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Competitors, Networks, Assets or Enemies

September 18, 2012

Quick tell me how this egg was produced, where and under what management the hens were kept:

Can you tell? Most people cannot. They don’t know if the hens that laid these eggs are indoor or outdoor, what color the feathers were, what she ate or where she slept.

And yet comment sections and forums are filled with folks who claim one type is better than the other. It pits farms against each other, and many farms jump on that bait.

Today’s food choices mean you can buy white eggs from caged hens, brown eggs from cage free, either from outdoor hens and not know what size the farm was…unless you know the farm.

We are passionate about food choices, so many seem surprised to hear  we don’t condemn “factory farms” with battery cage operations. Why is that? Perhaps in part because if someone else makes a food choice different from us, we feel they are still entitled to that choice. Partly because in supplying food choices, we cannot handle 308million people! As a small operation we can serve with a personal touch 150 people, 200 people. Maybe up to 400 people. But there’s a huge amount of hunger if it was up to us to feed everyone!

Whether a large farm or small farm there is much common ground with what can be seen as enemy competitors. It’s true we can’t compete on price with someone with 150,000 hens. Those folks keep eggs on the grocery shelves week in and week out. Some family farms support several family members supplying those corporations. Are they competitors? Perhaps. But they serve a chosen market. We serve another market – that of the consumer who wants to know more about how their food is raised. We can tell from the order which batch of chicks or litter of rabbits the meat came from.

Many people, for a variety of reasons, choose organic foods – and that allows more farmers to follow their dream of farming, from an organic standpoint. All of these operations serve food choices, because there are all levels of choices people make. Without each link in the network, there are fewer food choices. Without small operations the personal touch is missing. Without the large ones, that family struggling to cover food costs may not have food, and there are already too many food insecure households in the USA.

Everyone must watch costs and operate as a business. Too many ‘pets’ drag the operation down – pets being animals that aren’t producing income. This can be sows that miss pregnancies, rabbits that don’t raise litters or cows from the bloodline of a favorite old cow. Be it corporation, family farm or organic farm, all need to make a profit. All serve a specific part of the market, and all rely on food choices.

A drop in production can be troubling and expensive on any size of farm. Sick, poorly kept animals simply don’t generate a profit, so many operations choose for health and productivity in their animals, no matter what species. We all have common ground in supplying food for people who want it. There are people who cheat and take short cuts on both large and small operations, and there are people who strive to do it right at every step of the line. We all have a common interest – a safe, plentiful food supply for our customers, whomever those customers are. We can learn from each other, we can network and help each other.

If I have someone contact me wanting a breed of rabbit I don’t have, talking them into a sale probably won’t benefit either of us or the rabbits. They likely want a specific thing – and I’d rather help them find it if I can so they’re happy. Maybe down the road they’ll hear someone looking for something I have – and may remember the help.

Mom was right all those years ago – how we treat others matters. Bottom line, we all have a common interest – our customers. They may be different customers…but they’re our customers and we value them.

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