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The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

That was this week for me.

Had an amazing visit to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm as part of my boardmember opportunities for the Farm To Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

That was the BEST of times!

joel salatin and IThen, a journalist who’s written about me before posted an article this week about the price of my milk.

No context whatsoever, that our land here where I farm costs up to 10 times as much as land where many other farmers farm.  Seriously, where Joel lives rent is $50/acre/year and I have to pay $500/acre/year.

This lack of context made for some pretty fantastic hateful comments from across the U.S., including people right here in Oregon!!

Which made me have to pull from my depths and remember that the bigger game I play the more people feel free to call me hateful names, etc.

What no one mentions is the weekly emails I get from local farmers here going out of business.  Yes, weekly!!

Last week it was a man about 40 mins. from my farm.  Says he has 70 families as customers who will no longer have access to the food that heals them, and he’s going back to work and selling the farm.

No one attacks him for selling his milk so cheaply that he can’t afford to stay in business and now is leaving 70 families empty-handed, their eczema and other illnesses all set to return if they can’t find a replacement farm.

He charged half what I do for his product.

So people applaud him and hold him up as an example to me to charge less – – and then when they look back, he’s gone.  But no one notices.

Then, this week, it’s a farm about 15 mins. from me.  Again, these farms are quietly going out of business and leaving customers empty handed and people are criticizing ME for running a sustainable farm.

If that’s not already you (being criticized), it soon will be you, too.

Part of running your successful business is to do the hard work of figuring all your costs, including a wage for you so you can pay your mortgage and health insurance and your kids’ expenses and take 2 weeks off a year, and have a big fat emergency fund (you will need it).

You are obligated to do this.  If this is your calling, like you have said, and you enjoy educating others on the value of good food, you MUST do this.  Be responsible.

When the haters hate on you for what they call extortion your customers will be loving on you so much for offering them the food/products that heal them.

It will all be worth it, because what doesn’t kill you strengthens you and farmers who sell Farm -to- Consumer are some of the strongest people I know.

Be that strong business person and take a look at your prices this week.  Will they sustain you?

If not, it is your responsibility and obligation to charge what you need to charge to be here for the people who need you most.

And when the haters call you rapist and elitist and all the other names I’ve been called for being a responsible, ethical business owner, then you and I will commiserate together and build each other up so we can fulfill our calling.

So now it’s your turn – tell me in the comments below if you are charging enough for your product to sustain you in the long run??  And if not, will you be responsible and do so?

Always in service to you,

Charlotte

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Bryn Gillem August 25, 2015, 1:51 am

    So sorry to hear about your bad experience based on one person’s uninformed opinion… a person who obviously has no understanding about the REAL cost of producing high quality food. Federal subsidies to big ag drive down the cost to consumers but also create an unrealistic and unsustainable system that produces unhealthy food that is making us sick. You take great care and energy to ensure that your animals are healthy and by regularly testing your milk, you help ensure the safety of your customers. It doesn’t get much better than that!

    • Charlotte August 26, 2015, 4:12 pm

      You are so right, Bryn, subsidies have made Americans expect cheap food. It just masks the real cost of food. Thanks so much for your support!!! I know you know exactly what I’m talking about!!

  • jojo August 26, 2015, 5:25 am

    I searched you out specifically to see how you are doing it at that price and not lose customers. I too, am in an area that is PRICEY … Palm beach county. I’m starving and now i’m wondering how my customers would react to my increased pricing. eggs, cheese, milk, honey. etc. I can’t sustain. I don’t raise prices like they should be. Milking between 7 to 11 goats a year. living on 1.5 acres. and its tough!… i say kudos to you if you can do it.

