MARCH ON THE FARM
As I sit down to start writing this month’s newsletter, half the month is already gone and none of what was left on our winter to-do list has been done. Every time we think we can get started, something else pops up and pulls us away. It also doesn’t help when you have several straight days of rain and find yourself cramming 2 or 3 days worth of work into a single day. Or when you decide you need to spend time grinding all of the corn remaining in the corn trailer so you can go get another 200 bushels before the next 2 or 3 day rain event. The last thing you want to do is take a chance on getting $1,300 of corn wet trying to get it home before the rain. Wet corn will mold and ruin; feeding moldy corn to hogs is a recipe for disaster.
It always happens that what at first glance will be a quick fix grows into something that will take days or even weeks to complete. We built our current on-farm market back in 2012 and did a make-over 5 or 6 years ago. Because of time constraints and money, when the market was first built, it didn’t have a ceiling or finished walls. Both the front door and rear door were sliding doors and the only thing in the market was several chest freezers and a checkout counter; the market area had originally been built to be the farms work shop. The only heat we had was a small propane “sunflower” style heater that was later switched out to a larger patio style heater. In the summer, the market was cooled, if you want to call it that, by a box fan and a couple ceiling fans. When you added the heat given off by 5 freezers plus the 100 degree weather outside it was nothing short of miserable.
The markets first make-over included finishing and staining the inside walls and adding a few shelves. We also replaced a few of the lids on the freezers because the hinges were broken. We hung chalk boards on the walls with the prices of the items that corresponded to the items in the freezer. A year or two later Annie had a free standing propane heater installed and last summer she had a wall mounted air conditioner installed. It won’t make goose bumps pop up on your arms but it will knock the heat down a good bit.
A couple of weeks ago we noticed the lids on several of the freezers were broken again. It’s not surprising since these are residential freezers and often the lids are dropped closed rather than being closed softly. Rather than replace the lids for a second or third time we decided to replace the freezers. We’ve ordered 2 “merchandising” freezers that have glass swinging doors. The upright freezers will allow us to better display our products and make it easier for our customers to reach the item they want. We’ve also ordered some display trays that we will use to store our products in the freezers. Jesse found a 3 door merchandising freezer in Columbia which we picked up last week and installed over the weekend. The unit is 230 volt so our electrician will be coming out Saturday to rewire the plug. The display trays and the two 2 door freezers were delivered this week.
Of course we just can’t replace the freezers without doing additional upgrades, that would be unheard of around here and what better time to do these upgrades than spring when you’re already running wide open. Last week we enclosed the front entrance to the market. We installed an exterior door and poured a concrete stoop to make it easier to get into and out of the market. We still have a hand rail to build and the bottom of the existing sliding door to cut. Our plans are to close the large sliding door when the market is closed and slide it open when the market is open. Leaving the existing sliding door in place will keep the original look of the barn.
Building the new entrance door meant that we would need to stain the new wall. Since the barn hasn’t been stained since 2012, we now have to stain the rest of the barn so it all matches; see where this is going? The barn is sided with untreated, rough cut, 1 by’s. Some of these boards have begun to rot at the bottom and need to be replaced. Jesse and I decided the best way to handle this is to remove the old boards and replace them with a 3’ tall sheet of tin similar to a chair rail in a house. Once the tin is installed we will install an aluminum drip edge where the tin meets the existing wood and stain the rest of the barn. See what I mean, a 2 day project turns into a project that will take additional days to weeks depending on the weather and the other chores and breakdowns we will have.
We’ve also decided that it’s time to change up some of the other things in the market and possibly add a few new products. We are discussing several new items but have 2 main criteria, the products must be high quality, and they must be local. Some of the items we are considering is locally produced frozen pastas, pizza crusts, and sauces, as well as locally produced grits, and condiments. We’re planning to visit the commercial kitchen in Walterboro to see if some of the local producers can supply us with some of their products and have a friend that grinds yellow grits and corn meal. We’ve already begun talking with the pasta producer and are discussing the items we want to inventory. The family will be meeting to discuss these products in the next week or so.
