Choosing a Farmer to Feed Your Family: 10 Questions to Ask
February 22, 2023
For a Full-Color Printable PDF of the questions, click here or the image below. For a Text-Only Printable PDF, click here. For the full guide (and our answers to the questions!), scroll down. :)
Choosing a Farmer to Feed Your Family: 10 Questions to Ask
The 10 Questions:
- Do you allow customers to visit your farm?
- Do you produce the products that you sell? (If not, where are they coming from?)
- What is the goal/mission of your farm?
- What kind of lives do your animals lead?
- People are now saying, “You are what your food ate.” So, what do your animals eat?
- Where and how do you harvest your animals? (What factors are most important to you when making decisions about harvesting?)
- How do your farming practices help the environment?
- How do you make it easy for customers to buy from you?
- What factors influence your farm's pricing?
- If I have additional questions, who can I ask?
And Our Answers!
1. Do you allow customers to visit your farm?
Absolutely yes! We want anyone who supports our farm to be able to come here and see how we're raising the animals, see how we're taking care of them, and see how we're taking care of the land. Because that's why you support us: for that extra layer of trust and accountability and first-hand knowledge that these animals are being raised humanely and that it's a high-quality product you're getting, instead of just flying blind at the supermarket.
2. Do you produce the products you sell? (If not, where are they coming from?)
We raise 100% of our meats on our farm (forested pork, grass-fed beef, pastured chicken, and pastured turkey). We also partner with local farms that produce their products with the same integrity and quality we expect from ours. We are excited that we are able to offer their products to our farm friends, and we stay fully transparent about which products are produced elsewhere by saying so, and listing where it is coming from, on the product page.
3. What is the goal/mission of your farm?
We want people to see and taste the difference of pasture-based farming. What we mean by that is, come to our farm and see the effect our practices have on the animals and on the land. Take home our products, and see and taste the difference being pasture-raised makes in every bite of your food. We want to advance the cause of regenerative agriculture, and we do this, in part, by giving people the opportunity to experience the difference this type of agriculture makes on the farm and on your plate.
4. What kind of lives do your animals lead?
We’re a pasture-based farm, which means our animals spend their lives entirely outdoors on pasture. Our pigs also spend the last third of their lives in the forest (that's why it's called "forested" pork). One thing that's a little different about our farm is the animals are rotated frequently to fresh pasture, instead of grazing on one field continuously. This is called managed grazing, and it makes for healthy animals, healthy land, and healthy meat. Our animals lead stress-free lives in settings that support their instincts and encourage natural behaviors such as rooting in brambles (pigs), pecking at bugs (chickens & turkeys), and munching peacefully on fresh grass (cows).
5. People are now saying, “You are what your food ate.” So, what do your animals eat?
Pigs - Pigs are omnivores, which means their bodies obtain energy and nutrients from both plant & animal sources, including grains. We often see them foraging for earthworms and grubs, and eating grasses and plants. In the fall, they often treat themselves to acorns, walnuts, and hickory nuts in the forest. We also feed our pigs a natural, sustainable diet of discarded apples from local orchards (August to April), pumpkins in the fall, and non-GMO feed that we grind ourselves using locally- and regionally-sourced corn and barley (grown by our neighbors!), peanuts* and soy**, and high-quality minerals. (Peanut- and soy-sensitive friends, more info for you below.)
Cows - Cows are ruminants, which means their bodies obtain energy and nutrients from fibrous plants by fermenting them in a specialized stomach called a rumen prior to digestion. Cows' bodies aren't well-suited to digest large amounts of grain. We are proud that our cattle are 100% grass-finished and raised entirely on pasture. We purchase cattle, so although we cannot control what they eat prior to coming to our farm, we do graze all cattle for a year at minimum before harvesting. This means that we never feed any supplemental grain to our cattle; they are only fed pesticide-free grass and hay (dried grass) from the moment we receive them on our farm to the day their meat is harvested.
Poultry - Chickens and turkeys are omnivores, which means their bodies obtain energy and nutrients from both plant & animal sources, including grains. They spend their lives directly on pesticide-free pasture, pecking on grass and weeds and eating worms and bugs. We also provide our chickens and turkeys with non-GMO feed that includes corn, barley, soy**, fishmeal, and high-quality minerals. (Soy-sensitive friends, more info for you below.)
* Peanuts in animal feed are processed by the animal's liver to the point where in most cases it will not negatively affect the person who eats the animal's meat, and our pork does not come into contact with any peanuts at processing. We have never heard of someone having an issue eating our pork even with a peanut allergy, but please consult with your doctor if you have concerns about your unique situation. (And if you have additional questions for us, please ask!)