    • Charlotte August 26, 2015, 4:14 pm

      We’ve been at this price for a year, $2 less before that. Our customers get it that farming is rarely sustainable. I hope you can educate your customers. I know farmers on food stamps and their customers should be ashamed they aren’t paying prices so a farmer can have a decent lifestyle — without food stamps — while working long tiring days. Good luck to you and I hope you talk to your customers so they understand and support you. Keep in touch!!

      xo Charlotte

  • Rick August 27, 2015, 9:53 pm

    Charlotte,

    I don’t get why people think you are raping them. You set a price and people either pay it or they don’t. What I can’t figure out is HOW you get the prices you saying you sell at. And I’m trying to figure that out. In the Boise, Idaho area if we try and sell our milk at $10/gal we get no customers.

    I hear you and agree we need to sell our products at profits and allow for those things you talk about in the blog entry… but if people around here won’t pay it. THEN what do you do??? We offered a CSA share this year for $200 for 20 weeks. This was BARGIN basement. I just wanted to get about 10 members since this was a first year and see how we did and get feedback and learn from it. We got all of ONE customer. That was at $200!!!!

    So I hear ya… I just can’t figure out HOW you get the prices you are getting. So not hating… I’M trying to learn from someone like you that’s already doing it.

    Best wishes,
    Rick

    • Charlotte September 8, 2015, 11:33 pm

      Thanks so much for commenting. You’re right, people choose to shop at our farm of their own free will and there are other farms nearby. Part of it is we live near Portland, cost of living is higher then where you are. Not sure how much your land is, but mine is $500/yr per acre rent — some of the most expensive land there is. That means for it to be profitable I have to be making far more money per acre then someone paying $50/yr/acre or $100/yr acre.

      That’s probably my biggest expense is mortgage and land costs, then electricity, my dairy cows have jumped to $3,700 per cow, beef cows are $1,500 for a 5 month old…. haven’t even gotten to hay costs yet. So it might be more $$ then your costs in Idaho.

      The last part is what I teach in the 3 Cow Marketing course – building such a connection with your customer that they love that you provide the service of providing them food. They may pass 3 farms on the way to ours and those farms charge less for (lesser quality) product, but our customers wouldn’t think of shopping anywhere else. If they are going to jump ship when a farm opens up that sells lower quality for less money, then they are not my ideal customer. This is a skill set you can learn.

      I wish you the best of luck. I see way too many small farms go out of business – 1 or 2 each month around here after having lost a lot of $$. It’s not right and part of it is they didn’t know how to connect with the customers that would pay the price to keep them in business. I hope to help change that and help many farmers stay in business!! Thanks again for being here!!

      • Rick September 10, 2015, 9:47 pm

        Charlotte,

        Thank you for posting my comment and replying to it. I truly think once we FIND the customer (or really, the customer finds us) we will be VERY good at retaining them. The veggies we have have NOTHING added to them or the soil with exception of the manure our farm animals produce and AZOMITE minerals. They taste fresh and wonderful. Our chickens are completely free range and get most of their food from our backyard lawn, bugs and blades of grass, and going through the cow pies. The pigs we raise are on our dairy cow’s raw milk and Non-GMO feed we buy from a local farmer. All of the food we are now producing is AMAZINGLY tasteful and we are enjoying it a lot. Our problem has been, and continues to be, FINDING people that will try us out. Facebook has brought us all of ONE CSA customer this year. Craigslist has gotten us two egg customers. (Soon we hope to be selling our raw cow’s milk.) We were given an email address of the owners of a restaurant in Downtown Boise from one of their long time employees that know the couple very well. But my wife’ seam il to them has gotten no reply.

        Facebook is extremely frustrating for my wife, as she has a hard time figuring out the ins and outs of posting on there as a business.

        Sure it’s EASY to promote your business on there, if you spend money. When we did we got a BUNCH of “likes” but no paying customers.

        The pessimist in me thinks your reply here is going to tell me: that’s what your marketing program is going to be all about 🙂 but I think the answer(s) are more complex then that.
        Thanks,
        Rick

        I think we would both treat this more like a business if we saw a reason to do so.

        • Charlotte September 10, 2015, 11:23 pm

          Well you may call it pessimistic but I’ll call it psychic that you knew I’d say that’s what the course I teach is about. Trust me, if I could give you the answer here in a reply I would. But it’s 100’s of hours I’ve put into a program consisting of several hours of video instruction and worksheets and coaching calls that teach you how to connect with those customers who want to buy your products, which sound amazing by the way. So yes, the course is the only way I’ve figured out how to reach the people who need it. Facebook isn’t the answer for your business. It’s nice to post your info on there so people can say they saw you there – social proof – but it won’t build your connection you need with your customers.

          I’ll be sending out more info soon, otherwise, hopefully you’ll stay tuned for the free info on here too via the blogposts.

          take care –

          Charlotte

  • Rick September 11, 2015, 9:37 pm

    Haha.. Always the salesperson :-).

    I’m a Taurus and so I need to see it from people and not hear it.

    My advice would be: try to be a Dale Carnegie and “under promise and over deliever” rather than a PT Barnum “a sucker is born every minute.”

    In answer to your first reply. Yes, I think Boise is a Portland wanna-be city. So with that what you’re getting for your cuts of beef are TRULY amazing (if you’re actually selling the cuts 🙂 there’s that pessimist in me again…) I think I’ve told you before we were selling our pork for $3/lbs and had to beg people to buy it!!!!!

    So as you can see… This course of yours COULD be the answer. And if it IS I will be one of your BIGGEST supporters!!!!! REALLY! I’ll give you all kinds of praise quotes!

    I look forward to seeing it. I saw you have a new post about it above and will be taking a look as soon as I finish this. Hey, maybe I’ll even have comment on there too! I know you’ll look forward to that 🙂

    Rick

  • Emily Black December 17, 2016, 12:02 am

    Thank you!

  • Penelope December 2, 2017, 11:35 pm

    I am so sorry to hear that Charlotte. I have been inspired by your talks etc on price.
    I charged $25 nz for a 4 inch square iced fruit cake/Christmas cake at a market today. They sold out very quickly. One woman said to me that it was a very fair price. I had made no comment other than to tell her that was the price. She explained to me it was a fair price because of all the obviously fine ingredients and the time it would have taken to ice it. My IC. Couldn’t believe it. Perfect. We had also put up our jam prices by 17% on the last market a month ago. Even customers i recognised from earlier markets made no comment. Yay. I learnt this from you.
    Yes it is grossly unfair for this to be a public demonizing especially with no right of reply. We are all with you! I am so thankful for your teachings. You know you are right. Be strong and rise above it. Your actual customers won’t care a hoot.

  • Melissa Somerville February 10, 2018, 6:40 pm

    A visit to Polyface Farms, lucky you! I watch his videos on YouTube when I need a boost to keep going forward. Sorry to hear you were trolled, but it doesn’t surprise me. Probably slurping on a Starbucks while they wrote. I wonder if they ever bothered to breakdown the price of those beans and water? And are they even fair trade? There is a lot of consumer education work to be done, but it feels like a big change is coming. Farmers remind me of artists who don’t value their creations and end up starving because they can’t see the value of their talents. Do people ever stop to think about how vulnerable they are because of their dependence on supermarkets and big ag? We grew up raising most of the food we ate, and I guess that is why I feel so uneasy about being dependent on the store for our food supply. Most people don’t know any other way.

  • Celia Leverton February 10, 2018, 8:02 pm

    Hello Charlotte. I have had this exact discussion with customers. One butcher we supplied pastured eggs to told my daughter one delivery day saying he didn’t want my pastured eggs unless we dropped the wholesale price to the level of other eggs he stocked. I phoned him and explained that we planned to supply eggs to him for many years to come, so had to charge a price that sustained our business and family. He was rude and that was the end of our relationship (small town in Tasmania). His other egg suppliers have both gone out of business – and so has he (can’t keep staff). Our loyal (and ideal) customers have offered to pay more at difficult times (drought, hatchery failure etc). They have become good friends and delivering to them is the highlight of my week. Thanks for you pragmatic advice and encouragement.

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