About a week ago I went to my local grocery store with a list of basics. It was slower than usual and the bleach wipes dispenser by the carts was empty.
I got pretty much everything on my list but there was not a single egg to be found. Not even a leaky carton of cracked ones. I actually walked past the empty shelf and turned around before realizing that was where all the eggs were supposed to be.
I’d wager you’ve had a similar experience by now. It’s certainly possible to live without eggs and a number of other staple food items but, given how quickly Tacoma’s Eastside fades into rural farmland, a lot of people are now turning to local food growers to fill in the gaps.
So local farmers get some extra business and everyone enjoys the superior quality of farm-fresh eggs. Win-win right? Not quite.
I went to one such farm to get some eggs (which were as delicious as they were beautiful, by the way) and asked the farmer if she would mind me posting a picture of it on our social media. Given our number of followers, she politely declined. She told me about the overwhelming demand her farm is suddenly facing. And it wasn’t just for eggs. People had been asking to buy her chickens too.
Later that afternoon, she sent an email that illustrated the weight of the situation she and other farmers have found themselves in:
This is _____ from _____. I want to reiterate my appreciation for your thoughtfulness in asking permission before featuring your egg purchase from us in your magazine. We really are very close to capacity in terms of how many people we can serve right now. It’s hard to predict business—we like to encourage people to be “egg subscribers” so that we can anticipate and best meet their needs.
More often, people come to a hobby farm to make a large one time purchase, and we’re generally happy to do that if we can, though we’ve decided to ask people to purchase just what they need for the week during this time of uncertainty and increased demand.
The reality is that we have a small flock and a relatively regular supply, not a bulk supply. We are a farm, not a warehouse. I think people understand that, but most of us have our purchasing habits trained by Costco and set by the idea of efficiency—fewer trips to purchase is better to us, and, as a busy mom, I completely understand that.
So, I wonder if instead you might remove our name and just feature the eggs for the sake of hobby farms all over the county. I have several friends who do the same or similar as we do. We are very small producers. We each do things our own way.
We do it because we like to know where our food comes from, our souls are refreshed by being outside and caring for our animals, and we love having the opportunity for this lifestyle for our kids. Some of us do this because of dietary restrictions or health concerns in our families, too. I think all of us believe that locally-produced food makes for greater food security for all of us.
Most of us don’t make much money at this, if any. In 7 years of raising chickens, only one year did we have a slight profit (I’m talking about enough for one or two modest dinners out). Otherwise we operate at a loss because our production cost is higher than larger farms, and it is hard for the average family to justify the higher prices for staples.
We usually sell eggs at a loss—sometimes a slight loss, sometimes more, depending on how many of our hens are free-loading that month. We really just sell eggs to offset some of the cost of buying quality, non-GMO feed. I could buy feed for half as much, but then I wouldn’t want to eat those eggs, and I wouldn’t be proud to sell them.
I personally found my passion for locally-produced food by joining a CSA at a local farm when we lived in South Tacoma. That got me started planting my first city garden, and I am thankful that we were eventually able to have the space to raise some of our own food.
So, tell the public to be kind to their local hobby farmers. We love the food we raise and are happy to share it with you, but please respect that there is a lot of hard-earned skill, trial-and-error experience, and investment of time and money in what we do. If we are reluctant to sell producing animals to people who are desperate in a time of crisis, we have good reasons that are for your best interest based on our experience.
Let us just keep selling you actual food. If we don’t have enough of what you want, please understand, we are small and we are also trying to feed our families. You never know—we might even be giving you food that we were going to keep for our families because we know that we have more eggs being laid tomorrow, and we see the desperation in your eyes. Please respect that our farms are our homes. Our children live here. We are just your neighbors. Treat our farm like you would your neighbor’s house, with the same respect for boundaries.
Small farms and hobby farmers believe that locally produced food provides increased food security for all of us. We appreciate your support, and we are happy to do our part. Be kind, and please consider buying from us even after the crisis passes. That will help us keep doing what we do so that we are still here when you need us.
Thank you for supporting your local farmer!
If you’re having a rough time and you’re looking for resources, we’ve gathered a list here.
If you feel like you’re weathering the storm better than others and you’re looking to help, contact a local food bank to see if they’re in need of donations or have any volunteer opportunities (keep in mind there may be extra restrictions right now).