by Claire Cekander
As beginning farmers developing their businesses beyond the first three years, each begins to evolve a slightly different method of farming. Whether the difference lies in the animals raised, vegetables grown, or interactions with the community, every farmer has a unique approach to earning a living from the land. Farmers at this stage arrive at successful practices through trial and error and by learning from already established farmers. Yet, this experimental stage of developing a farm business can be vulnerable, as farmers struggle to assess changes needed in production, marketing, and business practices to achieve the highest profitability.
To try and help farmers at this stage in their venture, the Cornell Small Farms Program developed the Beginning Farmer Profit Team Program. The Profit Team program aims to support small farms in New York State by providing financial assistance for farmers in their 3rd – 9th year of business to meet with experienced consultants. Farmers can work with a consultant in any field, with the main goal being to increase profitability. Much like their farming practices, farmers have used the Profit Team Program in unique ways, but all with the goal of making their farm more successful.
Allan Gandelman of Main Street Farms has spent the past five years watching his farm expand. Once a high school social studies teacher, he became unsatisfied with the quality of food served in the school cafeteria. He decided to leave the school and start a farm with goals to continue to educate children, this time about healthy local food. To help start his farm, Allan applied to the Profit Team Program seeking aid to shadow successful farmers. Allan chose to increase his profitability by learning methods of farming through observing a variety of techniques. The Profit Team Program allowed him to visit established farms and learn by interviewing farmers and documenting successful methods. After one year in the Profit Team Program, Allan started expanding Main Street Farms. Just last year, the farm operated on 10 acres and now Main Street Farm is producing on 30 acres. As Main Street Farm continues towards their plan of converting 180 acres into usable farmland, Allan’s main goals are to stay connected to the community. His parting advice to aspiring farmers is to remember that “teaching people what to do with vegetables is just as important as growing them”.
On the west side of Seneca Lake, Shannon Ratcliff and Walter Adam of Shannon Brook Farm, a NOFA-NY Certified Organic farm, are raising free-range chickens, Pekin ducks, chicken eggs, grass-fed lamb, and pastured pork. After living and working in New York City, Shannon and Walter bought land and retired to their farm. As they started to raise animals, Shannon Brook Farm started moving toward a silvopasture (animals mixed with trees) method of grazing. They use a multi-species, rotational grazing system as a way to protect the animals, and plan to fully integrate silvopasturing into their farming method and use it to reclaim overgrown, underutilized land.
Pigs till and fertilize the land and take down buckthorn, multiflora rose and other invasive species, which enables pasture to grow for the sheep and cattle to graze. While the pigs and Scottish Highland cattle have removed much of the brush that used to cover their pasture land, the back acres of the property remain wooded and shady. Shannon and Walter wanted to utilize this part of their property to be more profitable, so they applied to the Profit Team Program. The Profit Team Program is helping Shannon Brook Farm survey 65 acres of wooded land by consulting with an agroforestry specialist on how they can incorporate their unused acres into their silvopasture design. Even with the extra labor of operating a livestock farm using a silvopasture method, Walter advises those interested in farming to “Do it, jump in, and don’t look back”. As Shannon Brook Farm continues to farm sustainably while using the Profit Team Program to maximize their usable land, the profitability of the farm is set to increase.
Lisa Ferguson of Laughing Goat Fiber Farm has been farming in Ithaca for 16 years because of her passion for her animals. Laughing Goat Fiber Farm is the home of goats and alpacas that are raised for their fiber. Lisa’s enthusiasm for her farm is apparent in how she connects to her animals. “I love goats,” she says, “because they’re independent animals, they’re fun, and have unique personalities.” While Lisa has more than enough energy to care for her animals, the Profit Team Program helped her out on the business side of farming. In order to make her fiber business more profitable, Lisa consulted with a lawyer to obtain an LLC for her farm. With a more efficient business structure, Lisa can focus on growing her business. She recently purchased four commercial mills to knit her Mohair, Cashmere, and Alpaca fiber right on the farm. As Laughing Goat Fiber Farm becomes more profitable and productive, hopefully Lisa will be able to spend more time in the barn, or what she calls, “heaven”.
If you’ve eaten pork from The Piggery in Ithaca, NY, chances are your food was raised by Devon Van Noble, of Van Noble Farm. Devon currently splits his time between managing Groundswell’s Incubator Farm and raising about 150 pigs. Unlike other farmers, Devon has an established market contract with a local buyer, The Piggery. Without the need to worry about marketing, Devon can focus on maximizing his profits by raising his pigs more efficiently. To do this, he used the Profit Team Program to connect Van Noble Farm to an extension agent from Iowa State who specializes in swine production. The agent helped implement inventory tools to track the number of pigs at different life stages. Using these tools, Devon was able to figure out the life stage he was losing most pigs, and ways to reduce this loss. After being a Profit Team Farm, Devon has more experience focusing on maximizing profitability and has begun the process of restarting his business on new farm. With all he has learned on his first farm, Devon advises new farmers to “not let the status quo of the system limit your imagination of a farm you can have”.
As each farmer approaches agriculture in a unique way, all farmers are faced with the necessity of earning profit. The Profit Team Program has been able to help thirty-seven beginning farmers make the transition to a more efficient business. As these farms continue to do business, the Cornell Small Farms Program hopes that they use the help from the consultants to improve their farm as well as the community around them.
This project is based upon work that is supported by the New York Farm Viability Institute and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2015-70017-22882.
For More Information
To learn more about the Profit Team Program and see profiles of all 37 farms, see http://www.nebeginningfarmers.org/projects/profit-teams/
Claire Cekander is a student intern with the Cornell Small Farms Program. She can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming
The 2016 growing season has been abnormally dry in the Northeast and farmers are feeling the heat. Contrastingly, June 2015 was one of the wettest on record. Here is a small selection of farmer stories dealing with too much or too little water, and the ways they’ve had to change their practices to adapt.
You can read past submissions on other topics at: http://blogs.cornell.edu/smallfarms/lessons-from-the-land/
Submit your own stories: CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT
Our homestead sits in a notch near the top of Virgil Mountain close to Greek Peak ski center. Two hillsides drain into our land and we are a water source for 2 distinct watersheds. Fifteen of our acres are quite wet and host 2 and 5 seasonal vernal ponds. Fifteen more acres are prone to springs and poor drainage. This is the first year that irrigation has been a constant struggle.
Once we realized that the drought looked to be long-term, we installed drip tape on all of our ground beds. Over time, we are moving more and more of our fruit trees into the fenced garden for deer protection and ease of irrigation. I should mention that we are in our late sixties. The raised beds and irrigation systems have proven to be very ergonomic for aging bodies.
We typically work outside 30 – 40 hours a week from May until November and spend countless hours on food preservation, firewood cutting, compost making, and many other chores. Although we have built the infrastructure for livestock, we don’t currently have any. We are always looking for strategies to build a sustainable homestead that we will be able to maintain into our “golden” years.
