We’ve been offered a great opportunity. “We can use xxx birds a week.” The number is three times as many as we’ve really finished per week before. Wow. “Can we get a better price?” Again, wow. That’s set off quite a lot of conversation, head scratching, and numbers researching and compiling around here. My computer skills now include being able to use Excel to make spreadsheets, neither of which (Excel or spreadsheets) I’ve ever used before. It’s caused us to ask ourselves several questions:
1. Can we raise that many birds per week?
2. Can we do it on pasture and maintain quality?
3. Is it worth it to us, as a family, physically, mentally, financially?
4. What exactly are our numbers and would the volume enable us to lower our prices? (This is where my crash course in business math comes in. How many years does a student normally get to learn this?…..)
5. Are we competing based on quality or price? And who are we competing with, anyway?
6. Can small growers (compared to the agri-busines type folks) stay sustainable with distributors stepping into a historically relationship based marketplace and needing a commodities type pricing system? How would our decision affect other growers? Can we get “fair trade” for local farmers in the grey area between “direct market” and “mega agri business”?
As the small farms industry grows, I’m sure these questions will need to be asked by more and more folks. Quality vs. quantity, commodity vs. relationship, diversifed vs. one or two crop systems. When we watched Food, Inc. one thing that struck me was the chicken agri-business company’s relationship with their growers. It reminded me of the old sharecropper/coal town/”I owe my soul to the company store” system. We don’t want to be there. How can the small farm system grow and meet the increasing demands for local, healthful food and not become “big business?” It’s a question that begs discussion….