** Soy in animal feed is processed by the animal's liver to the point where in most cases it will not negatively affect the person who eats the animal's meat. In addition, soy-free animal feed is very expensive. We priced it out, looked at the research (source), and decided that it was unreasonable and unnecessary to double the cost of our pork and poultry for soy-free feed. (On a personal note, our family is especially aware about soy content in food because we choose to maintain a mostly soy-free diet.) If you have concerns about your unique situation, please consult with your doctor. And if you have additional questions for us, please ask!
6. Where and how do you harvest your animals? (What factors are most important to you when making decisions about harvesting?)
Harvesting animals for meat is a sensitive topic in food & on social media today. We believe in the science of meat-eating, the ethics of humane animal rearing and the case for regenerative farming practices including livestock for meat. Transparency in agriculture is incredibly needed today, and we are open about what we believe is the right way to harvest (slaughter, butcher) animals for food.
Here is what we do:
Chicken & Turkey - We process most of our poultry humanely by hand on our farm. The remainder are processed by Eco-Friendly Foods in Moneta, VA. Episode 5 of the Green Farm Life Show shows what a poultry butcher day looks like on our farm and demonstrates our commitment to full transparency on our farm. (*Please note: This episode has to do with harvesting animals and includes scenes of animal butchering & blood.)
Pork & Beef - Our pork and beef are processed by T&E Meats in Harrisonburg, VA, and Rising Spring Meat Company in Spring Mills, PA. Both are approved for humane slaughter by Animal Welfare Approved (AWA), which means they are certified as humane slaughter facilities.
Other factors that are important to us when choosing a slaughter facility are that it is USDA inspected, cares about the presentation of the product, uses MSG-free spice blends for sausages, and provides nitrate-free curing for bacon and ham.
7. How do your farming practices help the environment?
The way we farm focuses a great deal on plant and soil health. It’s a cycle of harvest (in this case, the harvesting of grass by grazing animals), disturbance (the animals’ grazing disturbs vegetation and stimulates new plant growth), rest (the animals are moved to a new area to allow the plants to recover), regeneration (in the absence of disturbance, the grasses and plants regrow to maturity), and eventually back to harvest (animals return to graze after the grasses are fully mature).
This cycle promotes healthy topsoil, which has a number of benefits. For example, healthy soil holds moisture, prevents runoff and erosion, sequesters carbon, hydrates and feeds plants & beneficial microbes, and encourages native species and biodiversity.
In addition to grazing, animals play an important and beneficial role in plant and soil health when managed responsibly on pasture. For example, our animals provide natural fertilizer as they pass over the land. And once our pigs have cleared a patch of land by foraging for vegetation and turning up the soil looking for grubs, we scatter seeds before we move them. As they continue rooting in the dirt looking for treats, they unknowingly plant seeds for the new grasses they will return to eat in 6-9 months!
8. How do you make it easy for customers to buy from you?
We want every customer experience with us to be excellent, and as a busy family we know convenience is a huge part of that. Some of the things our customers say make it easy to shop with us are our simple online ordering system, our dependable variety of in-stock individual cuts, easy options for pick-up and delivery, and convenient order and delivery reminders.
9. What factors influence your farm's pricing?
We work hard to balance the high value that folks are getting from our products, the investments required on our part to produce those products, and the real-world decisions our customers have to make every day with their wallets. (We get it - we're making those decisions every day, too!) Here are a few factors that affect our pricing:
- Our commitment to GMO-free feed vs. modified feeds increases our farm's feed costs - and we believe it's worth it for the health of the families we serve (including ours!).
- Our commitment to the health of the animals, and the taste and quality of the meat we produce, means we spend around $50,000/year on high-quality minerals for our animals (also worth it).
- The fact that we're a small farm means that only smaller, independent USDA processing facilities are available to us for meat processing—at a cost per animal nearly 20 times what a large conglomerate would pay to process the same animal at their in-house processing plant (unbelievable but true).
- We also keep our expenses streamlined by finding alternatives to expenses that aren't worth it - for example, instead of running to purchase industry farm equipment and gear at full market prices, we innovate & invent our own low-cost versions tailored specifically for animals being raised on pasture (Pig Feeder & Waterers, Movable Poultry Shelters, Sea Container Brooders...the list goes on). This cuts our equipment expenses in half, and every dollar saved makes a positive difference for us and for our customers' wallets.
Simply put, it's important to us to keep the quality high AND the investment doable for our customers. These are things we pay a lot of attention to and take very seriously, for sure.
10. If I have additional questions, who can I ask?
Laura! The best way to reach her is by email - email@example.com. Second best is by phone - (540) 333-1867.