Unsustainable

The eggs from our farm are the finest available in this community.  There are none better.  That’s just an honest fact.

Our hens forage freely so they get a natural diet.  We supplement their foraging with surplus from our garden (vegetables raised chemical-free) and with a completely GMO-free and soy-free feed. They are raised humanely and they live happy contented lives.  The eggs are nutritious, wholesome and, best of all, delicious.

Last week we gave away a refrigerator full of them.

Although we enjoy giving away the food we produce, we didn’t give them away because we’re generous.  We gave them away because we weren’t able to sell them.

Yesterday we drove to the other side of the county and paid hundreds of dollars for more feed. Perhaps as we feed it to our hens they’ll continue to lay the finest eggs available in our community, which folks won’t buy.  In that case we’ll continue giving them away.  Obviously that is not a sustainable economic model.

Meanwhile, I wonder how many thousands of dozens of factory-produced eggs are purchased in our community every week.

Obviously I’m a little frustrated by our tepid egg sales, but, to be fair, for lots of people our delivery schedule isn’t convenient.  The farmers’ market opens this Saturday and when that happens I expect we’ll start selling out again.

I hope so.  If our egg business continues to operate at a loss, we’ll stop it after this year.  We’ll just keep enough chickens to provide us with the eggs we eat and, as much as I hate the thought of it, we’ll get rid of the rest of them.  Then it will no longer be possible for folks in our community to buy eggs like ours anymore.  Instead of having 99.99 percent of the market, the industrial egg companies will have 100 percent of it.

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26 comments on “Unsustainable

  1. Steve says:

    Joel Salatin had some advice in this area, if I recall, and it came down to pure, aggressive marketing. Check him out. He would crack open an industrial egg and then one of his and show people the difference at markets, for instance.

    Is there a high-end restaurant locally where the chef cares about the quality of the food he serves? Show him or her your eggs.

    And I hate to say it, but if you’re giving the eggs away, the folks receiving them won’t like ever buy them, will they?

    Hang in there.

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    • Bill says:

      Joel is a master at marketing. I saw his son Daniel speak a couple of years ago and he’s a chip off the old block. He was speaking to a room full of farmers and he said something like “Let’s face it, if we enjoyed marketing we wouldn’t be farming. But if you raise the best food in the world and you can’t sell it, then your farm will fail.”

      I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that almost all of the cost of food in the store is attributable to packaging and marketing.

      I shouldn’t be negative, with the opening of the farmers market just a few days away. We won’t make any money on the eggs even if we are able to sell them. But we should be selling out with a waiting list. I just can’t imagine why people would eat industrial eggs when they don’t have to.

      We gave the eggs to the food bank and to a homeless ministry, not to potential customers.

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  2. Bite your tongue.

    Of course it is frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive, but then so are children and we’re not giving up on them just yet.

    Don’t let the big guys win. The farmers market will start up again and the folks will come and they will buy the eggs and all will be right with the universe again.

    You are disheartened now, but don’t let being disheartened steer you away from continuing to do the right thing. What might not be a sustainable business model is, nonetheless, a sustainable model.

    Maybe give away one or two eggs to everyone who DOESN’T buy eggs (at the market or elsewhere). Stop preaching to the choir and actually show the no believers the difference. Invite them to try their store-bought eggs right next to yours and see if they don’t change their minds…

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    • Bill says:

      Yeah, sorry for sounding like such a whiner this morning. We’re not going to stop raising chickens and getting good eggs. We just might quit trying to raise them for other people. As a friend of mine said (a fellow chem-free farmer) if we sell our products for less than our cost of production, then we’re just paying people to eat our food. That makes no sense. He’s working hard to find markets farther away from here and is considering hanging it up after this year. Our way of doing things is a tough sell in this area.

      I like your comment that “what might not be a sustainable business model is, nonetheless, a sustainable model.” I fully agree with that. We’re homesteaders first and foremost and that won’t change. We’ll keep on encouraging people to produce their own food no matter what.

