Our industry (just like most of the world) is going through a time of great change. There are many directions we can go in, but, it’s easy to get spread too thin, take too much on and let too many people down. That’s why last issue we asked you to help us chart our course, because who better to give us direction than the people who support us most!
There were a lot of great suggestions (ducks, bison and veal entered the conversation) but there was one that kept repeating, in fact it has been on our mind for a while, and that was to start our own farm. We aren’t in a position to do a deep dive on that thought yet, but we thought it’d be fun to share with you what steps we’ve taken to better understand what it might look like to have a Happy Valley Farm!
The first thing we did is reach out to the farmers in our network to see what they thought. Are we crazy? Yes. (Seriously, every time). Once that part was over we got to serious talking. Who would run it? What type of farm? Where would the farm be? How much does land even cost near NY? Will you move to PA?
While overwhelming the questions help point us to where we need to ask more questions and where our knowledge is the weakest. After talking through the idea with our farmers, a few things became obvious: one that it’s possible, but it will be hard work; two, that land is crazy expensive (actually one of the most difficult problems for young/new farmers); three, that we have an amazing network of people in our lives, a major asset, not to be underestimated.
Our farmers are supportive, but we have a mission at HVM, to improve the lives of the people and animals that feed us, and anything we do has that lens in mind. We were looking for a way that owning a farm might actually make the lives of our farmers better. One way, it became clear, to do that was to focus on the cow-calf operation. That is, we have moma/calf pairs on our “homefarm” and when the calves are ready, we can send them to our current partners. We could get our farm certified under our welfare standards making it easier for our farmers to grow their farms and sell us more beef!
Now that’s about as far as we got, we’re running numbers to see how a farm makes sense moneywise (it makes a lot more sense if you all come visit and maybe even stay for a day or night and eat a meal!). To that end we’re talking to lenders like Farm Credit and the USDA’s Farm Service Agency Loan Programs to really understand the financing side of farming. The question remains for us, as for so many farmers, can we even buy land?
After our farm network, our best resources have been the agricultural extension programs. We’re taking Cornell’s Small Farm Beef Cattle Management Course to learn the basics as well as deep dives through Penn State Ag Extension resources. The idea is to build out our knowledge of the actual day to day that would be added to Happy Valley’s life with a new addition and expand our network; “You’re only as strong as the people who love you” (so says my very wise mother).
And finally, we’re reading everything we can get our hands on from Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle by Heather Smith Thomas to the classic Five Acres and Independence by M.G.Kains. What’s very very clear is that farming is expensive, it doesn’t make a lot of money and you really need to love it to do it. We have a long way to go, but if you know any farmers looking to retire, send them our way! We thank you for the amazing suggestion, we now expect more advice… stay tuned, there is much more to come.