Hiatus

I’ve been writing this blog for three years now, effectively covering the time span in which the farm has grown from a gentle beginning to a full-time, year-round occupation for us. We started the blog for several reasons: to reach & educate potential and existing customers; as a personal outlet for opinions, frustrations, and joys; and to provide some documentation of our path. I think all three of those goals have been achieved, and I’ve enjoyed doing it. However, as this fall and early winter progress, it’s getting harder to find the time and motivation to keep up with the writing commitment.

One, my old laptop died a few months ago, such that we’re down to one computer (we can’t afford, and don’t really need, another). This time of year requires a great deal of computer work to handle seed planning & orders, organic paperwork, accounting/taxes, other business needs, and so on. Neither of us enjoy spending too much time in front of screens (that’s why we’re farmers), and the blog just isn’t a priority compared to all the other needs.

Two, I’m no longer sure we’re getting a satisfactory return from the writing. We’ve justified the time expenditure as a marketing tool, and it certain has been valued and used by a number of customers, but it’s hard to judge whether we’re really getting enough extra sales and loyalty overall to justify the many hours/week I spend making this an interesting, unique product. It certainly doesn’t generate any revenue on its own, and I’m philosophically opposed to introducing advertising. I could in theory put a Paypal button or something up, but also doubt that would generate any real revenue. In effect, as our budget gets tighter and our time more valuable, I have a harder time justifying giving away hard-earned intellectual property for free (like most other online media).

Three, we’re wondering whether the blog hurts us as well as helps us. Certainly we have…unorthodox views (for organic farmers) on a number of subjects, and are concerned that being too outspoken hurts us. Customers make choices based partly on personal opinions, and I don’t know whether we offend people as well as attracting them by making our views known. The same is true for our Organic Certification, which I know for a fact drives some customers away who associate “organic” with “dirty” or “overpriced”. Are we better off just shutting up and letting the average market customer think we’re “normal” organic farmers? Certainly I don’t know of many conservatives who choose to patronize us because we refuse to apply for USDA grants, and can easily envision more liberal customers being bothered by certain opinions. I like contributing to a more open discussion of food policy, but am not sure it’s worth it for our business.

Four, we’re looking into finding more lucrative outlets for my deep enjoyment of writing. Many of the things I have or intend to write up for the blog are also potential paid articles/columns for local, regional, or national outlets, whether small-farm journals or other media. Why keep giving it away on an obscure 30-hits-per-day blog when I can focus on getting that once-in-a-while paid publication? This shift would at least help justify the writing & research time in a way that a blog does not. Over the winter we’re going to explore those options and see what happens.

So all of this means we’re going to significantly reduce the posting and content on this blog, at least for the winter. Look for something maybe once a week or twice a month, mostly just general updates on what we’re doing and how the farm is preparing for next year. I’m going to lay off the politics almost entirely, and try to stick to easy, photo-rich subjects. I’d be happy to get any feedback you all have, but this pretty much has to happen for now. We’ll see how winter goes, and maybe relaunch with a different format in spring. I still like this as a market-report forum and want to at least keep that going.

Anyway, enjoy your winter, as we certainly will, and remember to check in here now and then for a few updates.

8 thoughts on “Hiatus

  1. That's too bad. I read the blog regularly (you are on my RSS feed). Sometimes, though, in the world of social networking, the payoff is not immediate in financial terms but long term as one builds brand name, loyalty, etc. And when the market is on, the updates let folks know what to expect and look for. Of course, a farmer in central Missouri has a limited audience to begin with, but being part of a local Missouri conversation about food keeps you in the loop and keeps you known to those who would not know you otherwise. I think I first learned of you when you would comment at length on the Tribune's old food message board. I wanted duck. You posted the logistics of raising a duck locally. It was very enlightening.

  2. I'd like to wish you the best of luck with future plans, and will look forward to occasional (?) posts and market plans in the spring. I totally understand your decision to stop blogging, since it doesn't generate revenue–I live in St. Louis, and am of course unable to buy from you at the market. But I do love reading about what you are growing in our climate, and I always appreciate reading about your sometimes unconventional, but always well thought out viewpoints on food politics and farming practices. I've really taken some of these ideas to heart—just for example, you've written about how it is more profitable to sell specialty crops than, say, tomatoes as small growers—now I make a point of buying the higher value but more uncommon vegetables from local growers at our farmers markets, since I imagine their profit margins are similar to yours. I'll look forward to seeing some of your thoughts in print or other media in the future!