We trust that we are leaving a legacy for future generations and we love to share ideas with like-minded people. Our advice to fellow gardeners; Site and build a pond first. Study the lay of the land and the effects of the seasons. Resiliency requires imagination, flexibility, and hard work.
Chris & Bob Applegate
In June of 2015, when, according to the weather reports from Binghamton, we received nine inches of rain, I was concerned that all that humidity would bring about another year of blight for tomatoes and potatoes.
In 2016, our warm, dry winter, and historically dry summer had provided us with the opposite worries. Would the well hold out? What if the pond dries up? Perhaps you were thankful that you bought first cutting hay, because there was no second cutting.
While I am not dependent on farming for my living, I was brought up in a household by parents who survived the depression, and a large garden was considered a necessity. My mother would can or freeze vegetables and fruits to see us through the winter. And, back in the day, if you wanted red raspberries, you planted them and waited for them to produce.
In the lovely, rainy year of 2015, I harvested the largest black raspberries I ever saw, and even the apple trees in the hedgerows had apples almost as big as ‘store-bought’. Being self-sufficient is defines a large part of who I am. I enjoy good, wholesome food, and I love eating a meal where I raised or grew everything on my plate. I’ve raised pigs, butchered my own chickens, and have started a flock of Bourbon Red turkeys.
However, conversations about our severe drought this past summer were disheartening. When I mentioned the pathetic cornfields, or the fact that there would be no second-cutting hay, I was generally met with blank stares. In my own little social experiment, I have simply proven to myself that the general public is far removed from the land. They care more about social media than knowing basic facts about where the food they eat comes from. Most are fairly clueless about the fact that a severe drought means more than a brown lawn, or some local swimming holes dried up. Food, to them, is only from the grocery store. They fill the cart, swipe the card, and go home to microwave convenience food. One teenager actually said to me, “Well, why do we even need farms? You can get everything you need at the store.”
Astounding point of view, isn’t it?
Debbie Curtis, Palomino Hill Farm
This is probably the driest our farm has ever been! We have two different locations, and are running drip and overhead daily and we also have been using 5 gallon buckets and dumping water on crops with those. Dry!!!! The rain just keeps going around us and the forecast doesn’t show any rain in the near future. This is the first year where I have to decide what crops we are going to lose and what crops we are going to try to save. Our main goal is to keep the CSA members supplied and our head above water. (No pun intended)
Trevor, Ithaca Organics
Ithaca and Dryden, NY
Ordinarily at this time of year I would be mowing lanes in the orchard and hauling my tripod ladder around to thin fruit in the pear trees. But after the stop and go hot and cold Spring this year there are hardly any pears to thin, so no reason to mow in the orchard, and this early and long summer drought we are now having will ensure that there will be just about no fruit to harvest.
The same weather patterns dehydrated the watercress I spent a few years getting started and has caused suffering to our laying hens. The excessive heat desiccated the bud sticks I gathered in February gathering and grafted in May grafting.
The erratic weather encourages me to plant more and more garlic. The climate doesn’t kill it, the critters don’t eat, it repels werewolves, prevents disease, improves everything but ice-cream, makes life good, and sells for as much by weight as Asian Pears.
David S. Warren
My neighbor, and Biodynamic greens farmer, is “treading water” in these days of drought. That is, the two ponds he leases are providing enough irrigation water to germinate seeds and bring his crops to harvest just keeping his “head above water.”
As documented in the 1899 by the diaries of Seymour Bates’ who farmed here at that time. (in his own words with his own spelling):
“July 30, 1899 – Dry and in want of rain.
August 3 – Found the center of the land in Hector and begun diging a well in the A.M.
August 19 – Very warm and dusty.
Aug 20 – Very dusty and warm. Creek dry north of the house.
August 25 – Very dry and the leaves are fadeing and falling from the trees in the woods.
August 26 – Dig in well in P.M.
September 6 – We have dug the well to the depth of nine feet at various times.
September 7 – Drawing stone for the well.
September 9 – The well was at 17 feet at noon. One charge of dynamite after dinner brought water in abundance.
September 17, 1899 – The drought continues. Its equal has not been since 1854.”
Neither we nor the neighbor farmer are being “drowned by the drought” at this time; but we certainly are limiting some water usages, and are once more looking over the farmland contours and noting prospective pond sites. The hourly cost of hiring a bulldozer is off-putting; but not as scary as a total crop failure brought on by not having water available at the right time in future crop production years.
Our little house is cantilevered over the foundation of an early nineteenth century home on Pumpkin Hill, several hundred feet above Cayuga Lake. During the early twentieth century, the hand-dug house well was drilled down a hundred feet, so I cleaned it out and chipped a foot deeper into the shale with a digging bar.
We installed a fountainhead over a six-foot diameter basin excavated in the shale below it, and over a spillway below that, dug a somewhat larger pond with an outlet channel leading to another larger pond, and then another to larger one. Pumps in each pond circulate water through the system. I stocked the larger pond with native aquatic weeds that thrived, then with Crayfish that ate all the pondweed, then with Largemouth Bass, which ate all the Crayfish. I introduced Fathead minnows, which also thrived and on which the Bass grew large, spawning and spreading through the flowing brook to the lower pond.
This worked well enough during the normal years, but unfortunately, erratic is the new normal. This year we just have enough water for a few frogs and we frequently run the well dry watering. We do not take a lot of showers. I mulch heavily with straw. Other than by increasing our water gathering and storage capacity, our most important adaptation to the dry conditions has been to concentrate on cultivating drought tolerant crops, especially volunteer pears. Though not native, pears are tolerant of weather extremes and of our thin, poorly drained, clay-laden soil. We have hundreds of naturalized Pear trees on our four acres, and I have grafted a dozen different varieties of cultivated Pears onto a hundred or more of them. I never water these trees.
Garlic is the most drought-resistant vegetable crop. We grow it in mounds on orchard wet spots. Without mounding, there isn’t much soil at all, and the mounding both holds moisture and drains off the excess. Maybe the Garlic diet protects us from dehydration, if not also from vampires.
David S. Warren
The land laid parched, corn’s “arms” pulled in tight to conserve moisture. Squash leaves droop by 10 AM to do the same. This morning’s thunderstorm finally brought us the blessing of a full inch of rain an about 30 minutes. All those leaves have spread wide, soaked directly in what moisture they could. All the plants around are setting about the business of using that water before the hot sun simply evaporates it. Grow crops Grow!
This dry season has me thinking of the strategies I’ve learned over the years, and regularly use to beat Mother Nature at her own game. She constantly throws farmers and gardeners curve balls that threaten our harvest. This year brought dry heat, last year it was cool, cloudy weather. The list of issues is endless.
