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Farm Smarter: Time Management Tips

Even if we don’t expect to get paid for all the hours we work on the farm, tracking how we spend our time, in order to employ smart time management strategies,  provides incredibly valuable information on the viability and efficiency of our production models and helps us and other sustainable farmers innovate the methods and infrastructure that will be needed to bring about a new and sustainable food system.

Sustainable farming is by definition a model that can continue for the long-term and that stewards finite resources that are often neglected or taken for granted.

There’s a myth that permeates the community of sustainable farmers, especially among those that are new, young and passionate. It started innocuously, but it has the potential to jeopardize the long-term viability of the new sustainable food system.

The myth is that sustainable farming is above all a way of life characterized by a devotion to the land, and that those who are focused on making money are missing the point and bound to be disappointed.

This sort of thinking is dangerous because the stories we tell ourselves matter. When we half-jokingly remark after having a tough year or working an 18-hour day that we “aren’t in it for the money” or when we let another season go by without seriously tracking the time we spend working on the farm because it would “be depressing” or because “everything is going to turn around anyway next year,” it undermines the future of sustainable farming by perpetuating the deleterious myth that as farmers, where we put our time doesn’t matter so long as we’re busy.

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Be Counted: 2017 Census of Agriculture

The United States Department of Agriculture has started sending out the 2017 Census of Agriculture. Sadly, in a world filled with scams attempting to gain your personal information for nefarious reasons and a lack of confidence in the government, the agricultural census is often met with distrust.

Conducted once every five years, the census aims to get a complete and accurate picture of American agriculture. The resulting data are used by farmers, ranchers, trade associations, researchers, policymakers, and many others to help make decisions in community planning, farm assistance programs, technology development, farm advocacy, agribusiness setup, rural development, and more.

Naturally, most homesteaders, farmers and ranchers have an independent streak. We crave the independence that this lifestyle lends us, and we desire to hold onto it with all our might — especially since it seems to be under attack from numerous directions lately. Despite what may at first seem an invasion of privacy, the census is nothing new to producers and provides a means of opportunity for those involved with agriculture.

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Breaking into the Egg Business

Perhaps the best place to begin a discussion about the egg business would be with the egg itself. There is just a nine-ounce difference between a dozen medium and a dozen jumbo eggs. A dozen large eggs, the standard in the retail mar­ketplace, weighs twenty-four ounces. A dozen medium eggs, commonly used in the food service sector, weighs twenty-one ounces—just three ounces less. These slight dif­ferences can become big factors when calculating what it costs to produce a dozen eggs.

table eggs

A six-pound hen that lays two or three eggs per week will eat as much as one that lays five or six.

Egg grades—AA, A, and B—have nothing to do with egg size or shell color. Rather they are used to rate shell cleanliness and uniformity and the condition of the egg’s interior. Under examination and candling, an AA egg will have a clean, unbroken shell with even shape and shell surface. The air cell will be 1/18th-inch or less in depth, and regular in shape. The white will appear clean and firm, and the yolk will be centered and free of defects.

An A-quality egg will also have a clean and unbroken shell. The air cell will be 1/4-inch or less in depth and fairly uniform. The white should be clear, although not quite as firm as that of the AA egg. The yolk should be fairly centered, have a more defined outline, and should also be free of de­fects such as meat or blood spots.

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Wild Farm Alliance Supports Connections Between Farmer, Ecosystems & Community

Wild Farm Alliance reports that 37 percent of the Earth’s land is dedicated to agriculture, making farmland a top priority for Earth regeneration and wildlife conservation. While they assist farmers, they also connect with them for the purpose of learning from them. And that’s valuable to farmers, because we have to be careful that non-farming certifiers and agricultural advisors do not become too distant from farming itself. Often farmers are the ones on the forefront of continual discovery and innovation by being constantly engaged in their operations.

Hedgerows benefit pollinators

Photo courtesy of Wild Farm Alliance. Hedgerows can provide a multitude of benefits including pollinator, beneficial insect and wildlife habitat, dust and wind protection and increased diversity.

Each time we plant borders for beneficial insects or erect homes for raptors as rodent control, we’re offering something to wild nature in exchange for it being our ally as we nurture domesticated crops. Sometimes, as with Nettles Farm on Lummi Island in Washington State, nature’s bounty makes its way into the farm’s offerings.

Nettles Farm is surrounded by the sea and natural woodlands. Wild rose petals, wild plums and even edible seaweeds find their way into the foods of the chefs they supply at the famous Willows Inn.

Meanwhile, more and more information is surfacing on the huge potential agriculture has toward climate and natural resource restoration. But both farmers and wild nature are vulnerable, and like any good partnership, the union can truly sustain itself when each partner receives ongoing symbiotic support from the other. This article focuses on how eco-farmers are affected by growing desires and expectations to support ecosystems while earning a living at the same time, along with how I’ve seen an organization called Wild Farm Alliance assist them.

Even if it initially appears a future farm and wild nature partnership would be symbiotic eventually, the transition time to reach that state needs to be financially and labor-wise feasible. Farms can’t support nature if they go out of business in their attempts to do so and sell out to development or corporate agriculture. And because consumer demand fuels the farm with its financial support and policy voting, consumer understanding of the process farms must go through to reach and maintain higher states of sustainable regeneration is also intrinsic to the partnership. Continue Reading →

Food Hubs Connect Growers, Consumers

Across the country, small to medium-sized farms are forming regional wholesale food hubs to market, aggregate and distribute locally produced food from farms to restaurants, hospitals, schools, universities, grocery stores and other institutions.

Locally grown tomatoes

Local tomatoes sold through the Puget Sound Food Hub.

These hubs help level the playing field with the competition from cheap, industrial produce trucked long distances, while benefitting the environment by reducing fuel emissions. They help bring communities together, furthering USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, and strengthening the farm to table connection.

The Puget Sound Food Hub (PSFH) serves Western Washington. PSFH is a farmer-owned cooperative operating in the Puget Sound region. It was originally conceived of and started by the Northwest Agriculture Business Center (NABC), a nonprofit that works collaboratively with farmers and businesses to increase the economic viability of local agriculture. Continue Reading →

Pastured Turkey Tips

The turkey says “America” and “real local food” as do few other things, and varieties are often reflective of specific geographical regions of this nation, the Narragansett of the Northeast and the Bourbon Red of the South.

Pastured TurkeysThe producer can play this trump card to the maximum by breeding and raising his or her birds to be marketed directly from the farm. Thirty years ago I visited a Missouri farm where numerous turkey varieties were being propagated well before terms like “local” and “heirloom” filled the pages of food and ag publications. Into 8 x 16-foot, used hog range houses those folks were placing trios of breeding turkeys. The houses were divided in half with a short segment of a 54-inch high cattle panel and each half sheltered a breeding trio. Seven other 16-foot x 54-inch cattle panels were used to create two large pens fronting the Southern-facing house. The pens and shelters had a deep straw litter, a practice old-timers will recall as straw yarding.

Those folks kept four varieties of turkey with between one and three trios of each variety. A few extra breeding birds were kept on hand in case of injury or loss. From their modest numbers and simple housing they produced poults, hatching eggs, breeding stock and table birds for sale. Their houses and panels were bought used, and their main investment in equipment was for a cabinet incubator with a 240-egg capacity.

A friend with a small flock of turkeys has found his niche producing some of the more vividly colored varieties such as the lilac. The poults do not all color up the same, but that challenge is a part of their appeal to him. His sales are generally in quite small numbers to people who first want just a few birds to raise for their own needs and then are drawn to more colorful birds. Continue Reading →