  3. Thanks for the thoughts (and in some cases emails). I certainly do value the connections & loyalty built by this format, and in some cases it has had an even more specific economic benefit. One reader, who I didn't even know existed before, read a post about infrastructure work and wrote to offer us a large amount of T-posts, gates, and fencing he was removing from his property at a fair used price, thus saving us lots of money and work. I still need to invite him out here someday to see his materials in action. And perhaps we'll never know some of the connections and value built through this; Christopher's post above is a great example, as I also didn't know any of that before (thanks for sharing).Keep in mind I'm not shutting down, just going to a much slower posting schedule and trying to focus my writing more. And as much as I thought I would lay off the policy posts, there are already a couple just screaming to be written at some point. So we'll see what happens. On the agenda for the next month:A request for input on our business model and several future options.Two real-life (and personal) examples of why giving regulatory agencies too many rules or money is a bad thing.General overview of winter farm projects.A post-pig-butchering report; we'll see just how tasty a whey-corn-acorn-vegetable-fed Berkshire hog can be. Never mind that feeding garbage to pigs is mostly illegal in Missouri (that's another policy post I can't ignore).Enjoy your Decembers, everyone. We will be, and will be in touch on here when practical.

  4. Hey Eric,Unless you are doing this blog for fun, I don't blame you for cutting back on it. It has to be time consuming. I will miss your perspective on farming though. After growing up on a farm (and still farming with my father on a part time basis), I thought I had a pretty good grasp on agriculture. Your blog has taught me there is a lot more to farming then the large scale crop and live stock production I am involved in. I have found your blog very interesting.I hope you will post how your hog turns out. Where were you able to locate a Berkshire? Is there someone locally that is selling piglets? I looked high and low and finally gave up. I am currently raising a Hampshire at my dads farm that should be ready in about 4 more weeks. I would love to give a Berkshire a try next time.This is the Chris that sold you the fencing materials a few months ago. I would love to come by some time and see how you put them to use. I'm sure I will see you at the market one of these days and we can talk about it. Good luck. There are a lot of folks like me out here rooting for you to make your operation work. Chris

  5. I too look forward to your posts. Some I agree with and some I don't but they're fun. And the blog does lead me to look you up at the market. OTOH, it's a drain for you no doubt.I would like to pose an ethical dilemma to you – food safety laws. As you no doubt know, the "no garbage fed to pigs" is meant to prevent trichinosis, since garbage can include meat and animal products, which can spread trichinosis (or, more recently on an industrial scale, Mad Cow). Likewise, the "no raw milk" has an important role as well, in preventing infections, some of which can be fatal. http://www.foodpoisonjournal.com/2010/06/articles/food-poisoning-information/listeria-brucellosis-cases-linked-to-raw-dairy-in-delaware/http://www.dairyreporter.com/Regulation-Safety/Seventh-Listeria-death-linked-to-Prolactal-cheeseI know you never do that but I would never drive while intoxicated, either – yet still support DWI laws. In other words, laws are always for "the other guy." I simply can't give a blanket approval to food producers simply because they are "organic." There has to be a system in place so I don't have to go out to every producer I meet and check out his/her operation. Make sense?

  6. Chris,We got our full-blooded Berkshire from JJR Farm near Tebbets. They sell certified organic pork at the farmers market, and breed year-round, so have feeder pigs available regularly. We got ours at the beginning of September, for $40, and started the butchering yesterday.We'll try to get in touch with you in the spring; I'm hoping to get a number of fencing projects done this winter, and would especially enjoy hosting you once they're done. I used a lot of materials temporarily this year, but am planning more permanent installations. We'll get back to you.

  7. Hey Eric,Sorry to hear that you will be writing less — I know I'm not a frequent commenter but I definitely read everything and love getting to follow you and Joanna's progress with things down in Columbia! But I totally understand the need for less time on the computer, and perhaps this means I should start writing more actual emails to you guys to catch up. As sad I was to turn down your offer, I had a wonderful time this past summer as a full-time wwoofer in oregon. I am pursuing a real apprenticeship for the next full season, and I have you guys to thank for giving me such a great and educational experience helping at chert hollow in '09. You might hear from some farms soon who I listed you as a reference for, just thought I should give you a heads up.Hope things are going well, and I hope I get the chance to head down your way sometime again in the coming year!