One of my most successful defenses against all these threat is diversification. We grow many different vegetables, at least 3 varieties of each, and plant them in different places. This year we have 4 varieties of summer squash growing in 3 different spots. The smallest bed was planted 3 weeks later than the others. The hail or bugs or soil dryness that ruins one might not hit the others so badly. On a hot year such as this the squash prosper in wetter spots where mildew does them in on a wetter one.
Another water related strategy is using all sorts of gray water to water our crops. Some folks go to the gym to lift weights, I haul 5 gallon buckets of water to the berry beds, herb gardens and vegetables. A bucket catches the warming water before a shower and about half of the shower water itself. The water eggs are washed in is hauled back out as well. The dishpan lives in the sink and gets emptied periodically into another pail as it fills. We find we use far less water this way too.
Carrie Kerr, Dry Brook Farm
We are grazing undercover brush and buying hay to feed this summer. We normally make all our own hay but as of June, don’t expect to be able cut again until fall; all our pastures are brown.
Jeromy Biazzo, Wolftree Farm
When we moved to our land we unsuccessfully tried to dig a well. Instead, we set up multiple rainwater systems for our home, animals and gardens and a main goal for our farm was to prepare for the extreme rain events. We have 2 ponds, 2 300’ swales and multiple riparian buffer zones. Swale berms were planted with willows, fruit trees and cover crops and rows of trees on 30’ spacing fill in the gaps. Sheep and ducks rotationally graze between these systems. In 2015 a 4” rain event tested the system and it flourished. Yet this season, we are in a sever drought. Our rain barrels are dry, our well-mulched gardens and pasture are wilting and turning brown. One pond is dry, the other several feet lower than normal. Pond water is prioritized for the sheep and ducks and only then, gardens and plants. We buy drinking water, which is delivered from the town. Without pasture, we’re testing the diversity of what sheep will eat as we clear fence lines through hedgerows and they graze understory woody plants. Our micro topography + fast growing willow and locust trees means the sheep can browse the lower portion while still leaving vegetation to recover, all while enjoying a healthy meal and shade to boot.
The Gabriel’s, Wellspring Forest Farm
Most of New York is experiencing a very dry spring and corresponding relatively low worm egg counts. Barber pole worm larvae do not thrive well in hot dry weather. However, if and when we do get a good set of rains, the infection rates in our sheep and goats will typically rise sharply. We want the rain but let’s all keep an eye out for the corresponding worm spike.
Tatiana Stanton, Small Ruminant Animal
We’ve been dragging hoses around for weeks at our small homestead/market farm and nursery. It’s never really enough, but things are growing, slowly. I dream of installing drip irrigation, but it seems so complicated on a small, somewhat irregularly shaped farm. I guess on the bright side, the weeds grow slower, too!
Alison Frost, Frosty Morning Farm
Years ago we dug a good size pond and when necessary, we use the pond for irrigation with a drip system. The good parts of our orchard have ON/OFF capability at beginning of each row. One of our orchards is lower than the pond, so we rigged up a siphon system and we water in groups of about 3 rows. This year the pond is getting pretty low, but I think we’ll still be able to use it for quite a while longer. When we need to, we fill one of those big cubes or tanks in back of a pickup or trailer, drive into the row and hand water our grapes vine by vine. Kinda clunky, but it works.
Black Diamond Farm and Cidery
I’m just starting to notice the grass and other stuff dying off. If necessary, I can lop off tree branches to feed my goats. They always have hay, but it usually lasts longer this time of year.
Mary Jane Hetzlein
It’s interesting this post was put up just as a made a video about the main garden at Edible Acres and how incredibly well it is handling this crazy weather. Certainly lots of things struggling in my systems but the established, heavily mulched, perennial dominant gardens are showing almost no stress at all… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7On_19L_xlY,
We rarely experiences a summer without rainfall, but here it is. Ditches, wells, ponds are empty. One well is supplying us with a little ability to drip some rows but it is not enough. The powdery soil reminds us of California.
Wayne County, NY
We’ve never experienced such dryness in my 30 years of farming. To strategically save water for other crops, we had to stop irrigating the strawberries early and let the season end. The dry weather makes the crop sweet and short!
Silver Queen Farm
Submit to Lessons from the Land
The Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming and the Cornell Small Farms Program are teaming up to create a new column called Lessons from the Land, which captures and share the stories of and lessons learned from farmers, homesteaders and land workers around New York and the Northeast. We want to hear stories from growers of all types and sizes, on real topics, that matter!
Each issue has a theme (see below for upcoming topics). Submissions of 400 – 800 words may be submitted online HERE. We will publish only nonfiction submissions. Feel free to submit your name, farm name, city and state or submit your piece as “anonymous” if it allows you to be more honest.
Upcoming Topics & Submission Deadlines:
Tools: Assets and Liabilities – November 11 (Winter Issue)
Being Prepared – February 10 (Spring Issue)
by Heron Breen & Petra Page-Mann
We are thrilled to announce the Northeast Organic Seed Conference! It will be held Friday through Sunday, January 20-22 2017 in Saratoga Springs, in tandem with the NOFA-NY Winter Conference. The theme “Owning Our Seed” expresses our passion to become better stewards of our seed, both in the field and in our policies. There has never been a better time to strengthen the rich network of seed savers, breeders, growers, and distributors here in the Northeast US and Canada.
“This regional seed conference grew out of the incredible success of Organic Seed Alliance’s Organic Seed Growers Conference,” observed Ken Greene of the Hudson Valley Seed Library. “Their national conference has become the foundation of our community: a place where we can come together and share, learn, and advance the organic seed movement. The 2017 Northeast Seed Conference is a chance for us to strengthen our local seed community, address our specific climatic, economic, and cultural challenges together, and find our voice in the national movement.”
Over 20 sessions will explore diverse subjects related to seed in the Northeast. From “Hand Pollination: Variety Improvement and Development” to “Northeast Native American Seeds: Respectful Stewardship,” and from “Biennials in the Northeast” to “Owning Our Seed: Perspectives on Intellectual Property,” there is much to learn and share. Dozens of presenters include seed pioneers (Rob Johnston, CR Lawn, Will Bonsall, Rowen White, John Navazio, Klaas Martens, Brent Loy, Tom Stearns) as well as the up-and-coming faces (Michael Mazourek, Ken Greene, Dan Brisbois, Adrienne Shelton, Lisa Bloodnick, Petra Page-Mann) of organic seed in the Northeast.
Unique and unforgettable events are being planned for the conference, as well. Friday evening, Chef Dan Barber (Blue Hill at Stone Barns) and Dr. Michael Mazourek (Organic Plant Breeder, Cornell University), will share their passion for seeds, plant breeding, collaboration and the food inspired by the process. Saturday’s dinner will include a Three-Sisters showcase & tasting, celebrating the significance (and deliciousness) of corn, beans and squash in the Northeast. Saturday evening’s seed swap will be an apt expression of the diversity, abundance and generosity that is perhaps the heart of Owning Our Seed, in the best and broadest sense. “It has been a joy to be part of the movement that has rebuilt this capacity in our region,” says Michael Mazourek. “This meeting is long overdue to bring us all together toward an even brighter seed future.”
