After one hell of a winter, it appears we are finally moving towards some warmer weather. Thank goodness! For us, this winter’s challenges proved to be mostly water related- our automatic waterers are made of PVC pipe and don’t hold up well to a freeze. After rebuilding all of them a couple times, Andy and I decided to shut them off completely and hand water everyone until the weather improved enough to redesign and rebuild. We plan to update to steal pipes for the breed stock, and invest in a heated source of water in the barn, where we have electricity. We also had trouble delivering through multiple winter storms, but managed to get everyone their pork, from Memphis to New Orleans, with no incidents or accidents. Our chefs’ flexibility with delivery scheduling during the bad conditions was much appreciated.
Throughout the winter, we’ve also been investing in breed stock, mostly Tamworth and Berkshire, in hopes of reaching our goal of not having to source piglets from other farms by the end of this spring. However, our demand continues to rise (good problem), so its proven difficult to anticipate how many top hogs we’ll need 5 or 6 months down the road. Currently we are on pace to finish off 40 hogs a month, or just over 10 a week for the spring. This has been a goal of ours since we started, and I’m anxious to hit this volume both for higher revenues and to have more wholesale and retail product available.
Our work here is demanding and difficult, but we remain ever grateful for our relationships with our customers. Thank you for all the great conversations and constructive feedback; it keeps the wheels turning and gives us the energy to keep improving. We are especially grateful to our chefs. Without their recognition of the value of sourcing locally, and their willingness to stick their neck out to do it, we would not be able to farm in this manner. They spend sometimes twice as much on our product as they do on commodity product from massive distributors like Sysco and US Foods. They then use profound creativity to portion, prepare, and present it in a way that beautifully translates its quality to their diners. I hate to use corporate jargon- but “synergy” is a fitting term. There is such a potency in this relationship- farmer to chef to diner- not just for elevating cuisine to previously unseen levels, but also for strengthening the ties within our community and economy.
That said, I’m often told by business owners from restaurants and butcher shops, “Man, I really love what y’all are doing and I totally support it. I just don’t think my customers care enough to pay more for it.” I understand their skepticism and pragmatism. At the end of the day, we’ve all got to make a living. However, I just cannot agree that folks don’t care. If they didn’t care, I wouldn’t be in business, and farm names would not be cropping up on menus everywhere. It seems to me that the most successful and exciting food based business ventures in our region recognize the value, measured in quality and dollars, of supporting local agriculture. They accept it, embrace it, and build their business models around it. I don’t want to express any partiality by mentioning names, but its not hard to think of several new places in Memphis alone that are doing extremely well by sourcing locally.
So, we need to gently nudge these skeptics into believing that here in the South, we don’t just want the cheapest crap we can get. We are willing to spend more for a quality product produced right here at home for many reasons. We not only appreciate the excellent craftsmanship of our neighbors, but we also understand that our extra dollar is staying right here, not getting exported to a corporation based elsewhere. We understand that agricultural land and knowledge are among our most precious resources, and that when local farmers directly market their produce, they are utilizing these resources to get money moving in our communities, where economic growth is so desperately needed. We understand that Sysco steaks and tomatoes are cheaper, but we’d rather spend a few more dollars to buy them from someone around here. Why would we spend money on tasteless imported food when our farmers grow it better just outside of town?
In short, we get it. Its not a movement or a lifestyle; its not a fad or a regionally specific thing. Its simply an understanding of where to place value to improve our community. As your local farmers, we commit to earning your trust by producing the highest quality, most accessible, and most affordable products we can, and by never sacrificing quality for scale. In return, y’all just keep working on those skeptics.
Cheers to the end of winter,