Monday, February 11, 2013

Growing Pains :: Part Two ...

A Few of our first Hereford Hogs on 
the farm back in 2009. Notice the 
fine structure I had built for them!
For the past week I have been formulating a follow-up post to last Mondays, "Growing Pains ..." post. There were many great ideas and issues brought up in the comments that caused me to think about the farms growth to this point and possible future growth. What I have found though is that I can't express all of those thoughts in one post ... so over the next few days I thought I would expand on the "Growing Pains" that the farm is experiencing and how I view them. I wanted to start out with a little deeper look (yet still not a complete look) at our farm values, then in the following days we'll dig a little deeper into other issues.

Farm Values

  • Money ... Money ... Money :: Often times when people ask about the reasons behind our pasture based system I tell them that the driving principle is financial. Now that isn't completely true because we do value raising animals with their created strengths in mind, the stewardship of the land that we are entrusted with, and the transparency of our farm. But, when it comes down to it I wanted to start a farm and with no family land to jump on to a small unconventional farm was my only possibility. The only way to start a farm from scratch was to do something different than my 2,000 acre farming neighbors (and I don't begrudge them for being large farmers). Another big financial value that we have on the farm is that we try to stay away from debt! Unfortunately we do have a mortgage (no larger than if we had bought a modest house in town), but we are working to pay that down as quickly as possible. As for everything else on the farm (fences, breeding stock, feeder pigs, buildings, materials, etc.) it is a cash only deal for us. That is the only way that it will work for me.
  • Animals Can Work :: Pigs love the woods and the pastures, cattle thrive on the buffet of grasses, sheep can have lambs on their own (even in the shed in February), chickens can handle themselves alright with a little protection from the elements and predators, and even the rabbits can rock the pasture pens! We are all about putting the animals to work and using their created abilities to grow and thrive.
  • Genetics Matter :: In some cases there is nothing wrong with some of the "modernized" breeds of livestock that we have these days and in other cases they are completely missing some hugely important things like taste, the ability to survive outside, taste, intelligence, taste, taste, and taste. With that in mind it is important to us to keep some of those older and more rare genetics around. Plus ... some of these breeds are just way cool!
  • Customers Are Friends :: I'm a people person and the idea of the people that enjoy my pork being nameless faceless cogs in the system just doesn't sit well with my talkative personality. Tonight we have a pork/lamb/chicken delivery in Des Moines and tomorrow in Knoxville and I will be able to talk directly with friends ... who are also customers. Even when it comes to our new "wholesale" friend it isn't a nameless faceless deal. I see their customers because we share customers ... and I love their tacos!
  • The Lesser of Two Weevils :: I love the movie, "Master and Commander" (and the books), and there is a great line from it that goes something like this, "Don't you know that in the service you have to choose the lesser of two weevils" (it was part of a joke). The local community is important to our farm and we want to support them and work with them as much as possible. We have built great relationships with the farm store (of course I did work there), the local feed supplier, and our processor. All of those businesses that we interact with A LOT are no more than 20 miles from the farm. Not everything is perfect, but through the trust and relationships that we are building we are working together to provide the best possible relationship for everyone involved.
  • We Can't Hate What We Do :: I don't love it all (mud, drought, sickness, struggles, etc.), but if we hate it then we're just not going to do it. That doesn't mean that there aren't going to be challenges that push us to our limits (remember this whole discussion comes from the growing pains), but it does mean that if we hate what we are doing and it is tearing us apart we are going to quit. To me that is the ultimate in sustainability!

What you have there are just a few of the values that drive Crooked Gap Farm ... in no particular order ... and said with much rambling! In the following days I will share how the farm has grown to this point, how I see it growing throughout 2013, and why growing slowly also needs a big jump every once in a while.

Those are my two cents ... I would love to hear yours!


Mary Ann said...

I'm so glad you can verbalize a lot of the things we feel. We aren't doing ours on a cash-only basis, and we aren't really farming, but we have always had a hold on our "wants" until we had the money to bring them to fruition. I like your attitude very much!

Vera said...

I like your attitude as well. We are tiny in comparison to you, but we do follow along with your thoughts. I don't think we shall ever sell our meat produce, but who knows if that might change in the future. At the moment we work (from home) while having out ruin of a hour renovated plus starting up a smallholding. It is a lot on our shoulders, but it is worth all the effort!

Rich said...

Basically you are saying you want to have little debt, a low-input livestock system, a relationship with your customers, and want to like what you are doing.

I don't see why you shouldn't be able to grow and still keep those values (unless you need to borrow a lot of money).

The hardest thing I have had to do is take on more risk, but without gambling and taking a risk once in awhile I wouldn't have been able to grow at all. It's awful painful to take a big risk and then fail miserably, but sometimes there isn't any other way to move forward.

Ethan Book said...

Rich ... you pretty much summed it up. The one value that I'm most concerned about keeping is the financial one. In order to make the jump from having about 80 pigs on the farm at a time to 160 to 200 pigs on the farm at a time (all seasons) I'm going to have to rework my systems ... that won't compromise my values, but it will take money or at the very least time and those are both very precious commodities!

Anonymous said...

I recently stumbled across your blog while searching for farming blogs. I love your Growing Pains "series". Your honesty and attitude is awesome and really a breath of fresh air after reading so many "fairy tales" out there. Looking forward to following your blog and to see what comes your way in 2013.

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