There will be abundant time for learning as well as connection at this conference. Though our focus is on the Northeast, we welcome anyone interested in seed to join us. We are especially excited to reach beyond our borders and learn with our fellow seed-lovers in eastern Canada. Cross-pollination is important for plants to adapt; it is also important for human communities to grow increasingly resilient. “In colorful patterns and shapes, seeds whisper to us and remind us that their life is our life, and our mutually beneficial relationship extends in our bloodlines thousands of years,” Rowen White of Sierra Seeds writes. “I am so honored to gather this winter with a diversity of seed stewards who remember reciprocal relationship with seeds that extends past beyond living memory, and continue to cultivate vibrant new seed culture that is rooted in integrity and care.” Rowen’s extensive knowledge and network of indigenous Northeast seedkeeping will add great richness to this conference.
CR Lawn (Founder of Fedco) will be delivering the keynote speech that addresses all attendees of both conferences simultaneously. Indeed, an organic farming conference held in tandem with an organic seed conference overlap and interrelate in many ways. Excluding only very recent history, seed and crop improvement have always been the realm of the gardener and farmer. As seed has moved from commons to commodity, ‘farmer’ and ‘seed saver’ are no longer synonymous. Re-integrating and re-imagining these relationships is at the heart of this conference. CR’s address will speak directly to creating an ethical, sustainable seed system here in the Northeast, sharing strategies for overcoming obstacles along the way.
“Ever since our Northeast SARE-funded Restoring our Seed project attracted hundreds of eager participants a decade ago, I’ve been aware of the huge interest in the seed arts in our region,” said CR. “A lot has happened as we’ve developed and refined our skills in the last decade. It has been a long wait to come together to share old and new knowledge, contacts, to renew our energy and our inspiration. Don’t miss it!”
For more details, go to https://www.nofany.org/events news/events/winter-conference. Hope to see you there!
by Lindsey Pashow & Jesse Strzok
Are you ready to turn your brewing passion into a business? With New York’s different alcohol licenses, it is more affordable than ever to get started.
The farm brewing law, passed in 2012, has hard rules for production, serving, selling, and sampling of product. Some of those rules include: production of up to 75,000 barrels of New York State labeled beer and/or cider annually; beer sold by the glass, at up to five branch locations; and selling of other New York State label beer, cider, wine, and spirits.
These different laws are to designed to increase demand for the inputs of production coming from New York. The farm brewery law currently requires 20% hops and 20% other ingredients must be grown in New York State until the end of 2018. The requirements change in 2019, with an increase to at least 60% hops and 60% other ingredients grown in New York State through to the end of 2023. Starting in 2024, 90% hops and 90% all other ingredients must be grown in New York State. It’s important to note that in meeting these criteria, water is not classified as a locally-sourced ingredient.
Starting a new business can be daunting. Key things to consider before pursuing a brewery venture include: a strong business plan, an easily accessible location for the public, funding and capital access including grants and loans, and a quality product.
It is also important to understand that both brewing in your basement and brewing in large batches to the public requires strict quality control. However, there are some major differences. For example, it may hurt a little to dump a 5-gallon batch of home brew when something goes awry, but it’s a whole different story if you have to scrap 100 gallons–the economic loss can be crippling.
As with any start-up, it’s important to be realistic. Afterall, only 50% of businesses survive the first five years. The craft beverage industry is growing daily and is becoming more and more competitive. Finding the right niche for your farm brewery will be vital.
Some resources to help you consider getting into farm brewing include:
NYS Wine, Beer, Spirits & Cider – One Stop Shop: http://esd.ny.gov/nysbeveragebiz.html
New York State Brewery Supply Chain Analysis: http://harvestny.cce.cornell.edu/pdf/submission/pdf21_pdf.pdf
Wholesale Application Instructions: http://www.sla.ny.gov/system/files/Wholesale-Application-Instructions-061713.pdf
Wholesale Application: http://www.sla.ny.gov/system/files/Wholesale-Application-06012016.pdf
Wholesale Fee Chart: http://www.sla.ny.gov/system/files/Wholesale-Fee-Chart-03112016.pdf
Alcohol Label Information NYS: http://www.sla.ny.gov/system/files/Advisory_2014-7_-_Brand_Label_Registration.pdf
U.S. Department of the Treasury – Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau: https://www.ttb.gov/beer/index.shtml
Remember, you will need to contact New York State Agriculture and Markets (1-800-554-4501) for when the time comes to arrange an inspection of your brewery.
by Elaine J. Kennedy
“I won’t! I won’t! I won’t clean out another chicken pen,” I promised myself.
Desiring life on a small farm bored into our hearts and souls. As we considered retiring from life and work in Asia and knew that we would inherit a small farm of 50-acres, we researched small farms and read books until we concluded that we wanted a sustainable farm where we could raise healthy animals organically.
My husband bought beef cattle and installed fence; I wanted to have chickens. My husband didn’t want chickens because he didn’t want to have to chase them inside the pen every night. I told him, “When it’s dark, the chickens will naturally go inside the pen.” “No way!” he retorted. After it happened, he was pleasantly surprised.
A friend gave me my first chickens in 2013, a year after we retired. A week after the Estate Sale, Susan brought over 6 or 8 Americauna pullets and I didn’t have their house ready, so we put them into a clean old hog pen and found some straw. I wasn’t prepared…had no feeder and no water fountain, so I improvised with a short piece of gutter for a feeder. That worked!
Then we bought baby chicks (for meat chickens) and I had no brooder pen but we had an antique playpen that didn’t sell at the estate sale. Perfect!
When the hens started laying eggs, I wanted more hens. After all, why spend time feeding only 6 hens when I could have more? I began purchasing mature pullets from various sources and built up a flock of a variety of breeds, which I kept for two years. I sold white eggs, brown eggs, green eggs, blue eggs, pink eggs. People loved opening a carton of our eggs.
Our customer base for free range chicken eggs grew by word of mouth, and the workload was minor except for cleaning out the pens. The ex-hog pen was beside a creek and the chickens got their water from there, so we didn’t need to haul water. We only moved feed, gathered the eggs, and opened and closed the chicken house doors.
Occasionally, predators came into the area and scared the wits out of us! We did not like that fox that wanted to live in our hay shed right next to the chicken pen. And we did not like that cat-like wild creature with sharp teeth that curled himself up on an inside corner of the pen; that was one time when the chickens refused to go into the pen. Then there was that opossum that was sleeping in a nest, waiting for the next egg to be laid. We learned to carry a flashlight with us if we were caught closing the chicken house doors after dark. We were glad that we survived the predators without heart attacks.
