Are We Still Farming?
Updated: Aug 25, 2021
Wow, where did the summer go! As usual, we managed to keep busy at the Green Beach this summer. Summer 2021 saw the largest number of cattle bred since pre-BSE at 72 head, we raised and harvested our first ever batch of pastured broiler chickens (sold out, but taking orders for next summer!) and we have faced some challenges with a very dry summer. With the lack of rain, we have had frequent changes to the grazing plan with certain paddocks reaching maturity much faster than usual, as well as some extra work hauling water to the cows and the garden. Kenny and I just returned from camping at Child’s Lake in the Duck Mountains for a few days, so I found the time to come up with the next blog. Hard to believe the last blog post was over three months ago! Hope you enjoy the latest edition of From the Ground Up!
As I am sure most followers of the farm have noticed, Green Beach Farm & Food takes a different approach to farming than most other farms. Occasionally this causes me to pause and wonder: are we still farming? After all, what we do looks very little, if at all, like the farming that most farmers in the area are doing. We grow multiple crops in one field at the same time (remember the last blog post?), we have four different types of livestock, we sell meat directly to consumers, we have small old machinery and our cows stay on pasture long after it is covered in snow. On the other hand, most other farms typically have cattle or grain (not both), grow only one crop in a field at one time, sell commodities to large buyers or through an auction barn, have large machinery and have cattle contained in pens for the winter months. Based on this comparison and the fact that the majority of farmers can relate to the latter description, perhaps we are no longer ‘farming’ at Green Beach Farm & Food. So what are we doing??
At Green Beach Farm & Food, we are constantly trying to improve the profitability and the resiliency of the farm. We simply do not have the acres to allow us to sell grain or calves through the commodity market alone and expect to make a living. And by doing things differently, we are often in-eligible for crop insurance programs – so we try to farm in a way that is self-insuring. For example, if we have a poor grain crop or heavy weed pressure, we can either graze the crop or cut and bale for feed. Although the economics may not be as good selling the grain, some costs are recouped with the grazing. As a result of our efforts to improve the resiliency on our farm, we are often finding ways to cut costs (grazing cattle in winter time, using cover crops and livestock to stimulate soil biology rather than buy expensive fertilizers). However, we are also trialing and refining production of higher value products that we can sell in order to improve profitability and build economic resiliency at Green Beach Farm & Food. This includes our certified organic grain, some specialty crops such as sweet clover as well as direct to consumer sales of beef, pork and chicken. Although this adds some work to the marketing versus selling strictly canola, wheat or calves through the commodity market, by selling direct to consumers we are able to set a consistent price for our products rather than hoping the markets will be in our favour when the time comes to sell.
With our heavy focus on selling direct to consumer, I sometimes wonder if we are ‘food producers’, rather than ‘farmers’ at the Green Beach. I think at one time, those two titles would have been synonymous, but perhaps not anymore. Mainstream agriculture revolves around production of commodities (crops and livestock) intended to feed the world cheaply, whereas Green Beach Farm & Food grows and markets a considerable amount of fresh, nutrient dense food direct to local consumers. I believe this is the most notable difference between our farm and many others: ‘feeding the world’ rather than feeding my family, friends and local community. If I am being honest, I am not all that concerned with feeding the world. I find it much more gratifying to have a personal connection with the people who buy our product. As an added bonus, it appears that selling food locally is more profitable than selling through the commodity market. So whatever you might call what we do at the Green Beach, our goal is to improve economic and environmental resiliency of our farm while feeding our local community the best food possible.