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Reflections from the farm: 10 years of Meat CSA

Hey there friends and local food eaters,

In September 2009, Brooks, Anna, and their friend Matt Smith started The Meat CSA. That means we have been doing this for ten years!

Please join us to celebrate the fall beauty on the farm this weekend for our

10th Anniversary Farm Visiting Day - Sept 28 3-7pm.

All are welcome to come enjoy a pig roast and potluck feast (please bring a dish to share!), farm tour, highland games, live music, drinks, and more.

For those of you who have been adventurous enough to hang with us for the past ten years, there is a free turkey waiting for you this season. If you've been a Meat CSA member for all 10 years, respond to this email and let us know!

It is hard to believe that ten years have passed. So much has changed between then and now, and we thought it would be fun to review the first ten years of The Meat CSA.

A Brief & Incomplete History of North Mountain Pastures

First, the internet has changed a lot since then... We did set up a rudimentary website when we started, and a google spreadsheet to keep track of members. But we took signups our first season by mailing people papers, and they mailed it back to us with paper checks. Crazy.

Our farming has changed location to the new farm that we bought in 2011. We have changed farming practices a number of times. We went from using Salatin-style hand pulled chicken tractors to grow 1200 broilers a season, to larger tractor-pulled hoop houses to raise 7000+ birds a season, to this year not raising chickens at all. We've experimented with pig farrowing outside, in moveable shelters, in various types of permanent shelters, in the woods, and in the barn. We've kept livestock contained using various fencing methods such as single strand electric fence wire, electrified netting, and permanent high tensile woven wire (guess which is the most reliable?). We've invested huge amounts of time and money into learning and growing this farm.

Our biggest learning experience over the last ten years is probably that we need to focus our energy. When we first started farming as a business (hobby style together for 3 years prior), we didn't have very much farming experience, and we had zero business experience. We were completely self taught mainly through books and visiting other farms. What was being widely taught in the sustainable agriculture movement of the day was that to make a living you had to do value added processing of your farm products, and you had to diversify diversify diversify. We were full of energy (young) and passion (idealistic) for farming and believed that we could always make it work if we worked hard enough. To that effect, we diversified, and did all the things: eggs, lamb, turkeys, goat and cow dairy, beef, pork, chicken. We also added value: we turned our pork into standard products like ham, bacon, and sausage, as well as learning how to make more difficult cured products such as pancetta, salami, and prosciutto. We got into buying our neighbors organically grown vegetables and fermenting them into sauerkraut, kimchi, and another 10 different kinds of pickles. We also sold everything ourselves through the Meat CSA and going to Farmer's Markets. We went to various D.C. area markets on Saturdays and Sundays, and managed a few on farm interns and employees per season. It was fun. And really exhausting.

Over time, it became clear that although we loved sustainable agriculture, the way we were doing things was not sustainable. We were not even financially viable, even with all the work, relying on a Grant and Kickstarter campaign to try to boost the financial picture in 2012. We still desperately wanted to make it work, but we were realizing that we had to let some things go. First the fermented vegetables, then the on farm processing of pork. We eventually stopped going to Farmer's Markets because we realized that the most sustainable, most profitable, and most enjoyable thing we were doing was The Meat CSA.

Basically, the last 10 years of North Mountain Pastures IS The Meat CSA. The Meat CSA has been the one constant, the backbone of the farm for the past 10 years. It has kept us afloat, kept us in business, and kept us motivated to grow the healthiest and highest quality food possible. All the other things we've done over the past 10 years were just side gigs to The Meat CSA. So we are extremely grateful for the Meat CSA, and that running it has brought us our greatest lesson: to focus on what we do best (pastured pork), and who we do it for. Our in person deliveries are so important to us because they allow us to feel like we really know our customers. That has made a world of difference in how we operate over the last 10 years. We know you, have seen your children grow up as ours have, and we value your trust and support above all. Our connection to you will always be the foundation of our farming, no matter what we raise on the farm or how we sell stuff.

We're still trying to farm with little kids. And some of them are bigger now, which helps! Here's Kaj feeding turkeys with Brooks in 2009:

And here's Kaj feeding turkeys today (we pay him to do chores):

We're still enjoying raising pigs. Here's Brooks feeding some pigs with very small buckets in 2009.

And of course, we've changed.

This was our baby-faced little family back then:

And here we are today:

Umm I just realized we don't even have one. Can someone please take a picture of us on Saturday?

Back then, we were just figuring things out. Oh wait no we're still doing that.

Finally, in the name of "figuring it out", here is a list of ten things we've "figured out" firsthand over the last ten years, in no particular order:

  1. Chickens are delicious. Humans love them. So do foxes...and possums...and hawks...and cats...and bears..and dogs... and coyotes...and...

  2. Permanent sturdy fencing really does make for happier neighbors.

  3. Old vehicles often break down, especially on the way to deliveries, especially with anyone other than Brooks driving.

  4. T​​here is no such thing as "free labor," unless it's from a nomadic garlic farmer.

  5. Sometimes, certain things/people/animals need some time to "acclimate".

  6. Ice baths are really good training for changing out a starter motor on a skid steer. Especially when the boom arms are down.

  7. "I baked it for 30 minutes" is never a good way to start any meat recipe. It won't work.

  8. Animals with balls are unpredictable. What is predictable is that if there are animals with balls in with the other animals, soon there will be new animals

  9. Not all baby animals are always a good thing.

  10. If you hit a deer and it messes up your car but at least you get to butcher it for the meat, don't put the head where you might drive over it later and pop your tires on its antlers.

Thanks for reading, and thanks as always for supporting local foods,

~Brooks and Anna

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