light on the need to SUPPORT YOUR FARMER!! Our biggest struggle has been education of the local eaters. They love their KFC and donuts in East Texas!

Robin Simpson

I'm so, so sad to hear this. If you can't make a go of it in the Bay area, it makes me feel a bit discouraged about the future of sustainable food.

Good for you guys for living in an RV for a few years! It sounds wonderful- can't wait to hear about your adventures.

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