Problem Solving with the Farmer Led Research Program
There are so many things I love about what I do!
The farming half of my life keeps me physical active and working outside. It makes me happy to be able to nurture diversity and watch the miracles of growth and development in our poultry and crops.
The business half of my life lets me share that love, with people who share my passion for healthier food and farming practices. It also allows me to hide behind my computer when the weather is too hot or too cold for working outside!
Balancing both gives me the flexibility to be the main caregiver and homemaker for my family, who is growing up quickly. (Insert small sign as i think about moving my eldest son to collage this fall.)
I also happen to love a challenge and thank goodness because there is never a shortage of problems to overcome!
My problems can include; the daily kind, like balancing family and work schedules or the unplanned kind like a over confident raccoon thinking he can make a meal of my chickens.
Some of my problems are more ingrained in the business of regenerative food production. It is a real challenge finding the best way to compete in the food market while maintaining quality and environmental standards.
Our poultry is a prime example of this dilemma. The poultry industry grows a breed of chicken that has been highly bred for fast feed conversion under specific conditions. These white rock birds are the best at putting on weight fast. Years of highly selective breeding has left them less suited to free range growing conditions.
The White Chantecler Chicken is the rare Canadian breed that I have chosen to work with. Our birds are good egg layer and meat birds with a wonderful temperament, great foraging ability and cold tolerance that makes them perfectly suited for small farms and pastured growing systems.
The drawback is that they take much longer to grow to roast size chicken. This means that the cost of feed required to bring them to full size makes the true cost of that roast chicken much higher then your grocery store chicken.
Now, I believe our chicken taste better and is better for you, but I also believe in balancing my account book and good food that is affordable for the average person, not just those with large food budget.
The problem, in an egg shell, is how do we grow great chicken at a fair price?
Finding the Solution
Insert the Ecological Farmers of Ontario. This organizations runs a fantastic program called the Farmer Led Research program. This program takes the trial and error learning that usually happens on farms to a new level. The EFAO help to design research protocol for the problem you are trying to solve on the farm. They hep connect farms with expert consultants, runs the analysis and helps to share the results of on farm research project.
My nerdy science brain has been in love with this program from it the first moment I learned about it. I have already benefited from research projects done on other garlic growing farms. This year I finally got up the nerve to apply for our own research design.
We are participating in our own ecological farm research program to help bring down the cost of raising our wonderful Chanteclers. Our project focuses on the feed requirements to grow chickens from chicks to adult birds. There is very little information available on specific feed requirements for heritage breeds and feed is the single larges expense for our poultry. The feed we use is specifically designed for optimal growth of the commercial breed of chicken it is meant to feed.
With the assistance of the Ecological farm research program we have set up a protocol to compare our regular feeding program with a reduced protein feed. The lower protein feed is also less expensive and the hypothesis is that the protein requirements should be lower for a breed of chicken that grows and feathers out slower then a commercial chicken.
There were a few new challenges created by taking on this project. Designing the protocol with the help of the ecological farmers was not too difficult. Designing extra housing took some thought. Convincing raccoons, hawks and weasels that these new houses were not restaurants for wildlife meant some extra work. Finding someone local who could sell me a specialized feed mix took many more hours then I would have imagined.
Now that we are set up there is a little extra work through the growing season. Each birds mush be weighed once a month and we need to keep good records of feed given to each group. On the whole our little experiment is now running fairly smoothly.
We have decided to run the project for a couple years to ensure we have enough data to draw some conclusions from, so stay tuned for our results!
Kincardine Community Achievement Awards
Last night had the honour of attending the Kincardine & District Chamber of Commerce Awards Gala as a nominee for the Miller Insurance Farm business award. It is fun to have an opportunity to dust off my ‘good’ jeans and spend the evening with some great friends and the most exciting thing was the companies that I shared this years nomination with. This years nominees included two of my favorite local food business, what a win for the growing local food community in our area!
The award was won by the Beefway. Congratulations to Rob, Mylinda and the whole crew! This award was so well deserved. The Beefway is an irreplaceable link on our local food chain. The staff there always does top quality work and are a friendly part of my work week. The retail store is full of other wonderful local products they support. The job they do can be an underappreciated part of our food system. I was so happy to see this business honoured last night!
Kim Lowry was also nominated. She is the business women behind Stone’s Throw Produce and Preserves. Kim puts her heart and creativity into everything she does. Her stand provides access to local produce for her neighbours and her sweetness does not stop with her unique preserves and her family’s maple syrup. She always has something supportive to say to those around her and is a one of the greatest advocate for other local business that I know. I count myself lucky to be able to work with her as much as I do. I hope she know it’s her, not just the butter tarts that was recognized last night!
Congratulations to Kim and the Beefway. These businesses represent our growing local food community. A community that I have come to realize is the most important component of making a shift towards a more accessible and secure local food system.
