Wrong Direction Farm

Urban Transplants

At my Queens/Flushing Meadows Lake delivery today I was surprised when I found these farm-breed ducks in among a large group of mallards.

Being New York, the Mallards were resentful of the way the entitled Pekin and Swedish ducks were rapidly contributing to the gentrification of their lake and changing the character of their neighborhood.

Freedom?

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free

Roger Miller via Kris Kristofferson

This “freedom” line from Me and Bobby McGee is brilliant because it is challenging to parse, and as the song progresses it becomes clear that the freedom is at least partially ironic.

All our freedoms come with their own asterisks and footnotes.

I am embracing a new freedom of sorts.  As of the end of this December I’ll be leaving the job that has supported our family and funded our farm as we’ve built the farm over the last eight years.  I’ve watched annual layoffs over the past years sweep closer and closer to me, and I decided that this would be a good time to make my exit.  I could have avoided this outcome by applying for a new job within the company, but I realized I’m at the point where I couldn’t do both jobs anymore.  And honestly, I love the farm and it would do better with more attention.  The other job was just a job.

I couldn’t have started the farm without having another job to bankroll it.  I am amazed at how expensive it is to start a farm, even a relatively low-tech one like ours.  But I’m relieved to be able to focus on something I really care about.  It is freedom, and I have everything to lose.

The farm breaks even on its current sales, but it isn’t able to pay us for our labor.  It also isn’t paying for all the infrastructure we keep adding to support our growth.  At the same time, the farm has become so busy and complicated that Rachel and I need to be able to focus on it full time (OK, more than full time) if we are going to push it to the next level where it can fund its own growth and pay us.  I expect that things will be frighteningly tight for the next few years, but we’re at the point where we either need to force the farm to carry its weight or to pack it up and just be “lifestyle farmers” with a small herd of cattle to eat the grass and a few pigs and chickens for the homestead.

To make the farm successful, we’ll need to continue to develop and change our conception of what Wrong Direction Farm is.  We need to make our daily work more efficient so we can accomplish our tasks while still creating enough time to enjoy each other as a family.  We need to study our costs and our sales to understand what is working and what isn’t.  We need to strengthen our partnerships with other farmers.  We need to listen to our customers to find out what they value in our farm, at a time where quasi-pasture raised eggs and kinda-grassfed beef are becoming ubiquitously available in supermarkets and delivery boxes.

The cattle don’t have any comment.  Just looking at how far we’ve come gives me some ground for hope.  There are fifty five cattle out there this winter.  Our first winter we had four dairy steers.

I’ll admit to being scared.  We have a few months of severance to carry us for a bit, but then everything depends on our being able to accomplish this tremendous task.  I’m glad to have had the opportunity to carry the dream this far, and I’m going to give the next challenge my best shot.

Snow Birds

The thermometer was at -2 degrees as the sun came up, and we were glad we pushed hard the day before to get the laying hens into their winter housing.  Chickens are unperturbed by cold weather, so long as they can be dry and find shelter from the wind.  Each year they appear startled by the first snow, but soon they discover that snow is edible and after that first indecisive day they seem to accept and to appreciate it.

A group of hens exploring the lane outside the hoophouse.
Old thistle stalks make good perches.
Everybody stops back inside from time to time to fill up at the feeders.
Even the Cornish chickens are foraging in the weeds.

Snow Delay: Friday Morning Deliveries

We have snowy conditions at the farm and I don’t think I can safely get out of here for tomorrow morning’s deliveries.  It looks like we have snow here and sleet in our destination area in NJ.  I am going to need to postpone Friday’s morning deliveries until Sunday morning.  All the Friday deliveries from noon onward are still on track, and so are all the Saturday deliveries.

I am setting the following revised schedule for deliveries:

  • Red Bank – Sunday 9AM – 9:50AM
  • Matawan – Sunday 10:30AM – 11:15AM
  • Westfield – Sunday 12 Noon – 12:50PM

If these times don’t work for you, let me know and I’ll try to figure out an alternative.  If you’d rather switch to one of our other locations to pick up your order, let me know and I can switch things around.

(By the way, the “Order Packed” emails will still list the normal schedule.  I can’t change the email templates without modifying all the other schedules.)

Thanks for understanding.

Thanksgiving Turkeys Doorstep Delivery Update

We moved next week’s Doorstep Delivery date to Tuesday to ensure that everyone gets their Thanksgiving turkeys delivered on time.

Note that we have a coupon code THANKS18 for $5 off of any turkey ordered for Doorstep Delivery.  Orders need to be placed by the 11:59PM Sunday.  We’ll get everything to the Fedex hub by Monday night and then they will deliver all packages on Tuesday.

We freeze our turkeys at -10° F to guarantee high quality and we ship them frozen with an insulated line and an ice pack.   Turkeys will arrive frozen or slightly thawed.  They are easily defrosted the rest of the way by wrapping the turkey in a bag (insurance in case the original bag has some pinholes), and then soaking in a cool water bath.  You can use a deep sink, a cooler, or even a bathtub.  Allow 30 minutes per pound, and then store the turkey in the fridge or in a cooler with ice packs until you are ready to roast it.

Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!

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Pallet of turkeys at the commercial frozen foods warehouse where we rent space.

 

Afternoon View

I stopped the tractor on this crisp and windy afternoon to photograph a bit of the beauty in our pastures.

afternoon view

 

Turkey Everywhere

After a successful season of raising turkeys, we have frozen turkeys everywhere.  The small walk-in freezer is crammed with them, on the shelves and in the aisle stacked right up to the ceiling.  I have another pallet of turkeys at a commercial cold storage facility in Albany.  The rest is stored in a couple of chest freezers we’re using for overflow capacity.  At this point, I can’t wait for Thanksgiving to unload them and to finally have room to find items in the freezers without having to unpack towering stacks of boxes to get to anything.

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A pallet of Thanksgiving turkeys on the loading dock at the cold storage facility.

 

The vast majority of whole turkeys in the United States are cooked for Thanksgiving, but if we look at the total turkey meat consumed in the country we find that it is primarily eaten as ground turkey.   One of the reasons for getting our 20-C license was to grind turkey, so that we could offer commonly used turkey products at a steady pace and not just in one big hectic burst at Thanksgiving.  Our first batch of ground turkey was packed this week, and is listed on our store.  We also have drumsticks, wings, backs and soup parts, hearts, and livers.

Ground Turkey

Speaking of hectic bursts at Thanksgiving, note that whole turkey orders are filling up.  We still have a good number left, but orders are coming in more quickly as we approach the holiday.  If you want a turkey, it would be best to place your order soon, even if your next delivery is a few weeks out.  If you place your order early, you can continue to update it until the ordering window closes, but as long as you’ve placed your order you can be assured that your turkey is guaranteed.  If you wait until the last minute we can’t promise we’ll have turkeys.

Someone asked me at last week’s delivery if the turkeys were any good, and I couldn’t answer because we haven’t had a chance to eat a whole turkey from this year’s batch yet.  But we did get the following comment from a local customer who ordered a pair of turkeys last week, so take this for what it’s worth:

FANTASTIC!  That is how I will describe the Wrong Direction Farm’s Turkeys!!!  Thank you so much for helping our family celebrate Thanksgiving, a month early!!!

Grazing in the Woods

Slowly over the last two years we’ve worked on fencing in the woods and then managing it as a silvopasture (meaning wooded pasture).  Lots of good background info on the silvopasturing concept can be found by reading some of Brett Chedzoy’s work here.

I’m convinced of the merits of managing cattle and goats in woods, so long as they are actually managed and not just allowed to roam freely for months.  What looks to the casual observer like natural forested areas in our region are often pretty biologically skewed forests, as most of our woodlands have suffered from invasive plants and insects and from too much “best first” logging taking the best trees and leaving the poor ones behind.  Managed grazing combined with some judicious thinning have the ability to increase biological activity in the canopy, on the ground, and in the soil.  We know we can increase carbon capture, nitrogen fixation, and oxygen generation all while growing beef and allowing us to harvest timber.

So while I stated that I’m sold on the idea, progress is slow.  This is one of those projects that can be done with money or it can be done with sweat.  It costs a fortune to hire a good logger who can do the kind of careful logging I require.  Most loggers have a financial incentive to maximize their profits on the wood they remove, not an incentive to leave the most value in the woods.  To hire a conservation forrester like that requires an investment of thousands of dollars per acre.  So I’m just chipping away as I get the time (which means not very often).  It is satisfying to see what we can accomplish with a small tractor and chainsaw, and of course, with a lot of help from the cattle.

 

Silvopasture 2017

Here is one area last September.  Trees are rather sparse because this was an ash forest until the emerald ash borer started killing all the trees in 2010.  I trimmed a few scraggly trees and pushed the honeysuckle and buckthorns into brush piles.  The cattle ate the leaves off the branches as I cut them down.  Waste not, want not.

SIlvopasture 2018

The same area this week, 13 months later.  I fed bales of hay in this area last year so the ground got lots of tramping, manure, and seeds from the hay.

Silvopasture Clover

This is what the ground looks like in places where the cattle were eating the hay bales.  Clover everywhere!  Other areas are a bit brushy, but I think the cattle can keep the brush regrowth under control.

 

Great Skies

This week has featured fantastic sunsets with all the rainy afternoons followed by evening sun. We were out doing the poultry chores when we saw a four banded rainbow Wednesday just before sunset. Three of the rainbows were bunched together with a fourth and fainter bow some distance away. I’m not sure if that would count as a quadruple rainbow or two doubles, but it was something none of us had previously seen. Sorry, no photos, we were too busy looking…

I did take pictures of the turkeys moments later. The light made some of them golden.

Monarch Caterpillars

The pastures are full of monarch caterpillars, chowing down on the milkweed leaves. One of the many virtues of pasture-based agriculture is that with proper grazing management, there is plenty of food for the livestock (in this field, cattle and turkeys) and for all the insects. We aren’t fighting a war against bugs, we’re just living alongside them. And because of that inclusiveness, the pastures continue to become more diverse and more productive.