Farmers need more than your "support"

Farmers are enjoying a little bit of a renaissance right now.

It's considered romantic, and even a little glamorous to grow food for your community. Part of this is due to how many small farmers (like myself) present ourselves to the world. We work every single day, around the clock, to bring you food that we're proud of. In order to get people excited about it, we post really beautiful photos of the farming process. 

And it works. 

People are flocking to farming facebook and instagram pages to soak in the virtual farming experience and feed their souls through imagery. 

Let me be very clear. 

I am so thankful for every single follower we have on the world wide web. Many of you are our customers and judiciously share our content across your own social channels to help bring awareness to what we are doing. This kind of relationship is the most valuable relationship we can have with our community. 

Those of you who aren't local are just as important. Every time you comment or share you're keeping the conversation going. Additionally, if you're following us I'm willing to bet you're also following your own local farms. And I hope you're supporting them with your dollars. 

Small farms cannot exist without communities rallying behind them. 

While I don't officially speak for all farmers I feel pretty good about saying this in the broad sense. 

Farmers need more than your "support." 

A few months ago Matthew and I were invited to be part of Cochon555 again. You may recall my excitement last year when we were asked to provide a pig for the culinary competition. If you're not familiar with Cochon555 here's some verbiage I took from their website: 

Created in 2008 in response to the lack of education around heritage breed pigs, Cochon555 is a nose-to-tail culinary event dedicated to supporting family farmers and educating buyers about the agricultural importance of eating heritage breed pigs...At all events, we source only the highest quality ingredients and products...If you like tasty pig, our goal is to buy the "best breeds" from farmers doing it the "right way".

The epic culinary tour starts in New York City in late-January and culminates with the finale, Grand Cochon September 30th in Chicago, marking our first decade...Bottom line, we are educating the nation one bite at a time and creating a safer food future to be shared with our children. Source.

In short, Cochon555 is 5 chefs, paired with 5 farmers (who provide 5 heritage breed pigs), and 5 wines.

Before I became a farmer I was obsessed with chefs (truth be told, I still am). I love cooking shows like Top Chef and I have always bent over backwards to fulfill a restaurant order for a chef.

Being part of Cochon555 was huge for me (Matthew didn't really care but he never turns down an opportunity to go hang out in the big city). We were so excited to be a part of this event that we caved when they asked us to come down on our price of $4.25/lb to $4.00/lb. This was a small price to pay for the incredible marketing opportunity Cochon555 would be for us.

Except, it wasn't. 

The event was fun, yes. Cochon555 is a feast in every sense of the word. The plates the chefs put out are incredible, the wine is flowing freely, their are a lot of side exhibits showcasing other bites (olives, cheese, etc.) and there is a lot of music and laughter. 

At the end of the evening they brought the "punch kings" up on stage. These were the bartenders associated with each restaurant that were competing for best mixed drink. They presented each of them in individual fashion and then announced the winner. The same thing happened for the sommeliers. They brought them all up on stage, introduced them, and then announced the winner. And then they called the chefs up to the stage. Same deal. Introduced them and then announced the winner. 

You might be asking yourself, where are the farmers in all of this? 

I asked myself the same question. 

If this is an event about honoring the farmers wouldn't it make sense to bring them up on stage? I mean, I get it, we're usually a pretty dirty bunch, except we weren't that night. Every single one of us farmers was all cleaned up and feeling very proud of the work we do.

You can only imagine how my heart sunk when they asked the farmers to raise their hands in the crowd. 

I felt like an idiot putting my hand in the air among 300 (500?) other people where no one except the people on either side of me saw me raise it. 

Sure doesn't feel like a "know your farmer" kind of moment. 

I went home after Cochon555 feeling a little deflated and a little bamboozled. Later when I was doing our books I calculated that the slaughtering we had to do for the competition, which included a full scald of our pig so that the skin was intact, was more expensive than our normal slaughter so we actually lost money on our pig. 

Sad Face. 

Fast forward to this year. Cochon555 again reached out to us. Would we like to provide a pig? I said yes, sure, but we charge $6.00/lb. They asked if we could come down in price. 

No, I said. In fact, here's what I specifically said: 

"Unfortunately, if we come down on that price that puts us into the territory where we're donating our time and energy to farming, which, as I'm sure you know, farmers are notorious for, to their detriment." 

We didn't hear anything back. When I finally followed up asking for confirmation they confirmed that yes, they had found another farmer, only because of cost reasons. 

Here is an organization, who touts themselves as supporting the family farming of heritage breed pigs, who is also unwilling to pay what a family farm raising heritage breed pigs is saying it costs them to raise an animal on pasture. 

Please. 

Do not tell me you support small farmers and then nickel and dime them all the way to the bank. 

When you see us at a Farmer's Market and you think our product is amazing, don't negotiate with us. We have AGONIZED over how we price our products. We lose sleep over our pricing models. We are literally working our bodies into the ground to bring you food we believe in. 

NO ONE IS GETTING RICH. 

I realize I am preaching to the choir when I say this to the people who read my blog but it's worth repeating.

If you want to actually support small farmers than you have to do more than just write a fancy statement on your website or put a bumper sticker on your car. 

Farms, despite what we may project on instagram or facebook, do not run off of rainbows and dreams. We require real money to attempt to make a living wage. Farmer's Market Season is upon us all around the country. Many farms are waking up from a sleepy winter and are filled with excitement and anticipation at what 2018 may bring (farmers, I am convinced, are hopeless optimists). 

This year, if you don't already make it a weekly (or monthly) practice, could be the year that you shop at a farmer's market instead of a grocery store. Local Harvest has a great tool to help you find the market closest to you >

We will be at Tumwater Farmer's Market on Opening Day, April 18th and at Puyallup Farmer's Market on Opening Day, April 21. We hope to see you there. 

Final Thoughts: 

I am not mad at Cochon555. I still think it's an amazing event. The amount of love and passion the chefs put into their dishes was inspiring on so many levels for me. The chef we were paired with, Derek Ronspies of Le Petit Cochon in Freemont is one of the most talented individuals we have ever met. Matthew and I dream about the food we've eaten at his restaurant (which I should note, he buys directly from local farmers). The music and atmosphere at Cochon555 is absolutely top-notch. As an event, it's very very well done. As an event that followed through on a promise to this farmer, it fell a little short.