At first, shoveling out the pen wasn’t bad, especially since we kept lots of straw on the floor. But then there was the winter of 2014-15, when the snow was so deep all winter long that I had to wait until Spring to get in there and do house-cleaning. By then, I was working with a foot of litter and straw to remove from that old pen. All that good compost! I cleaned out half the pen and my husband helped me with the other half of that heavy stuff.
As I shoveled, my mind went back to my father’s poultry farm of a thousand chickens, which was considered large in his time. He built a chicken house with the first ‘wooden’ slat floors and roll-out nests. While he ranged the pullets in shelters, after they started laying, he housed the hens in a large chicken house that had large separated pens inside. I always remembered his words, “Before I put chickens in cages, I will go out of business.”
Perhaps my father’s words impacted my desire to range our hens outdoors, and we wanted to range pullets and hens all year round. We began to dream and envision a movable pen with slat floors and roll-out nests—a pen for 60-80 hens. My poultry magazine showed slat floors that were being used on commercial farms, so I ordered panels of hard-plastic slats – not cheap, especially with freight shipping — but far better than my father’s wooden slats that broke easily.
I feared that the open floors would make the pens too cold for our minus-20F degree winter weather in the Upstate ‘Fingerlakes’ Region of New York State, so we insulated the pens. My husband is a great rough-carpenter, so he built the pens.
I shared my flock of older chickens with a niece who wanted her own ranged chickens, and I bought my own first flock of baby chicks that grew into pullets and hens—50 White Rock, 50 Black Australope, and 15 Americana so that our carton of eggs could continue to surprise customers with green and blue eggs mixed in with brown ones.
For the winter, we brought the pens close to a shed with electricity so that we could give the hens their required 16-18 hours of light for them to lay all winter long. We had placed the roll-out nests inside the pens for protection from the bitter cold. The nest boxes from a hatchery in Ohio came with rubber mats, so we use no straw. The eggs are spotlessly clean.
In the Spring, my husband hooked chains to the side bolts of the pens and with his tractor dragged them to a new area. He then used the loader on his tractor to scoop the manure into a lovely compost pile. That was easy! “I will! I will! I will clean out those chicken pens”—just by moving the pens!
Other than moving the chickens to fresh grasses, one other benefit of moving the pens is the feed that goes through the floor is scratched at and eaten as a ‘snack’ after the pen is moved.
We’ve now used the pens through one hot summer and one cold winter; they are perfect for our climates. The insulation keeps them cool in summer and warm in winter. I don’t know of anyone else that has a small flock of hens in pens with slat floors, but we totally recommend it.
I just bought 55 ‘Barred-Rock’ pullet-chicks as replacements for older hens, which I will do annually, to rotate new chickens in and out for continued egg production. And just when I think I know what I’m doing, some hens decide to molt and lay less eggs.
Life as a farmer is always a challenge! But at least I don’t have to clean out the pens anymore.
Elaine J. Kennedy is a retired small farmer who loves raising chickens the easy way and gathering eggs. For more information on slat floors and/or roll-out nest boxes, or for a desire to view our pens, please contact Elaine Kennedy at email@example.com.
by Elizabeth Henderson
“As my workers and I learned together about AJP’s social justice standards, I became even surer that I had made the right decision for my farm and the people who work alongside me and my family here,” said Farmer Jordan Brown. “We’re taking a big step together, being the first farm in the southeast U.S. to participate in this program,” said Brown. “I’ve learned a lot from the process and am excited to see the program grow.”
Farmer Jordan Brown owns and operates The Family Garden in Gainesville, FL. Jordan is focused on efficiently growing affordable veggies for the Gainesville community. As he puts it, I want “to pump out the produce and keep it affordable for working people.”
In the Northeast, the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP) has been providing technical assistance for farmers and food businesses, including workshops on creating a fair work place and certification for the Food Justice label. The Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) is a founding partner of AJP, a collaborative, non-profit initiative to create fairness and equity in the food system through social justice standards for organic and sustainable agriculture. NOFA’s partners in AJP are Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI – USA), Comité de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agrícolas/Farmworker Support Committee (CATA), and Florida Organic Growers/Quality Certification Services (FOG/QCS).
The AJP mission statement reads: “The AJP works to transform the existing agricultural system into one based on empowerment, justice, and fairness for all who labor from farm to retail. Central to the AJP mission are the principles that all humans deserve respect, the freedom to live with dignity and nurture community, and share responsibility for preserving the earth’s resources for future generations. …By focusing on the need for fair-trading in farm products and fair treatment of food workers, AJP contributes to shifting the dominant system towards greater equity and justice.”
A passionate commitment to social justice is one of the core values that inspired Ben Shute of Hearty Roots Farm in Hudson, NY, to become a farmer ten years ago. As Hearty Roots has grown, Ben found himself an employer, so he turned to AJP for technical assistance in creating employee policies for the farm. At the advice of AJP, Ben created a written set of labor policies for the farm, set up a file on each worker and instituted regular check-ins that are now monthly.
At these check-ins, he or his farm manager review the goals that the employee has set for learning and for improving performance, and ask what further support they need to meet their goals. This process gives the managers the chance to provide regular feedback to the workers and for the workers to give the managers feedback on their management style. The check-in also allows some time to talk about the bigger picture of what is happening with the farm.
AJP standards also require that every farm has a conflict resolution process that every worker understands and knows how to use it. Ben reports that one result of these regular conversations is that they have not had to use their conflict resolution process. They are able to address emerging problems before things get out of hand. Food Justice Certification is on Ben’s to-do list. This year, he certified the farm organic, and thinks that FJC may provide a way for the farm to differentiate its high bar labor practices in the marketplace from farm aggregators with CSA-like services. Ben writes, “We hope to train a new generation of farmers who gain experience by working with us; and we pay our workers a fair wage and maintain worker-friendly employment policies.”
The Piggery, a farm and retail butcher shop in Ithaca, NY, has been Food Justice Certified for two years. Heather Sandford, one of the owners, explained why they decided to invest time and energy in FJC: “There is so much media attention to land and water, to organic and how seeds are grown, but not enough about the people who do the work.” When asked why she puts such a strong emphasis on workers, she answered, “Because I am one. Technically, I own the business, but I do not think of myself as a boss. I work with the employees as a team. It is important that the public understands that things will not get done without us. Food Justice Certification is helpful in opening up conversations with our customers about job security and wages. The FJC logo on the doors of the stop helps reinforce why customers shop with us.” The biggest plus of FJC, according to Heather is that it “makes our workers feel honored. They realize that we are trying to make an effort to give them a good work environment.”
