Sometimes we'll get asked a question from a customer that warrants more. More questions, more research, more conversation... Recently, I was asked the same question I get often at the market. "Where is your farm?". I gave my stock answer, "Herkimer County, about an hour west of Albany." The faces dropped with an, "Oh." Normally, the conversation ends but I was curious and, apparently, it was fairly early in the day since I was still talkative. "Why?" I asked.
The two went on to tell me they were supposed to make a meal using food only within 100 miles of its origin for a class they were taking. "Ahhh!" I said. <Insert Soapbox Moment Here>
Further chatting revealed it was about fossil fuel consumption... In theory, quite admirable! However, here's the deal. We recently moved to where we are, formerly having been in Sullivan County (about an hour and half closer to the city than we are now). Sullivan was NOT a farm friendly area. There were daily trips to the local hardware store for feed (and the trucking the feed mill had to make to get the feed to said store), 14 hour trips to have pork processed USDA, the hauling of hay for winters (not to mention all the trips the local sherriff's department made to the farm for neighbor smell complaints)... I could go on but - you get the picture.
Instead, we moved to a farm friendly neighborhood (we get a knock on the door from a friendly passerby rather than a citation when the unruly sheep escape to 'explore' as they like to do). Has it increased our mileage and drive to NYC for market? Yes. What you are neglecting to ask, oh fossil fuel savers, is what is the tradeoff? Our hay trucking is 0 - our neighbor cuts and bales it from our field. The plant for pork? ONE HALF an hour away. The feed is brought - in bulk - by the feed mill itself, which is more than an hour closer to us here than there.
So why, then, travel to NYC when we could stay in our 100 mile radius here? First, our business base is there - restaurants and one on one customers who have been loyal and faithful since Violet Hill took its place in Union Square. Secondly, as I mentioned, we are IN farm country. Our neighbors are more likely to be pained than excited should we show up with eggs from the farm. Their own chickens are laying steadily, too. The land is sprawling, the population akin to a single highrise in the city and, hey, we love it in both places! We are fortunate to experience the best of 'both worlds' and do our best to make sure we are doing that with as much respect and knowledge of our impact as we can.
You've heard them by now. They are littering twitter and facebook, popping up on signs and ads - "Cage Free", "No Antibiotics", "Vegetarian Feed"! Some sage advice (that I have learned in the not too distant past)... what these phrases may conjure up in our minds isn't exactly what we may expect.
When I heard "Free Range", I naturally pictured chickens running free, baby chicks in a row, exploring the grass. Then I became a farmer. All of these terms are "Trade Descriptions" - a loose, unregulated guideline regarding eggs. Google an explanation of the guidelines from the USDA... I'll wait. OK, RIGHT?! Who knew? There is an awful lot of wiggle room in there and the transparency of your food producer is becoming a must.
So. Get informed. Ask questions that you may have after informing yourself. We answer a lot of questions - over. and over. and over. and OVER! Yet that's what we signed up to do. Our intent is to be as straightforward and transparent as we can. And educate. And, sometimes, debate - especially if you're talking to Paul!
Use your noggin. Think about what you're seeing. As much as we want to believe that our farmer is as honest as Abe, sometimes necessity is the mother of... well, truth stretching. 5000 chickens can't lay 10,000 eggs a week. Ever. The "O" word is often overrated.
But these issues are twofold. One, support your farmers. Chances are, much of what they may be doing is to compete with your local loss leader specials that you know you sometimes can't resist. Once you support, then you can insist. "I'm willing, I want." Then your eggs can come from idyllic chickens chasing grasshoppers in the field under the setting sun. And you, can show off your Buzz Words.
The Great (Name) Debate...
The name Violet Hill Farm came, originally, from the farm Paul lived when his farming adventure began. Named (not surprisingly) after the violets on the hill of the farm by a past generation. At the time, he decided to use the name as his DBA. - then, as we often fail to believe that, sometimes, relationships end.
Fast forward to our move to West Winfield, NY. New place, new relationship, new digs for the animals, business and family. New name? We were seeing more "Violet Hill Farms" pop up on the internet, maybe something more unique? If ever there was a time, now was perfect. So we discussed. And discussed. And discussed! Months of back and forth - the pros and cons - the possibilities of what the new name would be. Start with an "A"? A local name (but who could spell it)? Pick two words that describe the place and stuff them together until it sounds right? Oh the angst.
When we get a moment away from our 'list', we try to explore a little more of the place we call home and all the amazing treasures it is unfolding to us. This spring, we decided to explore the old apple orchard and abutting woods. We marveled at the ancient trees, the budding berries, the slow winding river and the blooming forest - and we discussed.
Baby on my back, Paul's hand in mine (ok, so he may or may not have been kind of pulling me up), climbing the old logging trail to the top of the hayfield and we saw them. Patches of tiny wild violets. "Nuh-uh," I think was what I said. All the deliberation, the devil's advocate, the months of reaching for a different name, silenced by delicate petals of purple perched above the lush shiny green leaves. And as we climbed, they multiplied. The clumps turned into patches into little fields on this hill we were climbing. Violet Hill it was. Maybe it should be Violet Hill Farm - Chapter Two Three, maybe, but that just makes for messy business cards and a very long web address. So Violet Hill Farm we will stay and continue to grow in so many ways.