I cannot tell you how many times in the last month I have typed the phrase, "I'm sorry for the delay."
Some background information. On May 6th, my grandma (Martha Jackson, my mom's mom) passed away after a long battle with some very aggressive melanoma. On May 20th, my grandpa (Larry Jackson, my mom's step-dad who lost his wife exactly two weeks prior) was in a severe motorcycle accident and has since been in critical condition in the ICU at St. Vincent in Toledo. To say this has been a rough month for my family does not even begin to cut it.
I am often behind on my emails. I am often running around like a crazy person. I am often trying to make sure that my fiancé, my dad, and my brother have everything they need so they can get their job's done. I am often trying to make sure all of the billing is still getting done while we are short a member of our team. I am often thinking about 12 things and working on at least 3 things and then wondering why I feel scatterbrained.
I have a lot on my plate. All of us do. But through this trying time, I have also found just how strong the partnership is between all those involved in local food.
The "partnership" is a phrase I have heard several times throughout the course of this difficult month. While trying to juggle so many things, mistakes have happened. But every mistake has been fixed thanks to the partnership. The partnership has been helpful and encouraging in every way. So what is the partnership?
When I didn't go on the Indianapolis delivery route because I was at my grandma's funeral and the Green BEAN order of 35 boxes accidentally got dropped off at Seven Sons in Roanoke, I had no idea how I was going to fix the problem without having my employees drive back to Roanoke and then back to Indy again. I called Brooks with Seven Sons and he said he could handle it. He sorted the Green BEAN order that was sitting at their place and talked to Piazza Produce to get them to deliver it to Green BEAN for us. I was able to turn off my phone for the funeral and know that because of the work and communication of Seven Sons, Piazza Produce, and Green BEAN, Green BEAN would still get their order for the week.
When I talked to the guys from Seven Sons and Piazza Produce, I thanked them so much for handling the situation for me while I was hours away and with my family. Both of them had nearly identical responses. "It wasn't a problem at all. That's what the partnership is for. We help each other any way we can." That is the partnership.
The partnership goes beyond helping each other when possible. I see the true sincerity of the partnership in nearly every work email I receive. Just in the last hour I have received these two emails from great customers who I am thankful to call friends.
Even better than the emails are when I get to see my customers on the Fort Wayne and Indianapolis route. Most ask me about my grandpa before they even look at their order. Hattie, the pastry chef at Vida, asked if she could give me chocolate because chocolate can make even the worst days a little better. (She didn't just give me chocolate either, she loaded up a whole to-go container full of dessert. Totally spoiled me.) Thomas at Union 50 seemed as tore up about my grandpa as I did. Casey at Livery wouldn't even let me ask him about his next order before I told him about my grandpa's condition.
This is what the partnership is about. These aren't just people I work with and correspond with. They are people who sincerely care about me and my family.
Maybe my coping mechanism is to throw myself into my work and keep myself busy. However, because of the people in my partnership, I feel it is a healthy coping mechanism. I stay busy while still getting to talk about the hardships my family is facing, so I don't ignore the problem.
My dad, my brother, my fiancé, and myself have been working crazy hours to keep everything running the past few weeks and none of it would be possible without the partnership we have with every company we work with. I could write a whole separate blog post about how extremely proud I am of Dad, Evan, and Ed as they have put in countless hours to make sure everything gets done. Even throughout the craziness, the four of us have found numerous occasions to smile and countless moments of pride and camaraderie as we have accomplished more than we all thought we would be capable of.
I am so thankful to be a part of this partnership and to work with so many genuine individuals and companies. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for all of your support and thank you for being our partners.
I've often times been accused of being anti-modern agriculture, which I don't believe is the case. I believe we need more farmers and farmers deserve to be compensated better. Therefore, I believe supporters of modern agriculture are actually anti-farmer.
I believe that by any socioeconomic indicator you choose, the consolidation of agriculture and farms has not been good for rural America. I've been accused of "not looking at the facts." I have a degree in Economics from Purdue University and there is nothing I love more than to look at facts and figures. I believe the article I have listed at the bottom of this page lays out the true facts on what consolidation of rural America has done to our rural communities. We must demand that food, fiber, and fuel policy takes into account the fact that loss of family farms is negative to rural development. Not understanding this concept is the same as re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
The world is in a surplus commodity situation. We’ve always been over-producing calories. The whole world does not need to eat (or even have the possibility of having available) 200 pounds of red meat and poultry per person per year. We say we need to increase production in order to "feed the world" but is that really the case? Agriculture used to feed people. Then it fed animals. Now it feeds cars. If we flipped the food pyramid upside down, we’d have the food subsidy pyramid. We’ve got exactly what our policy predicted: a surplus of corn and soybeans and not enough items to create a healthy diet for the globe long-term.