Alyssa Bauer, who works at Old Friends Farm, a 28-acre certified organic farm in Amherst, Massachusetts, heard about AJP two years ago from farmer friends who initiated the Agrarian Action Network, a group of young farmers and farm workers who want to improve working conditions on area farms. Alyssa had never heard of domestic fair trade and was excited to learn that there was a national movement to improve farm prices, and labor policies and practices. She read the Food Justice standards and realized that Old Friends Farm was already compliant with most of them.
The standards include:
- Fair pricing for farmers’ products
- Workers’ and farmers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining;
- Fair wages and benefits for workers;
- Fair and equitable contracts for farmers and buyers;
- Clear conflict resolution policies for farmers or food business owners/managers and workers;
- Workplace health and safety;
- If on-farm housing is provided for workers, it must be clean and safe;
- Learning contracts for interns and apprentices;
- No full-time child labor, but rather carefully supervised participation of children on farms.
The AJP website offers the full standards, policy manual, and a tool-kit with resources to help farms comply with the standards, all available at www.agriculturaljusticeproject.org.
Alyssa sat down with farm owner Missy Bahret and fellow worker Ona Magee and reviewed the FJC checklist. Whatever was missing, they added to the employee handbook for the farm, and Alyssa highlighted these with the other workers at their spring orientation. Since they did not have to change much, the process was easy. Old Friends is interested in certification and is hopeful it will be part of a broader campaign for labor rights in the area.
Like Ben Shute, Jordan Brown has found the materials in the AJP “tool-kit” helpful as his farm has grown: “The growth of our farm, from being a real small operation to where we are now, is closely tied to Food Justice Certification; it helped me get more organized because FJC standards required me to start running payroll, get Workers Comp, file taxes, and start keeping better records. It took some time to get everything in order and get organized because we do have to meet a lot of guidelines, but at the same time, I think that organizational component has greatly benefitted the farm. There are lots of farms that are already very organized and keep records the way we do, but they wouldn’t meet the FJC standards because of their on-farm practices.”
Although fairness has been a basic principle in organic agriculture throughout the years (see the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements Principles of Organic Agriculture), organic standards in the US have focused on production practices for farming and processing. The Food Justice label brings attention to the importance of fair pricing for farm products that fully covers the cost of production and the need for respect and living wages for all jobs in the organic supply chain.
Farmers who pay as much attention to the quality of life of their workers as they do to the quality of their soils are finding ways to pay living wages, though at some sacrifice to the farmers own income. As Jordan Brown notes, “Pricing is the biggest obstacle to providing more benefits to workers. Right now, in my experience as a family-sized farm in the South, there is no retailer who is willing to pay more for produce for this certification. At least in the wholesale market, there’s no buyer who is willing to pay extra for produce that is grown without mistreating people.” Brown concludes, “Success for us comes from the folks who come to our stand or sign-up for our CSA because they know we’re a FAIR farm and want to support good work.”
Brown sums up the hope of movement for domestic fair trade that as the public becomes more aware of farm worker realities, more people will be willing to pay the few extra pennies a pound and dollars a year that add up to a significant improvement in farmer and farm worker wages.
Elizabeth Henderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The AJP process has earned positive evaluations from the Domestic Fair Trade Association (DFTA, http://fairfacts.thedfta.org/full-comparative-analysis), and from Consumer Reports (www.greenerchoices.org/eco-labels/label.cfm?LabelID=323). If you think you farm is ready or if you want more information to get you started, contact the author of this piece.
by Erika Scott
Though the sun is out and summer is in full swing, the thought of the next heating season is never far off. Many of us use firewood to heat our home, and plenty of folks fell trees and split their own firewood. If you cut your own firewood for personal use or are a logger by trade, consider your routine – are you working in the safest way possible?
While the process of harvesting and processing wood is quite rewarding, it can also pose real danger. It is well known that logging has one of the highest fatality rates of any industry, second only to commercial fishing. Serious injuries to homeowners are also well documented.
With the proper personal protective equipment, a well-maintained saw, and some knowledge, working in the woods can be made much safer. Do you wear chaps when you use the chainsaw? If the answer is no, ask yourself ‘why’? Trust me; the cost of chainsaw chaps is much less than a trip to the hospital!
If you are looking for a new pair, make sure they have a ‘UL’ (Underwriter’s Laboratories) certification label. Chaps come in many lengths and styles; the ideal fit will extend to the top of the foot (they should graze where the tie on a sneaker would be). Wrap chaps provide better protection than apron
chaps, as they cover the back of the calf. Whatever style you have or decide on, make sure to wear them. Once they get damaged, they should be replaced, because they don’t offer the same protection the second time there is an ‘oops!’.
Protecting your head is also a top priority; the easiest way to do this is with a logging helmet, which combines hearing, eye and head protection. Being struck with even a small branch on an uncovered head will have you seeing stars, or far worse. Head protection should bear the ANSI Z89.1 stamp. A face shield or safety glasses will prevent wood chips from entering the eye, and ear muffs protect your hearing from the high decibel level (about 110 dB) of the chainsaw. Sturdy boots should be worn (ideally with steel toes), and gloves can help with protecting the hands.
For more information on NYCAMH visit www.nycamh.org, for GOL visit www.gameoflogging.com. A program of Bassett Healthcare, NYCAMH is enhancing agricultural and rural health by preventing and treating occupational injury and illness.
Personal protective equipment is only one piece of the puzzle. Training improves your personal safety, but it also enhances your productivity. Work smarter, not harder. NYCAMH offers access to two types of chainsaw safety trainings, classroom trainings offered by an experienced forester and NYCAMH consultant, and a limited number of reduced-cost, hands-on, Game of Logging (GOL) safety trainings. Even if you have been using a chainsaw for years, there is always something new to learn. Small tips and tricks make working in the woods safer and more efficient.
If you are interested in a classroom training session, contact NYCAMH at (800) 343-7527 and ask for the outreach department. In addition, thanks to the New York State Department of Health, a limited number of Game of Logging courses will be offered next year, and information on these courses will be forthcoming. These are offered at minimal cost ($25) to farmers, rural employers and landowners. Call NYCAMH at (800) 343-7527 to learn more about GOL, and to be added to the course waitlist. Be advised, GOL classes are limited to ten participants each, and while we try to accommodate everyone, you may not get your first choice of training if the demand is high.
After a long dry season, many farmers will relish the cooler and (hopefully) wetter weeks ahead. Even through we are still in a drought, I can’t help but feel some relief seeing dew on the pasture grasses and fog rising from the fields each morning. It’s a start.
The 2016 growing season tested the spirits, innovation, and will of the regions farmers. Stories of heartbreak and triumph abound. Farmers always talk about the weather – but this year it really affected us in a deep and profound way. The slower time of year invites us all to reassess and evaluate how we can be better prepared for an uncertain future.
We are please to announce a new column in the paper, called “Lessons from the Land.” Each issue, we will publish stories from farmers, on a variety of topics, so that we may all learn from each other. Please read the wonderful pieces this issue, and consider sending in your own story.
