Monday, October 04, 2010

Help! :: Crooked Gap Farm

Dear Crooked Gap Farm Friend,

One of the major commitments of Crooked Gap Farm is to the customers and the people that have been an encouragement along the way. Because of that, we are looking for your advice and input. We are passionate about providing healthy and delicious meats by raising animals the way they were created to be made. This means that the cattle are grassfed and raised on pasture. It means that the pigs have their babies outdoors, and that they have a chance to root and be a pig. It means that the chickens can roam the pastures and clean-up after the cattle. I am very appreciative of our customers and friends who value these commitments and ideals!

Late this summer, however, we encountered a change that made the things that were starting to seem known about our farm unknown. My full time job of 6+ years at the church became a 20 hour a week job. In order to fill in some of the financial gap, I took on an additional 40 hours in the NAPA department at the farm store. This gave me 60 hours of town work plus the work on the farm.

Because of the changes in my job, not only are finances tighter than they were before, but I also have less time to take care of the livestock, maintain the farm, and cut firewood for the house. Plus, it is important to keep the family sane as well! Finding time to take care of everything has already become a challenge, and I know those challenges will continue as winter comes on and the days become shorter.

The first thought is that this is the time to back away from the farm and sell off the livestock. To maintain at the level we are at is not profitable enough considering the limited time that I have on the farm right now.

On the other hand, having my job at church cut to 20 hours gives me an opportunity to take a risk that might sound a bit crazy considering our situation ... to jump in to the farm completely and to grow and expand it. That expansion would mean buying in more animals over the winter and spring to have more available during the market season, including pork, beef, lamb, and poultry.

If that is going to happen though I’m going to have to think outside of the box. I’m going to have to be more creative and try and build some operating capital to fund the expansion and the extra feed and facility costs over the winter.

This all leads of course to my “big ask”. In one sense, I’m asking for your thoughts as customers on the direction of Crooked Gap Farm at this time. If the farm is going to continue, it is going to need the support of all of you who have supported it through its beginning stages. Would you like to see us stick around and grow? Would you like to purchase grassfed lamb and pastured chicken along with the pork and beef you may have already purchased from us? If that is the case, let me know.

And, another part of the “big ask” is would you help me think of ways to raise some of the capital needed to grow? Maybe you would be interested putting a down payment on a half hog, lamb, or chickens. Maybe you would like to reserve first crack at the limited amount of grassfed Dexter beef that will be available later this fall and next year. Maybe you have an outside of the box idea that could help the farm. Whatever it is, I would love to hear your thoughts!

One thing that you could do right now though is spread the word about Crooked Gap Farm if you have enjoyed our heritage breed meats. Please feel free to share this letter or our contact information with any friends or family that may be interested in our farm. We will have more pork and eggs available this fall and hopefully some ground beef if we can clear out some of our very limited freezer space (hint, hint). Our customers are the best advertisement we could have, and we would greatly appreciate your help.

So, there it is ... the current situation of Crooked Gap Farm in a very small nutshell. I want to thank you all for the support you have given over the past couple of years and all the encouragement that I have heard. This past summer was a summer of learning and growth on the farm. Even with all of the challenges I can look back and see progress, and that would not have been possible without you. If you would like to come out to the farm and see what is going on, please feel free to contact me and set up a visit. I would love to share our passion and vision with you in person!

Ethan Book

13 comments:

Emily Hebner said...

Ethan,

I think from the fact that you bought the sheep and your earlier posts on facebook that you have your answer!

If you continue at 60 hours a week and sell animals you are heading away from your true north!

Your church cutting back your hours is a sign! This is your chance! It still allows you a little security but frees up 40 plus hours for farming! Doesn't that sound Wonderful!?!

I think in addition to looking to your established community for support you should considering taking the same tact as Joel Salatin and Walter Jeffries and living as simply as possible. Sell any cars you have to make payments on, simplify, simplify, simplify. And Live Your Dream!!! This is SO exciting!

I look forward to reading how your adventure progresses!

Best Wishes,

Emily

Rich said...

About a year ago or so, I was reading the Northern Farmer blog (now it has changed to: http://afarmersjournal.blogspot.com)and it hit me that Mr. Scepaniak was absolutely correct in stating that having Faith and a Trust in God is a major part of farming.

That epiphany changed the way I thought about the farm and myself.

I used to agonize about everything that could go wrong when we were planting wheat, harvesting wheat, whether it would rain too little or too much, if it was going to freeze, if the heifers would have trouble calving, etc.

Now, with a different mindset, I find it easier to deal with any obstacles that I encounter. Everything isn't milk and honey on the farm (far from it), but when something happens it is easier to deal with.

Please don't make the mistake of thinking that I am saying that success or failure is dependent on how God-fearing or righteous a person is (I am afraid I might be in trouble if that was the case).

For a much better and coherent explanation of what I am trying to explain, I suggest going to: http://afarmersjournal.blogspot.com

The Farmers Wife said...

Ethan,

We were faced with a similiar situation, my husband worked for our church but his position was completly changed and didn't allow for him to continue to build the farm and work at the church at night. We took it as our "final" sign, to take the jump and put 200% into farming, although it means much cut backs in our family of 6 for the time being. This is the way the world is moving...better food for our families, healthier choices. The best feeling to me is when a customer comes up to me and thanks for me feeding their family food that is healthy - it confirms all of our choices.

I wish you the best.. it looks as though it is moving quickly and while it might be rough at times, the most important is your family and that what you are doing is important.
God bless you and thank you!

Michelle Hebron

Ryan Marquardt said...

I do not know what your margin on hogs is, but I am going to give you a look at what we have found.

Chickens is the lowest margin animal that you will raise. They usually run around a 30% margin. Their greatest value is in how they improve pasture.