We have a chance next year with the Farm Bill to go in a different direction. A direction that no longer perpetuates the rural degradation and decimation with the long standing policy of agriculture consolidation. Let's address market access at all sectors: contract, commodity, processing, and retail. We have a monopolistic- and/or oligopolistic-controlled industry. Food is not a product that can or should be in the hands of just a few large players. Our forefathers understood that. Let's enforce the regulations that are on the books. USDA and other enforcement agencies have no problem enforcing regulations that make it harder for the small players in the industry. Let's address the regulatory challenges that cripple the smallest players in agriculture. Let's address the health consequences associated with a subsidized food supply based on cans and bags of refined carbohydrates and hydrogenated oils. Let's address the inequity in most subsidies going to the richest and wealthiest. Let's turn the tide of preferential treatment on food labeling from the multinationals to the smallest players. Let's turn the tide of preferential treatment that favors multinationals and foreigners and give that preferential treatment to the American producers. The American consumers and taxpayers are ready for change in Rural America. We all eat. We all have a stake in a sane and reasonable food supply that brings about vibrant rural communities.
Farmer, Owner, Advocacy Worker
"A Wall Street Journal analysis shows that since the 1990s, sparsely populated counties have replaced large cities as America’s most troubled areas by key measures of socioeconomic well-being—a decline that’s accelerating." Opening paragraph of Rural America is the New 'Inner City'.
"The future we have been sold doesn’t work. Applying the principles of the factory floor to the natural world just doesn’t work. Farming is more than a business. Food is more than a commodity. Land is more than a mineral resource. Despite the growing scale of the problem, no major mainstream politician has taken farming or food seriously for decades. With the presidential campaign over and a president in the White House whom rural Kentuckians helped elect, the new political establishment might want to think about this carefully. Suddenly, rural America matters. It matters for the whole world." Excerpt from An English Sheep Farmer's View of Rural America.
I'm back with another restaurant-worthy recipe! This one is brought to you by Chef Tyler Herald, Executive Chef of Patachou, Inc. I often see Chef Tyler at Public Greens in Broad Ripple on Wednesdays, but he runs the show in all of the Patachou brand kitchens. The following bio is an excerpt from the Taste of the NFL's write up on Tyler:
"Chef Tyler Herald came by his culinary career honestly: when he was 14 years old, his mother bought a restaurant. She was a single mom and had to work long hours. "If I wanted to eat, I had to learn to cook" he jokes. While Chef Herald's culinary style has evolved, he stays true to one philosophy: Keep it simple, and use the freshest and best quality ingredients.
This edict continues to guide Chef Herald's work in his role as Executive Chef for Patachou, Inc. He is responsible for menu development and all aspects of kitchen management for all Cafe Patachou, Petite Chou, Napolese, Gelo, and Public Greens locations, in addition to Patachou Catering. He is committed to developing and serving food that appeals to everyone, but that also broadens the public's palette a bit as well. He is passionate about the concept of farm to table cooking, and works closely with local farmers to ensure that Patachou, Inc. utilizes local, organic produce whenever possible. He is especially proud of the fact that in the summers, the produce featured at Napolese Pizzeria is almost entirely local and organic, and that Napolese alone uses the bounty of no less than twenty local producers on its menu. "This is a priority for me," he says. "Every year, I get ridiculously excited when we get our first batch of Indiana heirloom tomatoes.""
The rest of the bio can be found at http://www.tasteofthenfl.com/chefs/chef-tyler-herald.
So without further ado, here is a concoction from Chef Tyler himself using none other than Gunthorp Farms boneless skinless chicken legs.
Open Face Indy Hot Chicken Sandwich
A Public Greens inspired recipe
Want to make this for yourself? Check with these locations to pick up some Gunthorp Farms poultry for your own kitchen.
It's no secret that we work with some amazing chefs who make some really amazing food. It always blows my mind that they take ingredients like our pork, chicken, turkey, and duck and turn them into masterpieces. I am a little less inclined in the culinary department, so even when I start with the same ingredients, I never know how to get to the end product. That is why I had the idea to start this "Restaurant-Worthy Recipes" blog series... I give them some product to play with in exchange for the recipe for whatever they make with it!
