JUNE ON THE FARM
Have I ever said how much I hate writing the June newsletter? In fact, I really don’t like writing the July or August newsletters very much either. I guess you could say I really don’t like the months of June through August very much. It’s so hot around here that it can be a struggle to get anything done. Just turning on hog lot sprinklers and chicken house misters takes extra time out of an already busy day and it seems that even the simplest task takes longer and is harder to accomplish in the heat and humidity. As far as the writing of the newsletter goes, how do you tell people that you mowed, ground feed, ran the disk through a field, mowed, picked squash, mowed, fixed the tractor, bush hogged, and painted a building and make it interesting? Oh and did I mention mowed? Yes for the next 3 to 4 months we will spend at least 1 day a week mowing grass or bush hogging a field and some weeks, depending on the rain, might even require us to mow chicken lots twice a week. Now if that doesn’t get you excited about facing a new day nothing will.
I know that doesn’t sound like me but I tend to get bored easily and summer is the time of year that I can easily get bored. I like the challenge of a new project, the rush of getting spring tasks completed on time or the work of finishing a list of winter projects. Sometimes my winter project lists are too long and don’t get finished, but that’s ok, it’s the challenge of trying to get them completed that I like. Summers just don’t provide that opportunity; it’s just too hot and uncomfortable to do those types of projects.
We are getting something’s done on the farm this month. This past winter we limed our fields and earlier in the spring we fertilized them. In the past 2 weeks we’ve sprayed them to kill the growing number of broadleaf weeds that we have been fighting for the past several years. These weeds have blown over from a neighbor’s property where they don’t mow or spray for them, leaving us no alternative but to spray. The current rains have left our fields in the best condition I’ve seen in a while proving what we have been doing has been making a difference. I’m looking forward to seeing what the long term effects on our fields will be once the biological and liquid carbon applications are made. These will be twice a year applications and will be made with the expectation that they feed the soil microbes which help provide fertility to the soil. I know this will be a long term process and results won’t be seen for a couple of years at least. Once we are sure the pastures are in prime condition, we will bring in extra cattle and increase our herd here at the home farm.
Over the winter we built a few raised beds in front of the market. The beds were filled with some of our composted chicken shavings and manure and planted. We have 12 tomato plants in 1 bed that are loaded down with tomatoes that will be ready to pick in a few weeks. We planted 1 bed in squash that we’ve been picking for the last couple of weeks; the plants are played out and will be removed this week. Another bed was just planted 4 weeks ago in cucumbers that will be trellised up a cattle panel. We should begin seeing some cucumbers in the next couple of weeks. Three of our beds were planted in Blue Lake bush beans. Each bed was planted with 2 rows, each 10’ long; this gave us 60’ total of green beans. This past week we picked the first picking and got 1-1/4 bushel of beans, enough to can 16 quarts. We should be able to get another picking later this week or early next and hope to get enough to can another 8 to 10 quarts. There is still 1 bed left that wasn’t planted this spring that I may just hold back on until we plant our fall garden. If you haven’t tried raised bed gardening before I highly recommend it, we’ve posted pictures on Facebook.
Back in the late fall we culled out several of our sows. We did this because of the long range effects Covid was having on our sales to restaurants causing us to over produce and keeping hogs on the farm longer than economically feasible. Once a hog reaches a certain weight, they no longer efficiently put on meat but rather put on mostly fat. We decided at the time that it would be best to cut production rather than continue over feeding hogs. Around the first of the year we started breeding the remaining 16 sows we have and have begun seeing the first farrowing from those breedings. Currently we have 4 sows in the farrowing house and just had the last of the sows give birth last night, she had 7. We should be back on track to farrow between 3 and 5 sows a month for the foreseeable future. Depending on what we see in the next several months, we’ll make the decision on whether to increase the herd back to 25 or keep it at the current number of 16.
The summer heat hasn’t started yet but is expected any day now. Jesse spent a good part of a day checking the misters in each of the chicken houses and getting them ready to turn on. He’s ordered some replacement nozzles for us to keep in stock in case we end up having a few that fail. It’s expected we will have to begin turning on the misters around the third to fourth week in June and will have to turn them on daily through mid to late September. During this time we have to monitor the misters closely to insure we don’t run them too long and get the shavings wet. Wet shavings aren’t healthy for the chickens and make for a messy house.
Several of our customers have been asking for ground turkey and turkey sausage. Years past we actually raised turkeys year round specifically to service a Charleston restaurant, Artisan, and to produce turkey sausage for our farm sales. However Artisan closed a few years ago and it became difficult securing the processing time required to process the turkeys. Currently we only process turkeys for the Holidays and make ground turkey and turkey sausage from the extra or damaged birds. We won’t have any ground turkey products until after we process the Holiday birds and meet all of the turkey reservations.
This past week we took about half the chickens we took to process and asked the plant to make ground chicken and a couple flavors of chicken sausage. It will be a few weeks before we will have these items back to the farm and up on the website. At this point we are not planning to offer the number of sausage flavors that we used to offer in turkey but provide the items that are most in demand.