As most of you know by now D&H has two components. I farm part time and promote other local farms. The goal is to work closely with farmers and the people they feed to provide convenience and transparency, while maintaining farm profitability and reasonable food costs. Over the course of the last three years I have had the chance to spend a fair bit of time looking at the issues surrounding the development of a local food system, from both a research and hands on perspective.
There are a lot of challenges to overcome. Attempting to apply the economic model of our industrial food system to a healthier local food economy is a little like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I have learned couple things. One, there is no single magic recipe, it has taken generations for our food system to get where it is today and it will take time to shift priorities again. Secondly, continuing to apply an economic model to a system that follows social and biological rules is not going to result in stable system over the long term.
I believe that a community model is the key. Rural communities were originally built around shared resources for food production and distribution. A community can make decisions based on shared values and well as dollars.
Today is just one example that we already have a growing and supportive local food community. I have also seen that since the first day I begin with D&H. My boss can sometimes be a pain, but the people and businesses I work with have been a wonderful support.
I wanted to take the time to say big thank you to the person who took the time to nominate me. It really is quite humbling to be included in this event. There are so many inspiring businesses and individuals in our community.
Congratulation to all the nominees and thank you to the Kincardine Chamber of Commerce for putting on this wonderful event.
Congratulations to the wonderful community of farmers, customers, local food businesses and the municipalities who are coming to together to create change!
The Power of Choice
Today we are making a new connection with a local pork producer. By partnering with this local, third generation family farm we are able to offer you pork that is ethically raised, quality pork, at an economical price. As a result of a generation of instability in the pork industry there are not many family run operations left. That makes it all the more exciting for me to be partnering with a family who has worked hard to stay together, producing pork they are proud of. You can read more about our new Local Pork options here.
If you have been following the products offered by D&H Newman, then you will have noticed that we work with two types of beef producers and two types of pork producers. It is important to me to offer you a full range of the bounty produced in the Huron-Kinloss and Kincardine area. I believe there is power in choice and that power should belong to you.
There is a rule about management that has always stuck with me. The responsibility for making decisions should be in the hands of those who will have to be responsible for the outcome of those decisions. What would this look like if we applied it to our food supply? Currently, decisions about how our food is produced have been made by those who are least affected by the consequences. Years of building a food system that places the priority on lower cost of production, ease of transportation and efficiency has taken it’s toll.
A quick look at the list of concerns surrounding the food we eat can be over whelming. Systematic problems in our food system include concerns around care for the environment, animal welfare, and even a loss of nutritional value in our food. The costs of these issues are not directly reflected in the cost of producing our food. As we all become more educated, some issues are being addressed with hard fought regulations, but change is slow. By giving the decision making powers back to those who are most effected we can shift the priorities and we can begin to design a better food system together.
There are three main players who have been most keenly affected by the changes made to the way we produce and prepare food. The first and most obvious is anyone who eats.
You are directly affected by the quality of your food. In the short and long term we all pay for the food we eat, with our dollars, with our health, with our taste buds, with our rural communities and our environment. With access to alternative options we can weigh what is most important to us against what we can afford. Having trusted, affordable choices can make food a joyful part of your day instead of a source of stress. Everyone should have the opportunity to choose food that is delicious, that makes you feel healthy, that is a joy to prepare. Being able to trust that your food is exactly what it claims to be is critical.
When you choose local food you are also giving the power of choice to our farmers. This is a group of people who’s entire lives are affected by how food is produced. Producing food is not only their job, it’s their lifestyle and passion. When we provide a secure and fair income for the fruits of their labour then they can invest in what they feel is most important. The family farm is invested in the community, the environment, producing products they are proud and the future of farming. Anytime a family farm is empowered to take time to learn, improve and choose the methods they believe in, then our food is in good hands
The final group, we must not forget, is the next generation. Obviously they can’t speak for themselves, so who decides for those who are yet to come. We all do, of course, but not as individual. We decide as a community. As parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, long standing members of the community and people looking to set down roots for the first time. We all need make decisions that ask the questions, what will this look like in 50 years? In 100 years? Will our communities still be here, will our water be healthy, will our food still be affordable. Together rebuilding communities around food and environment we can make decisions that will serve us well now and for generations to come.
D&H Newman is just one of the ways to access food that gives you the power to choose. (I am excited to see a growing number of options for purchasing food more directly from producers. I will have more information about some of these in a future blog.) We are proud to be able to connect you with a range of local products for you to choose from. It is your choices that have the power to create a food system that is affordable, healthy, environmentally friendly, respectful to animals and a joy to prepare and share with each other.
Whether you use the power of your choice; local pork, pastured pork, organic grass fed beef, Lemoncroft beef or another trusted local source, know you are making a difference with every meal. Supporting you local agricultural community produces food that tastes great and is good for you. As a community we can grow a food system that has healthy priorities.
Take back your power to choose!