For our first recipe, I sent some spare ribs to Paul Robinson, the head chef at Pizzology in Carmel. Chef Paul has been a member of the Pizzology team since 2010. In 2011 he earned his degree from Ivy Tech's culinary program and in 2013 he became the head chef for Pizzology. I asked Chef Paul if he could do something cool with our spare ribs and he instantly ran to the cooler to show me his fermented garlic honey. I could see the wheels turning in his mind of the cool things he was going to do with these ribs!
So here is the recipe by Chef Paul Robinson, braised spare ribs with fermented honey glaze!
Rub the ribs with the following wet rub:
Place in pan (uncovered) with 1 cup of stock .
Roast at 375F for 1 hour. Flip over. Roast another hour.
Cover with foil. Roast for about 45 min. Then enjoy!
Paul served this over Pecorino braised Swiss chard and mustard gnocchi. If you happened to be at Pizzology on the night that he ran this as a special, you had to be there early to get a dish for yourself. It sold out in just a few hours!
Looking to get your hands on some spare ribs to make this dish for yourself? Check with these locations.
This is the first of many recipes that chefs will be sharing with us! Stay tuned for more yummy dinner ideas!
Occupation with the highest suicide rate according to the CDC in 2016...
Farming, fishing, & forestry: 84.5 suicides per 100,000 people in the occupation
The next closest industry is construction and extraction workers with 53.3 suicides per 100,000 workers. Farming takes the lead in a race that no one wants to win; not only by a few paces, but by a mile.
The real shocker. Guess what the farmer suicide rate was during the farming crisis of the 1980's? It peaked in 1982 at 58 suicides for every 100,000 farmers. A farming crisis is described as times of agricultural recession, low crop prices and low farm incomes. If you are a farmer reading this, I can't help but wonder if you shake your head reading that definition. When are crop prices and farm incomes anything but low? Are we in the midst of another farming crisis?
I relate back to hogs for my examples because the pork crisis in the 90's is what had the largest impact on my family. One generation ago, there were 600,000 hog farmers. Now there are roughly 60,000. I've often been told that these farmers who went out of business were simply bad businessmen, but can 90% of an industry be bad at business or is the industry simply impossible for businessmen to be anything but bad?
For those who aren't familiar, in the late 90's Tyson bought two hog slaughter plants with the sole intention of shutting them down. The first plant, Dakota Pork in Huron, SD, was bought and shut down in August of 1997. Their capacity was 5,000 hogs per day. Farmers in the northern part of the United States and the southern part of Canada would now have to truck their hogs as far as Iowa. Then once they got to the plant, they had to accept whatever price they were given, which was often around 5 cents per pound live weight. It was cheaper for many of these farmers to shoot and bury their hogs instead of trucking them to a slaughter plant. They literally could not afford to sell their pigs. The second plant, Thorn Apple Valley, was in Detroit, MI. This plant had a daily capacity of 14,000 hogs. When they shut their doors, Tyson was able to make $10-$15 for every $1 they spent on the deal due to the fact that they could now pay & charge whatever prices they wished to for live hogs and the resulting pork products.
Tell me again that the 90% of hog farmers who disappeared over the course of the last generation went out of business because they were bad businessmen?
The American farmer has been trampled on by the industrial agriculture industry and along with it, rural America has been destroyed. Many Americans probably agree with this after the results of the last election. Rural America cried out for something different because the same old politicians and the same old big businesses are simply not working. They put their vote with the most radical candidate who promised that he saw the desolate remains of rural America. The following paragraphs are an excerpt from An English Sheep Farmer's View of Rural America that was published in the New York Times and I think he hit the nail on the head.
"The future we have been sold doesn’t work. Applying the principles of the factory floor to the natural world just doesn’t work. Farming is more than a business. Food is more than a commodity. Land is more than a mineral resource. Despite the growing scale of the problem, no major mainstream politician has taken farming or food seriously for decades. With the presidential campaign over and a president in the White House whom rural Kentuckians helped elect, the new political establishment might want to think about this carefully. Suddenly, rural America matters. It matters for the whole world."
Recently my dad was kicked off of some "agvocates" blog pages. My question for these "agvocates" is simple... while you are advocating for the industrial agriculture industry, who is advocating for you? Who is standing up for the actual farmer and fighting for their right to a decent wage? Who is fighting against the high suicide rates in the industry? Who is helping farmers stay in business? Who is standing up for anything other than the right to produce extremely cheap food?