Earlier this month Amy and Jesse decided to cut back on home delivery from every week to every other week. For the past few months, as people began feeling comfortable with the declining Covid numbers and started traveling again, we have seen the “off dairy week” deliveries decline to a level that was unsustainable. This often happens during the summer months as families head out for vacations but is more pronounced this year. They will continue monitoring the situation and make changes as needed.
I’ve mentioned in several monthly newsletters that we are in the process of transitioning the farm over to Jesse and Amy. The transition of any business from one generation to the next can be rewarding but also provides several challenges. Some of the challenges faced are generational. At times the younger generation and the older don’t see eye to eye, each have their own ideas of how things should be done and what the future of the business will look like. The older generation is afraid of letting go of the control, and funds, of the company and putting everything they worked so hard for in the hands of the younger generation. We are currently in year 5 of a 7 year process and have faced many of the challenges that we expected including the different view of the future. But facing these challenges, and keeping an open dialog, can make the business stronger and make for a brighter future. We can look back at the changes that have been made in just the 5 years we have been in this process and are amazed at what’s been done and what has been accomplished. We have used Quick Books for several years but now have all of our sales automatically recorded in the Quick Book system direct from our square devises. Our inventory is now recorded and automatically removed when sold; this requires constant monitoring and cycle counts to insure the inventory is correct but it’s a lot better than when we had the “guess” system, we’d look at the inventory and guess what we needed to produce. The inventory that was once kept in cardboard boxes is now being stored in plastic crates with lids which allow us to keep the freezers cleaner and more organized making it easier to rotate stock and maintain an accurate inventory. And just recently we remodeled the on-farm market, installed new merchandising freezers, increased the farms offerings, and just this week added a new A/C system to provide a cool market during the hot summer months.
We are now ready to move into the next phase of the transition process which is without question the toughest. Effective Monday June 21, Annie and I will begin working part time and turn a good portion of the running of the farm over to Amy and Jesse. I will begin working 4 days a week and taking 3 days off as will Annie. During this time Amy and Jesse will be responsible for the daily operation of the farm and working with the farm’s restaurant customers while continuing to manage and operate Pastured Pantry. I will continue to participate in the Port Royal Farmers Market weekly for the foreseeable future; there is no way I’m going to give up the friendships I’ve made over the years at that market. Over the next several months to a couple of years, the responsibilities will increase with Amy and Jesse learning more of the financial dealings of the farm and taking on the responsibility of managing the finances.
This is probably the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. In all my life I have never had 3 days a week off. When I worked off the farm I spent evenings and weekends doing the farm work. During the few years that we didn’t farm I spent weekends fishing with Jesse but often had to help Uncle Jr with hay or another project he had going. When we started farming again I went back to working in the evening and weekends on the farm but once we moved into selling direct to restaurants and families, we went about 11 years working 7 days a week with only a week vacation at Edisto yearly. It’s been about 12 years since we even took a vacation. I’m not telling you this to feel sorry for us; farming is the life we chose and we don’t regret a minute of it. We’re proud that we’ve been able to keep the family farm growing and are able to begin turning it over to the 5th generation. I think we have built a good foundation for Jesse and Amy to build on. I don’t look at the farm as ever being a completed project; it will always have to be able to change to stay relevant. I look at the work done by one generation as only providing a foundation for the next. It will be up to Amy and Jesse to build a strong foundation for the next generation to build on.
I have a few ideas of how to spend my extra down time and continue doing the things I love doing. I’ve contacted a friend of ours that works with the Small Business Association about volunteering some time to work with new farmers or entrepreneurs to write a business plan and help them learn how to read business reports and know what those reports are telling them. A typical profit and loss statement can provide you a wealth of knowledge if you understand it. Too often new farmers fail because they were great at growing a product but didn’t know a thing about how to market it or how to run a business. In no time they’re eyeballs deep in debt, become overwhelmed, and have no choice but to shut down. Just this year 3 small farms, two at the beginning of the year and one just within the last couple weeks, have shut down operations for just these reasons.
I also contacted the local FFA advisors and asked them if there would be any interest in starting a new program in Colleton County. My idea was to set up an FFA student run business that would grow a product, market it, and manage the day to day administration tasks required. The students would learn how to set up a business, produce a marketable product, market that product, and build a production system that would be able to sustain the program and provide enough of the product to meet demand. All proceeds from the sale of the product produced would be put back into the student run business which would mean no education funds would be required. The FFA advisors would simply monitor the program and work as advisors and teach the basics of business, the students would do everything. I think a program like this would provide a real world example of how to grow an agricultural product and a real world example of what it takes to market that product and run a business. The advisors were very interested and will talk to whoever would make the decisions regarding new programs. I’m looking forward to hearing back from them.
I’m also planning on continuing as an advocate for small farms. I truly believe that a strong local economy includes strong, profitable, farms that are capable of feeding the community, year round not just during the farmer’s market season.
I hope you enjoy summer and be safe if traveling. Thanks for continuing to be a part of our farm family and for supporting our farm.
Annie, Marc, Amy, and Jesse