Friday, November 23, 2007

Supermarket Mentality

We sold our turkeys this holiday season, which means that I've had far more public exposure than in the past, which in turn means dealing with the public far more than I have in the past. This has been an interesting experience on a number of levels, and while I had a sense of what to expect—I'd been one of those unwitting consumers myself for a number of years, after all—I wasn't prepared for the sheer level of ignorance now that I've moved to the other side of the great grocery divide.

Most consumers simply don't get that a) food comes in all shapes and sizes, and b) there's not an endless, controllable supply of food. That's how far we've come as a society from our food sources.

Consumers are so used to going to a grocery store and having a grand variety to choose from that they've come not only to expect that kind of food availability but also to feel entitled to it. I can hear the irritation in some of the voices as I tell them we'll do our best to honor preferences but cannot guarantee a particular size bird. Some folks want to know exactly what I have available and are surprised to learn that the birds are still out walking around in the pasture. . . even though they're calling to order a FRESH bird! One fella wanted to know if I included the little pop-up thingies that tell you when the turkey's done. With some, I could almost hear that lightbulb going off as they made the obvious connections; they're just so used to the supermarket norm.

Our eggs come in all shapes, colors and sizes—just the way the hens lay them. And it seems our customers love them for precisely that reason. Well that and because they taste so good. I don't grade them or size them. We just keep the stained or cracked ones and sell the rest.

Getting used to all the variations in real food is an interesting journey. Milk changes based on what the animals are eating, changing from farm to farm, from season to season. Even meat changes flavor from the feed, from the breed. But factory farms remove all the variables--feed never changes, seasons don't change in the carefully controlled environments, breeds most definitely don't change, and any variation is culled from the final product. Eggs that are too small, cracked, stained, funny shaped all get pulled for distribution to various other industries lest one dozen look different from another.

Perfect homogeneity is not our goal here at our farm.


Liz said...

It's amazing how once you cross over to the other side you can't believe the ignorance you used to have! I think now about how great I used to feel when I got a "buy one get one free" deal on chicken breasts at the grocery store, but now that I've read so much about our food system I realize what those poor birds went through just so that I could get cheap meat! And how little profit went to the farmer!

Despite dealing with the public ignorance, how did your turkey sales go? How many did you raise and sell? How did you deal with the processing?

Also, do you have any regulations in Maryland concerning selling eggs? I am starting a farm up in GA which will raise pastured poultry and eggs so I'm curious about what you've learned.


julia said...

I'm embarrassed to think of how I once shopped... and I cannot imagine ever going back! You are so right, we've come to EXPECT having everything available to us at our convenience. It's so encouraging for me to stop by your post and see the example you are setting by doing things in a far more responsible, healthy way.

Christy said...

I'm also interested in hearing how turkey sales went. Did you sell all the ones you had? How did you have different weights, was it just natural variation or did you stagger the chicks so they were different ages when butchered. I'm trying to learn all I can about selling turkeys for Thanksgiving, I was amazed by how many people were at the place where we got our turkey. It seems there is a market for turkeys.

Danielle said...

Gosh Liz, what I've learned wouldn't even begin to fit in a single post. *laughing* And I'm sure I ain't done larnin' yet!

I just deleted a big chunk of response here because it was becoming unwieldy. I'll pull it out into a post.

What I will say here is that I'm always happy to share what I've learned—which often amounts to "how I screwed up, so don't do this." So feel free to ask questions!

And thank you, all for your kind comments!

Walter Jeffries said...

One of the things I love about the mixed breed / heritage chickens is all the variety of egg colors. Easter eggs every day of the year!

Danielle said...

I agree, Walter. They're so beautiful, and that's what most often takes first-time customers' breath away, as they gasp when I open the carton.