If Farm Babe, the Farmer's Daughter, Tyson, Smithfield, the Pork Checkoff, etc., are not going to fight for the farmer, I will. No farmer (whether they are conventional, organic, or whatever other category they put themselves in) deserves to be walked all over, especially not by companies and individuals who are supposed to be on their side. So no matter what kind of farmer you are, know that I will fight for you. Obviously someone needs to.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
The pictures below are one of the reason that farmers are pissed off at the industrial food supply and one of the reasons that we need the Humane Society to stand up for independent family farmers raising niche livestock. Its not the alternative farmers, the niche farmers, or even us granola crunchy hippy organic farmers that are creating the noise and confusion in the marketplace. Its the big players. Examples of three random labels from our local grocery store of Hormel (Jennie-O), Tyson, and Smithfield below. These are three of the biggest players in the meat and poultry industry. The other big players all have very similar labels. I could find a lot better labels. I'm challenging the "agvocates" to clean your industry up and quit blaming us for your problems. These are the companies you guys are aligned with. I just don't see anyone asking all of these commodity farmer advocates why the companies they are aligned with are using the misleading labels they are railing against.
I can tell you a lot of stories about my childhood on the farm, but if I were limited to stories that did not include my brother, I don't think I would have any good ones to share. Evan is only two years younger than me and when we were little, we spent a lot of time together. Whether we were feeding the chickens together or simply running around the farm (probably with our imaginary animals in tow... yes, we lived on a farm and had imaginary pets, I don't know why...), almost all of my childhood memories include Evan.
One incident that sticks out in my mind is when we were probably four and six years old. We were playing in the barn, like we normally did. We had climbed up on top of the straw bales. I don't know how high up we were while we stood on the top of the stack and looked down at the few pigs below us, but at six years old, it looked like a long ways down. Anyways, I don't remember what we were doing, but what I do remember is all of a sudden, Evan walked to the edge of the bales and pointed down. Of course I wanted to know what he was looking at, so I followed him to the edge. When I got there, what did my twerp of a little brother do? Nothing other than push me off the platform of bales and onto one of the large pigs below us.
The next 10 seconds were a blur as I screamed and ran towards the gate. (I didn't take the time to see if the pig was mad at me or chasing me, I just assumed that she was and I figured my chances of getting over the fence were greater than my chances of climbing back up the straw bales before she grabbed ahold of my leg or something.) I sprinted at the gate. Now, let me tell you, I was a very scrawny six year old. That gate had to have been taller than me. But being fueled by pure adrenaline, I threw myself over the gate in one swift motion. As I looked back, the big pig was still standing where I fell on it. (It probably didn't even notice me, I really was pretty tiny.)
I had the chance to talk to Evan the other day. Actually, I talk to Evan a lot every single day. So much, that I think we are going to get walkie talkies so that we don't have to waste time dialing each other's numbers and waiting for the phone to ring. Anyways, I got to talk to Evan with some specific questions in mind for this blog post. I hope that by reading his responses you can understand just how lucky I am to have him not only as my brother, but as my friend and co-worker as well.
How long have you worked at Gunthorp Farms? I started full time on the payroll after my junior year of high school in June 2014. The key term there is "on the payroll." I started feeding chicks in the brooder barn on a daily basis in second grade, and I've been helping Dad long before I started kindergarten. (Side note: As of December 19th, Evan is now 20 years old. He's been a full time employee since he was 17 years old.)
In your words, what do you do at Gunthorp Farms? My official job title is Plant Manager, but that's more so for Brushy Prairie Packing (our processing plant business's name) more-so than for Gunthorp Farms. I would consider "Plant Manager" less than my full job description, since that is just the portion for Brushy Prairie Packing. Plant Manager is a majority of my hours and most of my work. I oversee the employees on a day to day basis during slaughter, processing, cleaning, and everything else that occurs within the processing plant. I am in charge of regulatory compliance with USDA, human resources (all of our hiring and firing), corresponding with customers on processing questions, relaying weights to billing, and repairs (electrical, pneumatics, mechanical, plumbing, etc.).
On the farm side of the things, I am the purchasing director, so I am the only one who can give final clearance on purchases. I also help the farm guys with scheduling and oversight when needed. I am involved in planning for the farm and figuring out how the farm and processing plant can work together. Unofficially, I don't know what my title would be even, because I do more than "Plant Manager" entails. Maybe Administrative Assistant, because I do a bit of everything?
FamilyFarmed is asking for articles to include in their “Growing Young Farmers” series. You’re obviously young, but do you consider yourself a farmer? Yes and no. By my own definition, no, I’m a plant manager/corporate director. But in the grand scheme of things, if you take out the people like me, how many farmers are there really? I still dive into some production activities too and provide some oversight for the farm employees. I’m also involved in decision making for the farm. When we’re short handed over the summer, you can find me helping set up waterlines or moving ducks to pasture. When I was still taking classes in Fort Wayne, I would almost always drive "around the block" to see the animals, because I knew I might be able to spot issues that someone who didn't grow up around animals their whole life could miss. I think “farmer” is more so a mind set, if you have the skills you will put them to good use.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? A farmer. Definitely. (There was no pause or hesitation to that answer.)