— Steve Gabriel
Registration for Online Small Farm Courses Open
Our 2016-2017 season of Small Farm Online Courses offers over 20 different courses to build the technical and business skills of farmers. Expert farmers and extension educators guide students through the latest research-based information to help improve efficiency and increase profit on small farms.
Students connect with other farmers, work on farm plans, and gain practical tips without leaving their home. Course content can be accessed anywhere with a high-speed internet connection.
Most courses are six weeks long. Each week features an evening webinar and follow-up readings, videos, and activities. Students and their instructors connect through online forums and live chat. If you aren’t able to attend the webinars in real-time, they are always recorded for later viewing.
See a list of all our courses and watch a video about them: http://www.nebeginningfarmers.org/online-courses/
Reduced Tuition to Online Courses for NY Veterans
We are pleased to offer partial scholarships for military veterans to take online courses as part of the Farm Ops initiative. The courses, normally $250, will be offered to veterans for $125. In order to be eligible a person must be a veteran or active duty military, a resident of New York State, and have plans to begin selling farm products (filing a Schedule F) in 2016 or 2017.
If you are eligible and would like to apply head over to our website: http://www.nebeginningfarmers.org/2016/09/01/online-course-scholarships-for-veterans/.
Registration is limited and will be offered first come, first served. Participants will be asked to complete a targeted survey at the end of the course as well as 6 months from completion, to determine the effect on their operation.
New Curriculum for Whole Sale Marketing
Are you a farmer seeking wholesale markets? If you’ve been following the ‘Baskets to Pallets’ project, you’ve probably heard that we’ve just completed a new curriculum to prepare small and mid-scale farmers to enter food hubs, groceries, restaurants and cooperatives. We trained about 40 agricultural educators to teach the Curriculum in April, and now we’re looking forward to bringing it on the road to farmers in New York State this fall and winter. If you’d like to learn more about the project, visit smallfarms.cornell.edu/projects/wholesale/.
Educator Network Meeting in November
The Northeast Beginning Farmer Learning Network is a loose network of professionals who serve beginning farmers in any capacity: providing trainings, consultations, loans, land access, and more. The theme of this year’s annual meeting is “Raising the Bar on Beginning Farmer Trainings.” It will be held Thurs. Nov 10 from 9a to 5pm at the Hilton Hotel in Hartford, CT. Our session is a pre-conference workshop, part of the larger “It Takes a Region” conference organized by the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group. To view details or register, please visit: http://nesawg.org/our-work/conference
Cornell Small Farms Program Announces the Launch of “FARM OPS”.
Our efforts towards assisting military veterans transitioning into farming careers is being branded under the name: Farm OPS. The efforts has partnered with several local CCE offices, the Farmer Veterans Coalition, Heroic Foods, as well as a group of veteran-focused groups, to provide a clearer path from the military life, to life on the farm.
The 2014 Farm Bill included language specific towards supporting the increasing number of veterans leaving the military to help fill a need as more farmers retire, as the average age of US farmers passes 57 years old. Our team held several training sessions with CCE partners targeted toward veterans across the state, including at Ft Drum. The team helped host the National Center of Appropriate Technology’s second NYS Armed to Farm event. For a week in August, 25 veterans, and their partners, were able to take focused training classes, farm tours, and network with fellow veteran farmers at the White Eagle Conference center in Hamilton, NY. The 2015 event was held in Western NY, and the 2017 event will be held somewhere to the East.
Farm OPS is also anticipating approval this fall of the first NYS Division of Veteran Affairs approved OJT training program on a farm. Similar to OJT programs for plumbers, electricians, and other trades, a farm-based OJT program has to be approved by the DVA for a veteran to use their GI bill funds while they learn to farm. The team has been working with two pilot farms to navigate the approval process and we’ll be posting instructions on how other farms may participate in the OJT program soon. Watch the Farm OPS page for updates, and while you’re there, if you are a veteran, sign up for the NYS Veterans in Agriculture Network Listserve for future announcements.
Reduced Tillage Field Day Brings Together Organic Vegetable Growers
How can reduced tillage (RT) practices help vegetable growers build soil health, use labor efficiently, and boost productivity? In mid-August, the Cornell SFP Reduced Tillage Team hosted over 50 farmers, educators, and others in a field day highlighting RT research in organic vegetables. The twilight tour led attendees through trials at the HC Thompson Vegetable Research Farm in Freeville, NY where research looks at different approaches to reduce tillage while integrating cover crops, managing fertility, and controlling weeds.
Research spoke to growers at multiple farm scales. The tour dug into RT practices for permanent beds and how to use strip-till to target tillage to the planting row. The event also brought in the expertise of Cornell Cooperative Extension partners. An in-field soil health demonstration showed how cover crops and mulches can improve water use and limit soil erosion. A focus on swede midge provided insights into how production practices may impact this emerging organic brassica pest. For more details on the RT project, visit http://smallfarms.cornell.edu/projects/reduced-tillage/.
by Amy Weakly
The Veterinary Practices program, Occupational Health, and Safety SkillsUSA Team consisting of Seniors Morgan Hastwell, (Adirondack Central School), Kayla Weakley, (Adirondack Central School) and Destiny Mooney, (South Lewis Central School) are striving to improve farm safety. SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers, and industry, working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. This team collected information and evaluated the working environment on area farms through tours, interviews, and surveys of farmers. With these processes, they identified an area of concern for farmers that impacts many farms; sharps disposal. These young ladies are finding was to help farmers protect themselves, their employees, sanitation workers, and the environment. Their instructor Blake Place says, “This project really gets me excited because my students are finding a solution to a problem that really exists. They are solving this problem through education and outreach and it is something that can be modeled and applied to other business sectors that may struggle with what to do with these bio safety hazards.”
Farming is included in the top 10 Most Dangerous Jobs in the US, in numerous studies. Sharps are just one of the risks involved in farming. What are sharps? They are devices with sharp points or edges that can puncture or cut skin such as needles, syringes, lancets, auto injectors (epinephrine and insulin pens), infusion connection needles/sets (tubing systems with a needle). Sharps may be used to manage the medical conditions and maintain good health of people or their pets/animals. There are approximately 9 million syringe users, totaling approximately 3 billion injections per year taking place in the home, in the U.S. These instruments should never be disposed of by throwing them in trashcans, recycling bins or by flushing them down the toilet. Proper Sharps disposal isn’t regulated for individual or personal residences or non-business environments.