      I should have mentioned that one factor in the seemingly decreasing demand for our eggs is that more and more people are starting to keep their own hens. More and more of the folks who care enough to want good eggs are starting to produce their own. That’s a very good thing of course. As for the folks still buying tasteless eggs laid by tortured hens, sometimes I can only shake my head in amazement.

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  3. I cannot understand why anyone, once they see and taste the difference, would not be going to the next county to get them. My neighbor across the river stopped raising chickens and so I’ve had to go elsewhere, but not too far: the local herbal remedy shop carries them sometimes, the local feed store and … yes, the liquor store. At $3 a dozen I feel like I’m practically stealing them, especially considering how wonderful they are. The farmer’s market here, also, but not open quite yet …
    I sure hope folks wake up soon …

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    • Bill says:

      Good for you for supporting local farmers. And you’re getting superior eggs to boot.
      $3 is a good price. We sell ours for $4 but we really need to raise the price to get out of the red. We’ll probably go to $5 once the market opens.

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  4. If it helps, it’s just as frustrating to not be able to offer a solution. 😐

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    • Bill says:

      Eventually this area will come around. In many parts of the country now it’s very difficult to get farm fresh eggs and when they are available they sell out immediately. In a rural community like ours there is still an impression that store-bought things are better than farm-raised things. I know I felt that way as a kid. That contributes to the problem.

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  5. Eumaeus says:

    sounds like you’re in a similar boat to we were. We quit selling eggs this year. Just going to raise eggs for ourselves. Maybe we’d add them in later when we get a store set up and have people coming over to buy other stuff off the farm. But wiping the eggs and shuffling them to the big city for 3 or even 4$ a doz. wasn’t going anywhere. Too many transactions for too little profit. Don’t like selling 70 miles away. the local market w/community is almost nothing.

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  6. shoreacres says:

    Just out of curiosity, I went looking at the distances driven by the people who sell at the farmers’ markets I frequent. The closest farm is about 25 miles away. The people I most often buy from are 185 miles away. Three hours, give or take, one way.

    On the other hand, those nice people who make the six-hour round trip sell out every week. In fact, they send a weekly Friday email listing what they will have with them, and they accept preorders. When I get the email, I choose what I want, send them a reply, they put my name on the bag, and I pick it up and pay the next day. It’s especially important for their eggs, because if you aren’t there within a half-hour of the market opening, and haven’t reserved any, you’re likely to miss out.

    What they’re doing, of course, is choosing to drive in order to sell where the really commited buyers are. The market’s held in front of an organic/health food store that’s been in the area (across from NASA) thirty years. And, they price accordingly. Eggs are $5 a dozen.

    None of this is meant to be advice. it’s just a bit of information about how things are done here.

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    • Bill says:

      We send out emails too and we deliver into both nearby towns during the week.

      I expect we’ll sell out of eggs at the market. We’ll see.

      What you’re saying about going to the place where the food is appreciated is a very important point. I read a book recently by a young man who was trying to make a go of it as a farmer in his local community. He was selling less than $100/week of his products. So he started driving several hours to the D.C. area and there he couldn’t meet demand and now his farm is thriving and he sells at several D.C. area markets. In the book he specifically advised making the long drive if necessary to reach those committed buyers. As I mentioned to HC, strangely enough country people tend not to appreciate the value of home-grown food. It’s just not part of our culture to pay for it.

      One of our friends who farms as we do has given up on this market and drives to Lynchburg to sell. He charges twice what he was charging here and people are happy to pay it. No doubt he could charge even more if he went to Raleigh or Durham.

      We’re being stubborn about trying to make a difference in the place where we live. But we’re going to look hard at everything at the end of this year and decide what makes sense for us. It’s too early to be so negative, of course, since our market hasn’t even opened yet. But it can be discouraging to see the big crowds at Food Lion while local farms with vastly superior food can’t sell their produce.