One comment that we hear often is that people want high quality meat products but can’t afford to pay the price of locally produced, pastured, meats; I addressed why small producers products can’t compete with the large corporations on a Facebook post recently. This is the same thing we heard from several of our chef customers several years ago. The chefs we deal with purchase our products and feature them at the center of their plate, but all of these chefs also buy meat from the large purveyors like US Food and Sysco. These products are used to make in-house sausages or some of their other, less expensive, plates. They started asking us if we could supply them with a higher quality product than they were currently getting from these purveyors, at a reasonable price. Being pasture raised wasn’t a concern, they would accept conventionally raised, but wanted a higher quality. We found out the items they were looking for, started searching for sources, and provided prices and samples. Before we took any orders, we started a separate company we called Palmetto Pork and Poultry to insure there was no confusion about what we raised on our farm and the conventionally raised products we sold through Palmetto Pork and Poultry. We’ve been selling these restaurants our Palmetto Pork and Poultry products now for 7 or 8 years and often hear how much better they are then what they were getting.
We have decided to begin selling our Palmetto Pork and Poultry products here at the farm’s store and on our website. We will start out with just a few items and eventually hope to begin stocking more. To begin with we will stock 8 oz boneless skinless chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, grass-fed, grain finished rib eyes, New York strips, and ground beef. These are some of the same products we sell weekly to several Low Country restaurants and are higher quality than you will find in most grocery stores. As expected, prices will be higher than in the grocery store but considerably less than our Keegan-Filion Farm pastured products. Everyone wants good quality but not everyone is concerned with pasture raised or 100% grass-fed; this provides them an option. The Palmetto products will be available for purchase here at the farm, through Pastured Pantry home delivery, and for Port Royal Farmers Market pre-order. We will not bring these items to the Port Royal market for “out of the cooler” sales.
There are several other things happening here at the farm during this time of year. In late February we had 2 litters of pigs born from 2 of our young gilts and our 2 young boars. The litters were small with one having just 5 pigs and the other having 6. This often happens with young gilts so we aren’t too concerned, but over the next several months we have groups of 3 to 5 sows that will be due to farrow every month and will give us a better idea of how our boars are performing. We’re hoping to get back to having litters of 12 or more with a weaning average above 10 pigs per litter.
We had planned to begin our sow pen project in late February or early March. Due to the work we’ve done in the market, this project is being put off for awhile. We’ll probably start it about the time the temps get to around 100 with humidity around 95%; seems totally logical to me.
All of our pastures have been limed. Two of the pastures, that were planted in winter grazing, have been fertilized and won’t need any attention except for early season mowing, until June, when we will put out an additional 100lbs of nitrogen an acre to help the grass growing. The remaining 3 fields will get the required amount of fertilizer sometime in early to mid April. Before putting out fertilizer, we want to make sure the grass has come out of dormancy and is ready to begin taking up nutrients. In July, we will add an additional 100lbs of nitrogen to these fields to increase grass production as well. Nitrogen only stays with the plant for 30 to 45 days. We will aid our plants fertility by making monthly spraying of a biological. At this time we aren’t sure which one we will use since there are several on the market now. One that has us looking closely at it is Monty’s and their hay making program. Though we don’t cut and bale hay anymore, hay is nothing more than grass, so a program that helps with hay growth will work with grass growth in a pasture.
I guess it’s time to give you a Bogo update. Bogo, the orphaned calf, is now about 8 weeks old and is getting ready to be weaned. She is still living in the farrowing house but hunter has been walking her to an old turkey field and letting her loose to graze on the sour weed and other early season grasses. Bogo is super sweet and enjoys attention from people. She will readily come running when called and loves to be petted; she’s like a dog. In a month or so, when we are sure she is capable of taking care of herself, we will move her out to one of our fields and turn her in with the other cows. Hopefully, she will be accepted quickly and become one of the herd. It looks like Bogo has won the hearts of everyone here on the farm and will spend the rest of her days in our field and, hopefully, producing yearly calves that are as sweet and easy to be around as she is. If you come to the market, and Bogo is out, call her and give her a pet.
That’s all we have for you this month. We hope that you enjoy the spring weather and get to make it out to one of the local farmers markets; better yet, drive out to the farm and visit our market. Let Pastured Pantry deliver our meat directly to your door giving you more time to get out and enjoy life. Remember, if you’re not going to be home, just leave a cooler large enough to hold your order on your porch.
Annie, Marc, Amy, & Jesse