Eggs run us around a 50% margin, and turkeys run us around a 55% margin. Lamb is running us around a 65% margin. We will butcher our first head of cattle in spring, and we are anticipating a 75- 80% margin on them.

It is a big jump and one that must be done carefully. A 40 hr a week off farm job is not very functional with your farming background. I would keep the off farm job though the winter. Depending on the condition of your pasture, you might consider lamb. They will graze your pasture much lower (so longer rests will be needed), and they are not easy to fence. We have never had multiple strands of polywire work. We use net. It has two draw backs, cost and you can kill sheep that get tangled in it (some breeds are worse then other about this).

You might consider gardening, especially if you are going to be at Farmer's Markets. What produce did you not see at the Market?

Good luck,

Ryan
www.wildrosepastures.com

Anonymous said...

Ethan,

Being from several states away, I can offer littel help other then advice.

Have you contacted CSAs? We would love to be able to work with a farmer to provide a substantial commitment of meat to our CSA members. The great thing is that CSAs usally pay up front. So in Janurary you could get the money for food you will not deliver until ready.

Maybe offering "Meat Shares" to local CSAs would be a way to start?

Good luck!

Heather
Farmer in Ohio

Joshua said...

Ethan,

Have you taken a look at some of the Niche farmers in western Oregon and the Puget sound area of Washington? They really have something going on!

Also look in to starting a CSA or something in that vein.

These all are a little Snooty but may be a saving grace.

God bless
Joshua

these are a few folks that I have learned from

www.friendsoffamilyfarmers.org

www.oakhillorganics.org

www.viridianfarms.com

Erin said...

Ethan,

I would love to support your farm, but it's certainly difficult from a distance. If we were closer I'd be interested in eggs and pork.

Have you considered something as simple as selling t-shirts with your farm logo on them? Would be an easy way for others outside your radius to support the farm. Probably not much profit in that...but might be something!

Erin

Darlene said...

I'm not sure how I found your blog, but I was doing one of my usual and customary google searches and the title of your blog "The Beginning Farmer" caught my attention. I'm a 'beginning farmer' too in alot of ways. I was a city girl my whole life up until almost 4 years ago when God laid it on my heart to pray for more land. That journey led me from a major city to the rural mountains of northern Georgia.

That said, as I read this particular blog, the thought, "what does God want them to do?" kept playing over and over in my mind.

If God can call me out from the city and lead me to a lifestyle I never knew before...if He could take me through some of the toughest and darkest days I've ever experienced to teach me on a deeper level of His faithfulness...if He could then bring me out and begin to bless all my efforts here on my own farm, He can and will do the same for y'all.

Just know that someone you don't know, who lives far away from y'all, has lifted you and your family up before His holy throne and interceeded in prayer, asking that His perfect will for your life would become known to you and your wife.

Also, I wanted to mention that there are some government programs that assist 'first time farmers', along with other programs that help farmers become more profitable. I called my local extension agent here in my county and asked if there were any programs to help someone like me. He referred me to the next county east of me where the federal government agency was located and I began to talk with them. They came out, looked at my operation and then began to offer suggestions on what I could do to improve what I had begun to build. While they won't help someone set up a business per se, they do help financially with projects that make things more organized, more efficient, more cost effective, more "green".

For me, they are subsidizing additional fencing so that I can rotate my stock, which in turn will benefit my pastures. They are paying to put in a well because my existing water source (while adequate for the home), is not adequate to properly water livestock and my garden. They are paying to put in an irrigation system in my garden. I had been just using traditional sprinklers for the past few years and because I had been doing that, I qualified for their irrigation program. They're funding construction to my pond that will allow my cattle to access the water in the pond, but will restrict them from actually entering the pond and damaging it.

On and on I could go, but if I remember correctly, the 2 programs that I am aware of will either pay 75% or 90% of the costs for these various projects. Perhaps you could look into this yourself to see if they might be able to help your farm. Since it's a federal government agency, it wouldn't be limited to any particular state.

Regardless, good luck and God bless.


Darlene.

Anonymous said...

You bought the farm to farm. The more you work on the farm, the more the farm produces. I can tell you from experience, it's a whole lot nicer to think about what I did, than what I could have done with my life. You wanted to be a farmer, be a farmer. If things get tough, your wife, your family and god will get you through it.

Matt_Middleton said...

Being in a different country, and not a farmer (yet), I can't offer much in the way of help or advice. The only suggestion I can make is to put up a donate button. I've donated to Bloggers before, when they've inspired and/or informed me, and yours certainly fits the bill.

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Ethan

In 3 weeks I will be resigning from my very well paid RN job. A career I have had for 25 years. I will be joining my husband who is already on the farm full time. Our meat business has grown so much we must fish or cut bait, so I feel your pain and your fears.

To keep customers coming to our farm, we have built a small farm store on our property with an investment loan from one of our milk customers.It will open very soon. We also have had great success selling to the Chicago restaurant business delivering whole and half hogs in the back of our Ford Transit Wagon.We cannot keep up with the demand. Find your niche and fill it.

PS As long as you have your family and your faith you will never be a failure. In the end it all burns right ?

Steve Romero said...

Rich,

Thanks for pointing out that great blog in your comment above. That guy really has his head on right!

It's hard to do, but we all need to learn how to just LET GO....me mostly I feel. I'm guilty. I get so caught up in trying to figure everything out myself, God is usually the last option for me. I'm ashamed of that.

Steve Romero said...

Donna,

I like your words. My wife and I are struggling with me giving up my really good engineering job in Houston so that we can farm full-time in about 3 years. The demand is huge here for this type of food, but I'm still afraid. Pray for us.

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