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      • Leslie McConachie Miami, Fl says:

        Why not co-op with the people going to Lynchberg, taking turns selling each other’s wares…or hire a college kid to do it. It’s true about city folk being willing to pay what we can’t have. Whole Foods is making a pile of money here in MIA.

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  7. Leslie McConachie says:

    Really wish I was close enough to buy some of your eggs!

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    • Bill says:

      Thanks Leslie.

      So far I’ve been able to conceal it from the hens. I know they would be hurt if they knew that their eggs aren’t in demand.

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  8. Bill, unfortunately no matter what kind of business a person has, it always comes down to marketing. Without marketing and sales, a business can make or grow the best product in the world and fail. It’s not fair; it’s not kind; nor is it something most business owners like to do, but it’s very necessary. Marketing and sales is not my forte either. The businesses that I tried failed because I am just not a sales person. I suspect that your giving the eggs to the food bank can be a business tax write off. It’s a crying shame the big Ag corporations get government subsidies while the small farmers are dying. It’s difficult to compete on so many levels with large corporation agriculture. I’m praying you will not only have a good harvest this year but that you will sell every last thing from the homestead.

    Be encouraged for this is the day that the Lord has made and we will be glad in it. Tomorrow when the sun rises and the birds begin to tweet, the new day will begin. If nothing else, know that tilling the land is a noble profession and will give you provision from God.

    Have a great un sustainable day.

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    • Bill says:

      I’ve never cared for marketing. I had a successful career as a lawyer without having to worry much about it. I was usually able to get good results for my clients and that led to referrals and before long their demand exceeded my supply. I’ve always liked to believe that quality service or products will sell themselves. That may still turn out to be true in this business too. There are certainly plenty of things we can do better to make it more convenient for people. And this time of year we don’t have much else to offer.

      In the big scheme of things having more eggs than we can sell is not a big deal. Truthfully the economics of that don’t bother me as much as the thought that such great eggs are being turned down in favor of such crappy ones. Sometimes I just want to shake people.

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  9. valbjerke says:

    Do not give your eggs away to people who could easily be buying them – for the simple fact that they will NEVER buy them. Been there – done that – and yes – there are a lot of people who will just pick them up at the store because its more convenient and ultimately they really don’t care what kind of egg they eat. Definitely bump your price to at least five dollars a dozen – and do NOT make excuses for your price or try to justify the cost to a potential customer. Simply say they are free range organic eggs and they don’t get any fresher than that. Aside from that you might spend some time thinking about whether or not you should really be driving such a distance for feed. Is it possible to have it shipped to you? Remember you have to put a dollar value on the time it takes you to drive the distance. Are there other farmers in the area you could pool resources with for an order of feed? Just some thoughts. We used to have refrigerators full of extra eggs – until we started charging properly – odd but true.

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    • Bill says:

      Thanks for the thoughts. We’re going to try to go in with another farm to place an order large enough to have the feed delivered here. That will definitely help.

      You’re right about pricing. We used to set our prices based on whatever the grocery store prices were (on the theory that we wanted everyone to be able to afford it) but after a couple of years we realized that made no sense.

      We’re probably going to raise our egg price to $5. We’ll decide that tomorrow.

      I appreciate what you’re saying about raising the price to reflect the superior quality. In my old life I remember being nervous about raising my hourly rate. I eventually learned that the higher I raised it the more business I had. People who want superior quality expect to pay more for it. That’s a great point and I’m glad you mentioned it.

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      • Seeking Joyful Simplicity says:

        As a buyer of farm-eggs, I agree about the higher pricing. It’s strange, but true – I wonder about quality when I see farm eggs for $3, and I feel better paying more for them.

        When we lived in northern VA/DC area the markets always sold out of eggs.