Do you still want to be a farmer when you grow up? What is the definition of a farmer? I think a farmer is all encompassing and I want to be involved in agriculture, both on production and processing. I would like to someday be more of a "macro-manager," so I could oversee both the processing plant and the farm. I see what needs to happen day to day, but I also see the big picture. I want to make the big decisions that help make the day to day tasks possible and efficient.
Dad has spent years making a name for himself in the farm to table movement. Do you see yourself becoming an advocate in the industry as well? I don’t think I’ll hop on as many planes as him, but I think one of the biggest things you can do as far as advocacy work is just to do the very best in what you’re doing. Some people go out and talk about what needs to happen, I want to be the example they talk about and the pictures they show. I want to prove that it is possible to have a very small USDA inspected processing plant and that it's actually happening.
How did it feel to be the youngest delegate at Slow Meat? I didn’t have the confidence to speak up as much as I probably should have, but I definitely felt like I belonged there. I understood everything that was happening. Everyone else was a professional in their field and they were very specialized. Everyone had their thing they were good at and I feel like no one really brought the same things to the table that I did as a young person with a diversified production and processing background.
What was it like taking on management responsibilities at such young of an age? It was very difficult in the beginning. We probably brought on a lot of our own problems because we didn’t have a well established hierarchy. That was my biggest challenge, creating a hierarchy. People respect me now. They know that I know what I’m doing. They know that I’m on their side. If they mess up, they know that I want to help them and retrain them so they can do better. I made friends before I made employees. While I was making friends with them, I didn’t really have their respect yet so I had to help them learn what to do, I couldn’t just tell them what to do.
What’s your favorite part about working at Gunthorp Farms? Seeing the job well done. When the truck goes out early, when the orders are filled correctly, when the customers are happy with our products… that’s the best part. It’s nice knowing that what we do isn’t the norm for the industry and we’re still making it work. We’re not at a point where economies of scale help us out any and we’re not at a point where the processing equipment manufacturers even think about us, but we’re still succeeding.
What is the biggest challenge that you face with working at Gunthorp Farms? Getting people who see the vision. People need to see what we’re here for. It’s not hard to get people to come in and do menial tasks, but it’s hard to find someone who has any passion about what gets sent out the door.
Do you have any generic advice for someone who is looking to work in this small farm industry, whether that be in the production or processing side of things? You can never be too well prepared. You’re never going to look back at yourself yesterday and get mad at yourself for doing too much of today's work.
As many of you probably know, my dad had surgery on his knee on December 2nd. The surgery was long overdue, partially because Dad simply refused to be restricted during the summer or during the madness that is Thanksgiving turkey season. When Dad finally had his surgery, I know he was worried about how we would do without him for awhile. I am very pleased to tell you that everything has been running smoothly without the help of Dad, largely because of Evan stepping up to the plate. He trained employees to run the plucker and the scalder during poultry slaughter. He took over our testing program. He runs the smokehouse on his own. Evan had some really big shoes to fill, and he did so without complaint.
Evan is always the behind the scenes force that gets things done at Gunthorp Farms. He does so with too little sleep and often too little appreciation. Lately, we have gotten quite a few "testimonials" from customers about how smoothly things seem to be running since Evan and I have taken a bigger role in the family business. Let me tell you what, I might be behind most of the communication with our customers, but Evan is the force that keeps things running smoothly and all of us at Gunthorp Farms appreciate that more than he knows.
The Big Sister, Kara
Let's see if I can wrap up all of 2016 in one blog post, shall we? So much has happened in one year!
We always strive to make advocating for very small processors and small farmers a priority. This year we are very pleased with the results of our efforts. In no way have we accomplished our goal of making it easier for small processors and small farmers, but it is encouraging to see such results.
In March, Greg was called to Lieutenant Governor Sue Ellspermann's office to help rewrite the compromise for exempt poultry slaughter laws. This was legislation that allows operations smaller than Gunthorp Farms to legally operate within the state, including selling to restaurants, without the hurdles of daily meat inspection. These exemptions provide a legal framework for entry into an industry that otherwise has extreme barriers to entry. Gunthorp Farms started under exempt slaughter and has now grown to a size that requires 3 USDA inspectors everyday.
