We have another great conversation on this episode with Doneil Freeman over at Freeman Family Farm.
This time we’re talking wicking beds – a great compromise between the water savings of aquaponics or hydroponics and the micronutrient capacity of real in-soil crops. Get right to the conversation by clicking subscribe and listen to the episode!
First, let’s fill you in on the… NEWS FROM THE FARM!
USDA Inspected Processing vs. Custom Processors
Pork is being picked up this weekend!
Last week I told you that the pigs had gone off to the processor. Well, they’re processed and ready to pick up! Invoices are out to our customers, and we’ll be heading back to Simla and getting the hopefully yummy bacon, sausage, chops etc etc. We’ll of course be putting our own pork from little Hermione in our freezer. But the rest of the deliveries will have to happen fast and direct. Something interesting when you buy a half a hog direct from a farm is that the pork must go immediately from the processor to the customer.
Some of the customers asked if they could come out to the farm and pick up their pork. Or if we could hold it here until they got back from vacation. With the processor we used this time and the way we sold the pigs? Nope. Simla Frozen Foods does not have a USDA inspector on-site. It’s what’s called a “Custom Processor.” They are state inspected, not federal. Legally, the pigs are pre-sold while live, and then the transport to the processing happens as a courtesy. The customer owns the entire half hog, and isn’t buying cut by cut from us. That’s why we charge “by hanging weight.” We can’t currently tell people “ok, well bacon’s 8 bucks a pound, sausage 6, chops 7….” and let people pick and choose. In order to do that, the pigs must be processed with a USDA inspector, cleared, get the medallion seal, and then we have to have a food facility license from the county for the pork to be stored in our freezer and sold by cut.
Could we do it? Sure. It’s just more paperwork and more expense that we weren’t willing to do for the first batch until we knew we could get all this sold, and pigs would prove out to be a potentially profitable enterprise for us.Will we do it? There’s a strong chance. The first reason is that we are planning on moving our processing from Simla to Jensen Processing in Fowler. They’re USDA inspected, which means we’d be able to bring pork here and let the customers pick it up, or deliver at everyone’s convenience.
We’d also be able to grow out more pigs – or cows – on spec, and then sell the meat cut by cut at farmers markets or online. Or even to restaurants, though that’s a low-margin gig. They’re only about an hour away, or about 20 minutes further than Simla. But a fascinating additional reason is that one of our most loyal customers is the niece of the folks who run it! Well I’m all about business networking and referral marketing, so you’re darn right I’m going to support our customers and their people. She mentioned this in passing and I was thinking “reaaaaaallllly…. how did I not know this?!?!?” So we’re definitely giving them a try on the next batch.
When Pigs go in Standing Heat… Estrus Cycles and You (Sometimes too much you)
Speaking of the next batch, Lollipop had her heat cycle on Mothers Day and that Monday, so we have her on the calendar to go on down the road to Patty Berg’s next week to get us some piglets, hopefully. One hears about “standing heat” in pigs, but you really don’t understand what it looks like and the creepily amusing aspects of it until you actually are around a pig in heat. Lolli was nosing the fence, trying to climb up on it, just grunting up a storm as I was walking over with food.
“Lolli knock it off!!” I growled at her…. because really the last thing I wanted to deal with on a Sunday morning was her breaking loose. And she stopped…. really stopped. I guess my manly presence was enough for her, because she was in full blown standing heat… ears pricked up, and just… frozen. I dumped the feed in, and she couldn’t even move to get to the food! You could see her looking sideways at the feed bucket “So… hungry… can’t… move…”
So hopefully she’ll do that for her own species, too, and then “three months, three weeks, three days” later, as the saying goes, we’ll have some epically cute bacon seeds dropping.We have had a few people ask about getting in on the next batch of pork, so I am very strongly considering getting a batch of piglets from another breeder in the coming weeks, or maybe after the fair. I know we’re getting into “counting your bacon before they’re farrowed” territory anyway, but even if lolli ‘takes’ next week, we’re looking at 4 months to farrowing, and then the piglets would have about 6 to 7 months before processing – yes the current batch took a LOT longer than that, but they were a smaller breed genetically and also I probably could have gotten away with processing them a little sooner… saving some feed. But regardless, someone who wants bacon NOW and is willing to pay for bacon NOW doesn’t really want to wait 10 to 11 months for delivery! And I would prefer to have cash flow and build up that customer base sooner than that too!
Planned Partnership with Ahavah Farm Cancelled, and Can You Really Full-Time RV With Kids?
That brings us to the biggest news. A couple episodes ago I announced a big new partnership program with Ahavah Farm. Unfortunately, the deal is off. In order to do a deal that big – for both of us – there was a lot of due diligence that had to be done, and a lot of time spent over at their place working their early-season crops and getting to know their processes, infrastructure, and practices. It was going to be a lot of effort and money to make the deal happen, and, alas, there were too many issues in the due diligence to overcome. We at Gray Area are still rooting for the Camires and hope they can get done what they want to get done, because we need more farms in the region. But we realized it was a better fit to not do the partnership.
That opened up some possibilities. Should we just go do the Regenerative Road Trip show idea and travel the country, visiting other farms, markets and businesses in the sustainability industry? Should Tera Lynn get a job with the National Park Service and we can live in a different park per season? Or should we go ALL IN… just bring on our internal Leeroy Jenkins… and make Gray Area the kind of farm, agritourism, and media network that we hoped to if the Ahavah deal had gone through?Well, after a long date night dinner conversation, and a couple follow ups since, Tera Lynn and I have decided that the current plan will be to do that last option: we moved here to be homesteaders, build an earthship home, and write about it along the way.
So that’s what we’re gonna do. If that leads to opportunities to travel during the down-season, like JM Fortier or Justin Rhodes or even Joel Salatin, then great. It was a tough decision, because we really, REALLY like traveling and the park system. Even our wedding reception was national park themed. Tera Lynn spent her summers working for the Forest Service when we were dating. And there’s the wonderfully compelling idea of just hooking up the RV and taking off. But there’s apparently this whole “stability” and “health care” thing that apparently exists when you’re adulting with little kids. I’m still not sure about that part, but TL seems adamant that it’s a thing, so I’ll take her word for it.
Wicking Beds: Best of both worlds between Aquaponics and in-soil growing? Or just too much work for the water savings?
So that’s why the conversation about wicking beds is so timely. If we’re going to do the size of production we would love to do here, we would be taking things to a commercial level. That means… because it’s Colorado… commercial water rights. Right now we’re operating on the homestead exemption discussed in earlier episodes. With wicking beds or straight aquaponics, we would be using a small enough amount of water that we could truck in purchased water and irrigate with it instead of using the well water. That would make it legal for us to make the farm and its products “the household’s primary income,” as the policy says.
Want to hear the conversation and learn all about wicking beds? Listen to the episode at the link at the top of the page!
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- Phoenix 820: Art Pierson designed the Regenerative Road Trip logo and has worked with other farms, regenerative brands and other companies.
- Regenerative Stewardship: Tate Smith created a horse grazing plan for Freeman Family Farm. He will be heading down to Gray Area Farm in the summer to work on a multi-species managed rotational grazing system. We’re taking our soil building and “pasture-raised life” to a whole ‘nother level with his experience and systems.