March 23, 2005 – Retreat Conclusions

We’ve only been gone less than 36 hours – but it was two full days, a night away and drive-bys of 100’s of farms – most not doing too well. Rural southeastern Iowa is not a particularly prosperous part of the U.S. It was quite jarring driving up from the south to Iowa City after two days in small towns and rural lands and seeing the difference in wealth and opportunity. What makes us value town jobs more than rural jobs? What would it take to have a person who grows your food make as much money as a person who landscapes your yard?

Yesterday was good for hunkering down and working on the farm business plan. It was raining and snowing, so we weren’t tempted to go outside. We made some great strides and are grateful for that. Today, we had a nice chat with the owner of the Bed and Breakfast whose town of 35 residents has been declared a national historic district, in whole, due to the efforts of a “newcomer” (she moved there in 1955) who made enemies for life in trying to move the town from a collection of junk cars to a place worthy of preservation and opportunity. The buildings are all built of red brick, fired from local clay by the Mormons over 100 years ago. We wondered why it was when you lived in a shithole it was so hard to flush and make something new and better? Kudos to those in the Villages of Van Buren for making something new out of a treasure of history and architecture.

Today we visted Premiere Fencing near Washington, IA – one of the biggest purveyor of fencing supplies. We then went to Red Fern Farm to pick up some chestnut trees for our silvopasture. Tom is experimenting with alternative crops in Iowa like chestnuts, heartnuts, persimmons, medlars, and others. Red Fern had 6 inches of snow overnight.

An upshot from this time away and bit of perspective is that we are now thinking that we are going to stop offering poultry for sale. The lousy return (even charging $2.00 lb) and huge risk (predation, disease, dogs, weather) along with the liability insurance cost, just doesn’t make sense for us to sell on a small scale and we are not willing to grow the thousands it may take to make it worth our time. For our small farm, it just does not work right now. This might change if there was an inspected locker close by.

It is not easy to drop this enterprise as it is a product our customers cannot easily get in the store and we are not happy with the conditions commercial broilers are raised, but we can’t do it without a reasonable return. We are going to shift our focus a bit – but more about that later, as I am now rambling.