In October, we were extremely honored to host a meeting with USDA/FSIS and a number of very small processors at the farm to discuss issues that very small processors face. The Director of Policy, the Director of Field Operations, the Administrator of Humane Handling, the Head of Labeling, and the Deputy Administrator all made it out; USDA FSIS really took the meeting seriously by sending out their big shots! As a result of this meeting, USDA has agreed to have quarterly meetings with the same goal in mind. This is a huge step in the right direction and we are excited to see how the meetings in 2017 help to further the cause. (Read more about the meeting in my blog post here.)
Greg has also been involved in the Meat and Poultry Inspection Dialogue hosted by the Meridian Institute and Pew Charitable Trusts. This group was formed to begin the process of rewriting the over 100 year old Meat and Poultry Act. It is really exciting that sustainable agriculture representatives are able to have a seat at the table alongside the Vice Presidents for Food Safety of companies like Cargill, Hormel, Tyson, McDonald's, Kroger at events like this that will have an impact on our food supply.
I am excited to begin my journey in advocating for sustainable agriculture and the local food movement as well. This year I was featured in FamilyFarmed to help encourage young farmers. I was also asked to join the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership's Local Food Network Steering Committee to help develop a local food network here in this corner of the state and I am looking forward to future meetings in 2017.
Another project that is in the works is our turkey jerky! We have our labels made and approved (with our new logo of course!). Now we are just waiting for Zick's Specialty Meats (our co-packer) to have an opening in their schedule so they can take some of our turkey to make us another batch. Our turkey jerky will be hitting shelves early in 2017.
Next work in progress: our meat cave. We broke ground this fall for a meat cave that we will use to dry cure hams. When Greg went to Terra Madre with Slow Food back in 2014, he was able to taste some Spanish style hams. Ever since then, he has said that we would build a cave on the farm and make our own hams. To most people, I'm sure it sounded like he was kidding, but I could tell that he was very serious about his intentions. We broke ground this fall and are hoping to have it sealed off and ready for hams in the spring! The dry cure process will take around 12 months, so we will have dry cured hams in 2018! We will probably also make some pancetta and a few dry cured sausages.
Gunthorp Farms has always been a family operated business, but this year all of us kids have taken a bigger role in the company. Evan is the full-time processing plant manger. This year he completed his Leadership Development certificate at IPFW. The classes focused on techniques to become a better leader/manager. Over the summer, Cassidy (who is now a sophomore in high school) was getting full-time hours while managing the rollstock packaging machine. Cassidy is now managing on-farm scheduled pickup retail sales around her school and basketball schedule. I graduated from Purdue this year with a degree in Agribusiness Food Marketing and have since began working for the farm full-time as our director of sales & marketing. I love getting to work with my family on a day to day basis and it is great to see the potential myself and my siblings have within the business. I am continually thankful for the business that my parents created and the opportunities that they have blessed us with.
As for our personal lives, we have had a lot going on as well! Cassidy turned 16 and is about to get her drivers license. Evan moved out into Greg's childhood home (and is having fun doing a lot of renovating!). I got engaged to my sweet boyfriend Ed. Greg (finally) got his meniscus repaired.
This year has unfortunately had its low points as well. This year we mourn the loss of Grandpa Keller and Aunt Mel, both of who are greatly missed. Please remember to hug your loved ones and do not take any time for granted.
The Reason This Is All Possible
Thank you! You, reading this right now, are the reason we are able to do what we do. We thank you for your continual support. Without supporters like you, we could not chase our dream of raising animals the way we believe they ought to be raised. Our family business is alive and well because of supporters like you, whether you purchase our products or read our blog posts and offer support from afar.
Merry Christmas from all of us here at Gunthorp Farms and we wish you a happy new year as well!
Until next time,
Choosing a career after college can be a daunting task. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I often resisted the idea of coming back to the family farm, especially after hearing phrases like "just going back to the farm," "oh, you're just studying agriculture," and "are you really sure?" I felt like many thought that going back to the family farm was settling. I would love to go back to those who made those comments before and tell them all that I have learned and accomplished in just my short time back at the farm.
It is not happy people who are thankful, it is thankful people who are happy.
Let me tell you what, I could not be happier with my choice to work for Gunthorp Farms. I have been throwing around the idea of this blog post for awhile and finally decided that with Thanksgiving right around the corner, this is the perfect opportunity. I want to take a few minutes to share why I am so thankful to be a part of not only Gunthorp Farms, but also the local farm to table movement.
