Got lemons? Make lemonade.
My job description: I put out fires, solve the unsolvable, pull horseshoes out of my ###, reinvent the wheel again and again and again, do the undoable, you get the idea…and also take lemons and make lemonade (lucky for us farmers there’s always plenty of lemons).
I have to complain; my job description. But honestly, the season itself has been pretty darn good. I really feel for the western farmers dealing with a catastrophic drought. The toll on their humanity will be high. This is the best year moisture wise for probably 20 years.
So the lemonade I’m mixing up is hopefully going to be a part solution for our farm and at the same time provide additional food to Feed NS. I hope I get enough sugar in it to make it popular with consumers.
At Elmridge Farm we started out as mainly a market garden that supplied the farmers markets we attended with any surplus going to small wholesale customers. When we had larger surpluses we were almost always able to sell it through one of several neighbouring farms that were shipping to the big box grocers. The problem is that the “food safety” protocols of the large retailers began to demand more and more that their suppliers follow an accreditation system, mostly comprised of a paper trail, that everyone agrees is a lot more smoke and mirrors than real improvements to food safety. Every year the demands are more stringent and require more expense by the grower to maintain. Each product has its own complex handling, tracking and recording system. If you have one or two crops you will be able to handle the load with moderate expense and moderate indignities of stupid rules made by some pretty dim bureaucrats. For example, it is an offence to chew gum in an orchard. I agree, chewing gum is some pretty dangerous stuff.
Before I start this next bit I need to explain that the NS Department of Agriculture has been preaching diversity of crops as a way to stabilize income from year to year. Not all crops will fail in a single season so one crop failure out of ten crops is manageable. It works beautifully. Elmridge farm has been proof of that. The problem is that new regulations being rolled out at an exponential rate all work against it by driving administrative costs per crop higher. With no market protection from imported crops not meeting these standards we have no way to recoup the cost and an already low profit margin is whittled down a little more. Here’s a happy fact; primary agriculture is, on average, the least profitable industry worldwide. (Primary agriculture is the actual growing of the food. As I have said before, at Elmridge Farm we have never made money growing food, we make our profits through the value add of direct marketing. That’s a second, complete business on top of farming.)
The design of the system gives the advantage to those that grow a large volume of only one crop. The economics go downhill from there. If you have five crops it’ll be very cumbersome. If you have ten crops you’ll be seriously thinking about dropping a bunch of them. At Elmridge we peaked at nearly 100 crops and varieties in order to sell our own product at the various farmers markets. The paperwork for that is simply impossible. The result is that, knowing that very soon we need accreditation or sell nothing, we have cut the number of crops by 40% but still have been unable to get certification both because it is still cost prohibitive and too complex to handle because we can’t find enough Canadians to help us manage the farm.
So here we are growing crops that arguably meet a higher standard than conventionally grown crops and that any honest farmer will agree are every bit as food safe as any other but if we have surplus we can barely get rid of it, let alone recover costs. We have even ended up dumping crop because we can’t access the conventional market with our naturally grown product that is at least as good as conventional, minus the pesticides.
That’s one hell of a big lemon!!
A number of farmers in this province donate a large amount of product to food banks. The irony of that is that those least able to afford to do so, donate a very disproportionately large amount to feed those who can’t afford it. The food bank needs food and the farmers need the money more than just about any other industry out there so I have a devious plan (‘devious’ just makes it sound cool) At Elmridge, in recent years, we have donated well over $100k of produce to Feed NS annually. We get a 25% tax credit but that comes nowhere near covering cost. At least it isn’t wasted.
We have set up a separate page on our on online store where would-be food bank donators can select and purchase surplus or less than perfect product and we, at Elmridge, will add it to the donations that Feed NS picks up weekly from our farm.
We will offer those products that we have in surplus at the moment so the product offering will change week to week. The bonus is that donators to the food bank get more than double the bang for their buck because we will be offering wholesale pricing (or less in the case of cosmetically challenged product).
I had originally thought about issuing a tax deductible receipt for each donation but I was informed by Feed NS that the vast majority of people aren’t interested in the tax deduction anyway. That’s actually rather heart warming to hear. Good for us! I guess maybe the lemonade doesn’t need quite as much sugar as I thought. So, no tax receipt unless you are thinking of a fairly large donation, in which case, we will figure it out with Feed NS and get you one.
It’s a win-win-win situation. More food ends up in the hands of those who need it, less food gets wasted, and us farming folks get more, much needed, cash.
So have a look, pass on this blog or the link to the page and, whatever you do…..
Keep eating your veggies!