Monday, August 17, 2009

its harder than I thought to produce food

I used to serve systems administrators and network engineers as their manager for a series of Internet companies. I needed to spend more time with my new kids, and wanted to combine work with my passion for fishing. I was thinking most likely I'd try to become a sport charter captain. Then the Sacramento River winter run chinook salmon simply collapsed to 5% of its normal population. That was the fishery I had been concentrating on with my limited free time all those years.

During this time I read Omnivore's Dilemma, and I had the not very unique idea that I could probably produce food in this way that actually benefits the earth. Also I already knew in the back of my mind that industrial agriculture was killing the wild oceans (while fishing was getting the blame). Before "the book" I had unconsciously subscribed to the myth that producing food inherently equated to environmental degradation. I had an environmental science B.S. from a major university. I had the passion for interacting with animals and plants. I filled some of the gaps of my knowledge and experience by taking Sustainable Agriculture 110 (organic farming) and Agriculture 70 (Integrated Pest Management) at Santa Rosa Junior College and was very impressed with the quality of these classes. I never found out how to check what grades I got but I assume I did fine. I got some of the knowledge I was looking for was the important thing.

After that I just went ahead and planted a bunch of heirloom veggies, ordered a ton of chicks for future eggs and made a project plan of several batches of broilers, somewhere between 500-600 in total by the end of it I think. The chicken venture has been the more rewarding of the two, I had low introductory prices so I sold out completely with relative ease and my birds all turned out really well, sized between 3.5 - monster 6 lbers. In retrospect the low intro price was a mistake. Yet Sarah and I are still planning to charge less than the standard rate for pasture raised birds despite our highest in the state cost of living. I kind of see my competition as industrial organic, not other pastured chicken farmers. I've got my instincts guiding me as to how to build a market for real chicken.

The vegetables have been a real challenge to sell. The pasture fed eggs that started coming out in August sell easily, but I made some heritage mistakes in breed selection that caused me to get less than half what I expected. Right now I am only getting 2.5 - 3 doz/day though...

So I have another 100 chicks coming in October, and I have 20 turkeys in a mobile pen.

That is the story of Felton Acres so far. I am about producing local food with integrity, ideally benefitting at minimum not degrading the environment, and respect for the animals which will be incorporated into my family, friends, and customers. Am I the kind of person you would like to have producing the food you give to your children? I hope so.