First and foremost, I am thankful for my family, who also happen to be my co-workers. All five of us are involved in the business on a day-to-day basis. We have weekly family meetings where we all come together to discuss the direction the farm is heading and any changes that are occurring from week to week. I spend more time with my family members during the week than I do with anyone else. After spending 3 years away at school, I am so thankful for the time I get to spend with them.
Because I am thankful to work with my family, does that mean it is always a walk in the park? Of course not. We disagree, sometimes more than we do agree! But am I beyond thankful to have co-workers who see me as more than an employee? Always. I appreciate that the business has given us a common goal to strive towards together. I treasure getting to bounce ideas off of each other at any given moment. I love that they always have my back when I need some reassurance.
I am so thankful for the small town I grew up in. (Although if you've ever been out to the farm, you will know that I didn't really grow up in a town... or anywhere close to a town... so by town, I really mean the whole surrounding area.) I consider Gunthorp Farms an integral part of our community. We employ around 20 full time employees and 10 or so part time employees, often local high school kids. We give people in the community the opportunity to make a living to support their family. We give high school kids the opportunity to develop a good work ethic.
I am thankful that Gunthorp Farms encourages me to be involved in the community as well. I volunteer somewhat regularly with Junior Achievement at the local middle school. I get to teach students about economics and mentor them in regards to their future career paths. Gunthorp Farms has also helped local FFA students with their FFA projects and we have also given tours to local college classes. I think it takes a village to raise strong individuals and I love the fact that Gunthorp Farms strives to be a part of the village.
One of the biggest reasons I chose Gunthorp Farms and one of the biggest benefits of working there is the future that I can have because of it. Gunthorp Farms is a small company and I get to be involved in the decision making of the company. I feel confident buying a house in the area because I know that the farm is not going to up and relocate. There is room in the business for my future spouse to work at the farm if he so chooses. When I have children of my own, they can be involved in the farm just like I was when I was growing up. I will be able to move my hours around so that I can be present for my children and their activities. Working for Gunthorp Farms can help me achieve the future I envision and for that I am thankful beyond belief.
I am thankful for Gunthorp Farms because of the meat in my freezer, for sure, but also because of the food security that Gunthorp Farms and other small farms provide. Heaven forbid there ever be a national crisis where we as a nation would not be able to import any food, but thank goodness I know that Gunthorp Farms' doors would remain open and meat would still be available. This relates not only to Gunthorp Farms, but to the local food movement as a whole. I know that in a time of crisis, farms in the local food movement like Gunthorp Farms, Seven Sons, or Hawkins Family Farm would all be available to help keep meat on local tables.
I believe that you can never have too many farmers. When my dad was a kid, there were 600,000 hog farmers in the United States. Now there are 60,000. Ninety percent of hog farmers disappeared in his lifetime and I want to help turn the numbers in the other direction. That is why I am so thankful for the opportunities that Gunthorp Farms gives me when it comes to advocacy work. I am a huge supporter of the local food movement, the farm to table movement, sustainable agriculture, and small meat processors. I believe causes like these will help give more individuals the opportunity to continue farming and it will help move a larger portion of the food dollar into farmers' pockets.
I have so much to be thankful for because of my job at Gunthorp Farms. I would love for more farmers to have these same opportunities, which is why I will continue to use my position at Gunthorp Farms to advocate for small farmers.
This is such a big category and nothing I can write here will do them justice. I am in charge of sales at Gunthorp Farms, so I am the contact for all of our wholesale accounts. I also drive the Indianapolis delivery route, so I get to see all of them on weekly basis. I am sure all farms who work directly with their customers say this, but we really have a great group of customers.
Before 1998, my dad was selling live pigs to buying stations. The buying station was as close to the final customer as we got, and let me tell you, you do not feel very appreciated when the buying station hands you a check for 5 cents a pound for your trailer full of live pigs. At that time, I was four years old. I remember crying on a few occasions as I tried (and failed) to convince Dad to take a pig I had deemed my favorite off the trailer. How do you explain to your four year old daughter that it is necessary to take the pig to slaughter when you will be lucky to get $20 for the hog? How do you continue doing your job, that is in no way easy, when no one appreciates the work that you do? To be completely honest, I do not know how my parents continued.
Prior to 1998, our pigs were not appreciated and neither was the hard work that my parents did to raise the pigs. Thankfully, that is not the case now. Every hog that we raise, slaughter, and process is appreciated. I know this because I get to interact with our customers. They are excited to put our meat on the plates at their restaurants and on the shelves of their grocery stores. They send me emails about how thankful they are to know their farmer and they encourage their own customers to buy locally grown food as well. What we do is a lot of hard work, and I think I speak for all of us at Gunthorp Farms when I say that we would not continue doing what we do if it weren't for the continued love and support we receive from our great customers.
This holiday season, take the time to thank a farmer and to thank a local business owner. Your appreciation will mean more to them than you will ever know.
Happy (early) Thanksgiving from those of us at Gunthorp Farms!
As we are all well aware of, there will be big changes in January no matter which side of the ticket proves to be victorious in the November election. With a new President comes a new Secretary of Agriculture. Ferd Hoefner, the Policy Director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, saw an opportunity to gather valuable information to be included in the transition documents that will be given to the new Secretary of Agriculture. Yesterday, a group of some of the most well-known individuals in the sustainable agriculture and small processing industry, as well as representatives from the USDA/FSIS (Food Safety & Inspection Service) gathered at Gunthorp Farms to discuss what information shall be included in the report.
The day was scheduled to begin at 10 am with tours of our processing facility and then of our farm. Unfortunately the USDA representatives could not make it to the tour, but that did not stop all of us "industry representatives" from watching pig slaughter and hiking across the farm. All of the attendees were farmers and processors themselves, so the conversations throughout the day were so valuable to listen to. We broke at noon for lunch and anxiously awaited the USDA representatives arrival so we could begin the meeting that would be focusing on issues that small & very small processors face. Thankfully they arrived at 1 and our meeting was shortly brought to order.
The meeting was set up rather informally, with all of us sitting in a large circle in the basement of my parents' house. As the FSIS representatives took the floor first, I began wondering how beneficial this meeting was actually going to be. Did these people have any idea what a small plant even looks like, let alone what struggles they go through? After their 30 minute introduction regarding the resources and opportunities USDA has for us, I was feeling as if they were not interested in hearing what any of us industry representatives had to say at all.
Finally, Mike Callicrate took the floor. When I was growing up, many conversations centered around Mike and the challenges he was facing (and overcoming) and I have always held his name as that of a celebrity. Being able to finally meet him this week was an honor (and probably the topic of a different blog post). Anyways, Mike took the floor and laid it all on the table.
"Listen, what it comes down to is we are afraid of you all. You intimidate us. I know the USDA has a job to do and I know you are not supposed to be intimidating, but this is the reality right now." I felt the urge to stand up and clap when he finished what I would consider the description of why we all were gathered. I scribbled into my notes, "thank you Mike for saying what we are all sitting here thinking!"
There are definite issues that small plants face when obtaining and maintaining USDA inspection. We came to a consensus that intimidation/fear of retaliation is definitely one of the barriers to building the local food market. There has to be some sort of process that can verify small plants are still producing safe food without being a burden that prevents them from succeeding.
Pete Eshelman of Joseph Decuis Restaurant & Farm pointed out that Indiana alone spends $18 billion on food. Shockingly 90% of that is imported from other states or even other countries. Think of how many food dollars could be brought back to the state if more processors were able to stay in business? How many more jobs would be created in the state if even a fraction of those food dollars could come from in the state and not imports? What if we applied that thinking nation wide and created more food for Americans here in America?
The USDA realizes that creating regional food markets will be beneficial to local communities, rural development, and national food security. "In 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative (KYF2) to better support the farmers, ranchers, food businesses and communities engaged in local and regional food systems." (Copied directly from a handout at the meeting yesterday.) Industry estimates show that the $1 billion that USDA has invested into local food systems have helped local food sales grow from $5 billion in 2008 to $12 billion in 2014 and it is expected to hit $20 billion by 2019. This is great news, but without reforming small processing regulation, the initiative will miss the bar. Access to legal processing is the bottleneck in this local food movement. Small processors are not asking for "easier" regulations, we are just asking for scale appropriate regulations that plants without bountiful human, financial, and capital resources can comply with.
Did we solve the whole problem during the course of the meeting yesterday? Of course not. Many issues were brought to the table and many were discussed, but many were only touched on and I know there are many more that should be brought up as well. However, there is hope. The most successful thing that came from the meeting yesterday was a plan for more meetings. Quarterly meetings, even, with the FSIS representatives and industry representatives to continue this dialogue until change happens.
Maybe someday, the local food movement and small processors will not need their own "initiatives". Maybe someday the "A" in USDA will stand for all agriculture and there will not need to be special committees to make sure that the little guys are not walked on or pushed out. We might not be there yet, but events like yesterday's meeting and the individuals who were in attendance are pushing us in the right direction.
Allow your passion to become your purpose and it will one day become your profession.
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