According to OSHA statistics, approximately 600,000 healthcare personnel incur needle injuries annually: 40% happen after usage and before disposal of the instrument and 15% occur after disposal. This poses a risk to not only those people and facilities but also to waste management employees, animals, and the environment. When needles, syringes, scalpels, and other sharps are tossed into the normal trash, it introduces risks of infection do to needle sticks/cuts, exposure to diseases and/or drugs, and release of pollutants into the environment. These numbers not only impact the safety of personnel, they also translate into financial expenses for testing, treatment, and follow up care. The current drug epidemic our communities are facing is no small consideration in this process. Many users of illicit drugs are desperate when seeking access to needles and drugs. The environmental cost of improper sharps disposal is tremendous and the diseases and drugs that may be on those instruments go into our landfills, soil, and waterways. Animals such as flies, roaches, mice, and rats feed in landfills and are known to carry and spread diseases. Other scavenger animals are also at risk of contracting or spreading illness.
While individuals using sharps for health care related uses, such as diabetics, are advised on how to best dispose of their supplies; farms are given little guidance in this area. The advice widely given is to place the sharps in a ridged plastic container, such as a laundry detergent container, and write “sharps” on the container. When it’s full, tape the lid on and place it in the regular trash. This only helps to limit risk to our waste management folks, it certainly does not eliminate it. The SkillsUSA Team identified this discrepancy and have set their sights on helping to implement more safe collection and disposal processes for these tools.
This team has created informational brochures to help inform farmers about proper sharps disposal and educate their employees. They have purchased the first batch of sharps containers for distribution. In addition, they extended their efforts to make this collection and disposal process as convenient and easy for farmers as possible. The SkillsUSA Team worked diligently with various community businesses/organizations to ensure access to disposal facilities, allowing farms to do the right thing. They contacted and met with their local legislators to help clarify existing rules and break down barriers. The team has also been collaborating with area hospitals and transfer sites building bridges to assist in their efforts to help protect the health of people, animals and the environment. “This project has become bigger than I ever expected,” according to Kayla. “It’s crazy to think how big of a change three young girls can make.”
This effort is completely voluntary on behalf of the farmers and costs nothing for them to participate. To help kick start the process, the group worked hard to raise money, by hosting can drives and grooming events, to purchase sharps containers. The containers will be distributed, for free, to the first 30 farms to contact them with interest in making this improvement. Along with the official Sharps container, the farmers will be given information about proper handling of sharps and why it’s important. They will also be given information regarding where they can drop off the container when it’s full, to assure proper disposal. For more information and to see if your farm is eligible to be one of the first 30 farms please contact (315)377-7345.
The feedback the team has received from the participating farms has been positive. They feel better knowing the sharps are being properly disposed of and the process is smooth and easy to do. This team is leading their community to improve processes and protect people, animals, and the environment for the future. They started this school year with a basic project, thinking it would be like any other school project they had done in the past; define the task, do the research and present the information. This group of young ladies, from Howard G. Sackett Technical Center, had no idea about the vast impact their project could have and the far reaching consequences of this challenge.
For more information and to see if your farm is eligible to be one of the first 30 farms please contact (315)377-7345.
Amy Weakley owns a small family farm, Barefoot Buffalo Farm in Taberg, NY. She can be reached at email@example.com.
by R.J. Anderson
Raising 20 to 30 pigs and four beef cattle a year, Jefferson County’s Mike Hubbard has become a trusted beef and pork source for his hyperlocal clientele. Looking to one day grow his operation and possibly add a meat-cutting component, this spring Hubbard traveled to Cobleskill, New York to attend the Beef Cutting Seminar co-hosted by SUNY Cobleskill and the Harvest New York regional agriculture program.
Organized by Harvest New York, a Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) team targeting economic development and sustainability that recently expanded into the northern part of the state, the sold-out one-day seminar attracted 15 beef producers from seven counties interested in learning about cuts of meat, consumer preferences, pricing strategies and marketing tactics.
Arriving with more questions than experience, Hubbard appreciated the opportunity to tap into the research and expertise of Cornell University, SUNY and beef industry experts. “That seminar was the first of its kind that I had seen offered,” says Hubbard. “It was perfect for a small producer like myself because it went over so many facets from cutting to pricing to marketing. I have a better plan for how I want to grow and can feel I can speak more effectively to my existing customers about the various cuts of beef.”
Prompted by growing consumer interest in the production and availability of locally sourced meat and meat products, Harvest New York Livestock Processing & Marketing Specialist MacKenzie Waro says the beef cutting seminar was the first step in a partnership that will host classes for other meat producers, including lamb, pork, goat and charcuterie.
“The collaboration between Harvest NY and SUNY Cobleskill is a natural fit,” says Waro. “SUNY Cobleskill has the facilities to help Harvest NY meet its educational goals for meat processing education, while Harvest NY has the ability to grow the meat industry in the state. We are looking forward to a mutually beneficial long-term relationship.”
Kicking off the inaugural seminar, the attendees began their morning with a meat marketing class led by Waro, followed by a primer on the New York beef industry conducted by Carol Gillis, executive director of the New York Beef Council. The morning session wrapped with a section on meat safety, which included a cuts tutorial, taught by SUNY Cobleskill Meat Lab manager Betsy Jensen.
The afternoon portion began with a meat pricing lecture taught by Matt LeRoux, marketing specialist with CCE of Tompkins County. Ending the day was a hands-on meat cutting session at Cobleskill’s state-of-the-art facility hosted by SUNY Cobleskill visiting instructor Michael Lapi.
“The people that presented all really knew what they were talking about,” says Hubbard. “How they present information about the cuts and seeing the meat lab in action was impressive. And it was eye-opening to learn about the various marketing tactics and steps I would have to take if I wanted to put my name on my packaging.”
In addition, Hubbard said what he learned from LeRoux helped reshape his marketing focus as he looks to expand. “I’m not usually a huge fan of classroom sessions, so I appreciated that he got right down to the nuts and bolts about the returns from different markets,” says Hubbard. “For example, I learned that with my type of operation and my busy schedule, I probably don’t have time for farmer’s markets and that in my case it’s probably a better idea to let my customers come to me.
“Really, all of the presentations were great,” Hubbard continues. “I recommend the seminar highly. I got a ton out of it.”
Following up on the success of the beef cutting workshop, Harvest New York and SUNY Cobleskill invited pork producers to hone their skills in a one-day Pork Cutting Seminar on Wednesday, August 24. Designed for producers selling to markets, looking to cut their own meats and those interested in learning details about specific cuts of pork, the course covered which cuts are most profitable, quality of meat, what products consumers want, and marketing strategies.
Next up will be a one-day seminar focused on poultry cutting and marketing, held October 11, at SUNY Cobleskill. That will be followed by a lamb cutting workshop at the same facility on Jan. 18 of next year and expanded beef and pork seminars from March 20 -24.
To learn more about Harvest NY meat processing opportunities for small producers, contact MacKenzie Waro at firstname.lastname@example.org. To view a lineup of upcoming Harvest NY seminars at events, go to harvestny.cce.cornell.edu.
R.J. Anderson is a staff writer/communications specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension.