Growing up on the same New Hampshire farm that my great-grandfather worked a hundred years ago gave me an appreciation for family farming that has stayed with me. I learned to raise chickens by working on the farm and knew from the beginning I wanted a humane farm with organic produce.
Running a growing business without sacrificing my commitment to small-scale farming, organic foods, humane treatment of animals and sustainability is a constant struggle for me.
The quest for profitability has made farming very energy inefficient; and farms use a lot of energy. Farming has become more focused on productivity and mechanization than conservation.
Farming has also been environmentally insensitive. The overuse of pesticides has created pesticide-resistant weeds and insects. The overuse of commercial fertilizers has created a deficit in nutrients and micro-components in the soil, which then requires more fertilizers.
And like any business, farming also generates a lot of waste — from packaging to animal waste. This impacts both energy use and the environment.
To be sustainable, farming must focus on energy and environmental conservation. Having a sustainable food supply for our children and grandchildren depends on it. Small farmers can lead the way to more sustainable agriculture.
In addition to providing safe nutritious foods, small farmers live on their farms and preserve the surrounding environment for future generations. And because they have a vested interest in their communities, they’re more likely to use sustainable farming techniques to protect natural resources and human health.
So rather than becoming a large, centralized farm, we’re recruiting small family farms to join us as suppliers. We now have more than 35 family farms producing eggs for us in seven Northeastern states. They’re all good, hard-working people who are committed to family farming.
We believe this model is the future of sustainable food production – small farmers producing food that is efficiently distributed to families who cannot or choose not to produce their own food.
How can one small farmer make a difference?
The first step is for all of us to become aware of our energy use and our environmental impact. Then take successive steps to make changes.
As farmers, we can set an example as responsible stewards of the land. We can conserve energy, protect the environment and still make a good living.
At our farm, we’re using energy conservation to lower our energy costs and improve profitability. We switched from incandescent to fluorescent lighting in all our buildings. We turn off the barn lights during the day and use natural light from windows instead. We installed a digitally controlled cooling system that uses outside air to dramatically reduce our energy costs for cold storage. And we schedule our deliveries to coincide with pickups from our family farms to save fuel.
Our goal is to become a zero-waste facility. We installed a cardboard compactor on site so we can recycle cardboard waste. We recycle our plastic cartons. We compost our hen manure using an in-vessel composting system and share it with local farmers for their fields.
We’re also finding that good animal husbandry is good business. Our hens are more productive because they’re allowed to act like chickens. They live cage free with the ability to perch, scratch and socialize, so they lay more eggs with higher shell quality.
I take pride in my small part in making the world better for all of us. As an organic farm, our requirement for organic feed keeps farmers in business raising organic grains. I like knowing that a few thousand acres of corn or soy will not receive pesticides or commercial fertilizer to feed our hens. And I look forward to not having the rubbish truck come to our farm, and instead send all waste back to our suppliers.
Collectively taking small steps is how small family farms can make a difference.