        And it irritates me to no end when my husband looks for the “best deal” in farm eggs. There is a reason we are paying for good eggs.

        Wish I could buy your eggs too.

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  10. ladyfi says:

    Oh, that is such a shame! Home-grown eggs really do taste utterly delicious and are worth every penny. Organic free range eggs should fly off the shelves!

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    • Bill says:

      In the past we’ve sold out at the market. Right now we’re just in that space where the chickens are laying like crazy, the market hasn’t opened yet, and for some reason our orders started dropping off.

      All should be back to normal soon.

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  11. I fear we will have the same issue at our farm which is located in a very rural area by comparison to where we live now – the locals will not be able to afford our eggs and we won’t be able to afford to sell them for less until we can figure out a more sustainable way to raise them. We are looking for ways to sustainably raise our own feed – not an easy feat. Harvey Ussery has some info on making your own feeds http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/23/nyregion/with-farm-robotics-the-cows-decide-when-its-milking-time.html
    and there are lots of publications/books coming out on growing grains on small acreage like Gene Logsdon’s book http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/smallscale_grain_raising_second_edition:paperback
    Plus we will be setting our layer flock up with their own little food forest sectioned off into paddocks so we can rotate them through plenty of fruits, berries, greens, herbs, and other forages.
    Did you get a lot of locals at your farm event? I would think that having people there to see what and how you are doing might make a difference. But I think you are right about the cultural thing – store bought being “better” and not just from rural folks. I offered a neighbor (at our current residence – a pretty well-to-do suburban area) some of our free range, organically fed chicken eggs and she said her husband wouldn’t eat them because he thinks backyard eggs are “disgusting”! Apparently he thinks factory farmed eggs are produced in a more sterile environment and therefore safer to eat.
    Perhaps an egg tasting event so people can see and taste the difference. Where our farm is located there is an annual chicken race event. Maybe hosting something like that where the locals come for the races and can try out the eggs. Just brainstorming…
    Anyhow, I think education is key here, and we know it takes people a long time to change their minds. I think we are still the pioneers in this movement, so it’s gonna take time and patience. But ding dang it – I sure want it now! 😉

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    • Bill says:

      I’ve seen Harvey Ussery speak on that topic a couple of times. He makes a great case for feeding them without using purchased feed (the way our grandmothers did) even if egg production goes down. From a homesteading perspective he makes perfect sense. We feed our hens as much as we can from the farm but I’ve never grown a grain crop specifically for them. This year I’m going to relocate our compost pile so that it’s closer to the coop to get the benefit of that.

      I don’t accept the idea that local folks can’t afford to spend $4 for a dozen eggs. I see what they’re spending their money on. Besides, a dozen eggs is breakfast for a week. $4 is a bargain, in my opinion.

      But you’re right about perception. The price seems high because the factory eggs are so cheap.

      I shouldn’t have sounded so negative in my post. It’s a more difficult sell in a community like ours but we do have a core group of supporters who care deeply about what they eat and what they feed their families. Part of our mission is to educate this community on food issues. You may face that too. But it’s good work! I’m happy to be able to do it.

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  12. EllaDee says:

    What you have to say about giving the eggs away is difficult… in both senses but it’s true some consumers uphold price over every other consideration, regardless if they can afford the alternative. And in a fair market, fair enough. But in the egg market there is collateral damage. I say, if you can, barter eggs to people who will appreciate them who truly can’t afford them – even if it is a token gesture. And as a limited marketing tool. Those eggs have worth. If I can’t buy free range, I won’t eat eggs. And I always pay for eggs, from a friend or not.
    I’m happy though to hear there has been an increase in people keeping their own hens, sometimes the victories aren’t what we expect.

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    • Bill says:

      I’m with you on that. I’ve made the choice to refuse to eat the products of animals that aren’t raised ethically. There are plenty of great health, taste and environmental reasons to eat that way. But there is a moral component too, even if few folks seem to recognize it.

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