Sunday, September 18, 2011

Natures Harmony farm: how & why you farm

One of the farms that I watch with interest is Tim and Liz Young, over in Elberton, Georgia.  They used to write a blog, but decided that they didn't want to do that, but do talk about their farming experience in a podcast

It's been interesting to watch their farm evolve because, well, I think that they're pretty darned radical when it comes to their views of animals and husbandry.  They've killed thousands of chickens and hundreds of turkeys and various other animals as they try to get their operation to work in the way that they think it should work, and that's been kinda amazing to me.   In farmcast #34 they mention the poultry deaths.  There's also been issues with sheep and cows and so on.

It's amazing because that's something I run across quite a bit in the farming blog community.  There's a reason that farmers do what they do, and to go into an occupation and assume that some idea you have is just as valuable/useful/credible as the existing practices is a bit silly, actually.  What I've found interesting is that they've been pretty open about their struggles, and actually, their operation is getting closer and closer to industry practices every day.     At this point I think that they're reducing their farm down to a level where it's not an economically viable unit; they talk about a total production of 36 pigs a year, and eliminating all but homestead quantities of sheep, turkeys, chickens and rabbits.  I don't know what the numbers look like for their cheese business, but I have to say that dairy is one of the hardest types of farming, and I'll be interested to see what they make of it.   

So Tim and Liz are now reccomending that when you buy animals it'd be pretty good practice to give them the care that they got from the previous owners.  Yep, I'd agree.  That's pretty sound advice. 

So I'm listening to #34, and they're talking about apprentices and employees, and customers, and how they started farming to spend more time in nature, and that actually struck a chord with my experience. 

Around here the primary push for agriculture is about being an agri-tourism business.   The county government promotes farm tours, and hay rides, and all of the stuff that people associate with farms.  Corn mazes.  Petting zoos. 

That's not really my vision of my farming experience.  Mine is more about producing food that people like, value and that tastes good.  That the animals at my farm have a good time, are well treated at all stages of their life.  That my personal contributions are things that I enjoy doing, and that I find someone who enjoys doing (or will do it for pay) what I don't want to do.  And if I have someone doing work for me, I'll pay them a fair wage, and above-the-table -- with all the appropriate taxes and so on, because while I hate taxes like the rest of us, it's part of the deal that we pay them to support all of the stuff that our government does.  Sometimes does to me.    No interns, or apprentices or whatever folks call free labor these days. 

So Tim and Liz talk about getting rid of customers, and stock, and downsizing their farm to the point where I'm not at all sure that I could make it pencil out as a business, all on the basis that having people work for them takes time and effort. 

And I had to laugh a bit, and shake my head, and think to myself, "yep, Tim and Liz.  Welcome to small business administration"
You'll find the natures harmony blog here



Urbancowgrrl said...

I have been teased many times about my only wanting to eat the meat of "happy animals". And by that I mean animals that were well cared for on a farm before being slaughtered for meat, or wild animals. I don't have enough biology experience to say there is any evidence to my idea - but it just seems like animals who are crammed in a pen, fed unnatural substances and are terrified and upset their whole life couldn't possibly produce tasty, healthy meat. So, if I had a farm it would probably be like yours.

My vegan friends also say "if you care so much about animals why do you eat them?" and my answer is "If I die after a nice, comfortable life I would rather my body go towards a good use like food than be embalmed and stuck in a box in the ground."

Rich said...

It's probably just me, but it always seemed to me that Tim and Liz thought they could easily create their own version of Salatin's Polyface.

Nature's Harmony was supposed to be about farm tours with adoring fans, media spots in which he could be the voice for "real" agriculture, best-selling books and nationwide book tours, and getting to walk around with a scrunched-up cowboy hat supervising the interns and apprentices.

Now he will probably write a book about farmsteading (imitating someone like Logsden) because he has been doing it for a couple of years and knows all there is to know about the subject.

I wonder if they are still "One of America's Most Sustainable Farms"? Or, have they been promoted to "America's Most Awesome Sustainable Farmstead"?

Joanne Rigutto said...

The plain truth of the matter is that farming is a business. Unless you want to farm part time or run as a hobby you have to make money. If you hit the wall on your own personal production and you're still not profitable, then you're running your business poorly. Livestock and poultry are a lot of work. I've got a lot of admiration for people like you and the Youngs who are livestock farmers. I think it's much harder to make that pencil out than what I do, which is primarily growing plant crops. I use the livestock and poultry as a hook to bring people into the CSA program. It's the plants I actually make money at.

I hear ya on the employee issues. I've had a couple of interns on my farm. None of them stayed for long. I see internships more as a training oportunity for me to pass on information I've learned over the few years I've been in business, and the experience I've aquired, rather than as farm help.

Anonymous said...

Don't be surprised if there's a podcast about how they're leaving farming and moving on to new ventures. Blah!Blah!Blah!

Harvest Village said...

I've followed Nature's Harmony podcasts for a while now and they are one of the better ones out there, but I agree with your sentiments. I always found it strange some of the painful experiences and deaths they've allowed their animals to experience in the interest of holding to their chosen values. I'm talking about their aversion to veterinary interventions, etc. - while claiming to want to give their animals the best life possible... but they always come across as the final authority :~)