Direct Sales or Distribution?

It’s an article of faith these days that selling your farm products directly to the consumer is the only way to go. Ah, if it were only that simple!

The nice thing about selling direct is that face-to-face sales build trust and loyalty, provides direct feedback, and eliminates the middleman, allowing you to keep all the money. All well and good, but it’s awfully labor-intensive, especially if you live a long way from your customers. Farms, you have probably noticed, are way out in the country, and you’re a long way from your neighbors, let alone your customers.


Thirty Years of the HP 41C Calculator

Classics never go out of style. I still use the same type of programmable calculator today that I did thirty years ago.

It seems hard to believe, but thirty years ago I plunked down $299 for an HP-41C calculator, which had just been released by Hewlett-Packard. I was a penniless college student at the time, and for the life of me I can’t remember where I got the money.

I was living in Corvallis at the time, attending Oregon State University. The HP-41C had been designed across town at the Hewlett-Packard campus, and many of my classmates were HP employees.


The Ideal Roof for a Chicken Coop.

I’ve been meditating on the ideal roof for a chicken coop. It ought to have the following properties:

  • Easy to install.
  • Cheap.
  • Lasts forever.
  • Strong.
  • Rainwater doesn’t cause mud in front of the house.
  • Chickens don’t roost on top.

Also, if you live in the suburbs, it should be pretty enough to shut up your pompous neighbors.

Most of my houses have shed roofs made of galvanized steel roofing. The configuration is a “shed roof,” which just means that it’s higher and the front than at the back, so rainwater pours off at the back of the house where is causes less trouble.

My roofs are just metal, with no plywood decking underneath, and no insulation. This is appropriate for highly ventilated houses with enough airflow that the inside temperature and humidity are about the same as outside. You don’t have to worry about condensation in such a house.


Water Well Woes

You won’t believe how little water our well gives us — one quart a minute. That’s 440 gallons a day, which is enough if we don’t want to water the lawn with it. We have a 1500-gallon tank (these things are surprisingly affordable and lightweight black plastic affairs that a single person can roll off a trailer and into place), so we have plenty of water, until we run out.

We didn’t run out, but it started smelling bad. This is the other bad thing about wells in Oregon’s Coast Range — sulfur in the water, and the sulfur-loving bacteria that go with it. Not a health hazard, but unaesthetic.


What’s the Difference Between Brown and White Eggs?

In the bad old days, eggs in the big cities mostly came from the Midwest. Farmers would collect eggs and leave them, unrefrigerated, until they felt like going into town. They’d sell the eggs at the general store or the feed store, and the merchant would hold them, unrefrigerated, until he had a large enough lot to ship to an egg wholesaler.

The eggs would work their way towards the city, unrefrigerated, by slow freight. Eventually, they’d arrive in the store, where they would be set out, unrefrigerated, for the consumer.


I Love Farmers’ Markets

When I was a kid, my parents owned a campground nestled into a redwood forest. This gave me a pleasant outdoor summer job every year, which was great. But the best thing was the customers. By the time they got here, most campers were at least two days into their trip and had left most of their stress behind. A beautiful, quiet setting and the knowledge that they were hundreds of miles away from their troubles put them into a great mood. It was a pleasure dealing with them.

The local farmers’ markets are just the same. They’re full of happy strolling shoppers who are enjoying a little time off from the stress of their day, ready to please and be pleased. It’s life-affirming for all involved.


Chckens vs. Tall Grass

Chickens like short grass and do poorly in tall grass. I can see this as I mow the pasture, because the chickens get excited about the foraging prospects of the newly mown swath, rushing around excitedly looking for bugs and yummy young plants revealed once the tall grass has been cut.

Grass has few calories but lots of vitamins and protein. Chickens can only digest grass if it’s young and it still bright green. Once it starts to fade, they lose interest.

Physically, tall grass is an impediment to them, preventing them from going where they want. It also triggers annoying behaviors like laying eggs in the grass rather than in the nest houses, and encouraging them to hunker down and hide rather than run when frightened, raising the possibility that they’ll allow the tractor to run them down. I’ve only ever killed one chicken with the mower. That was enough.


Hooray! The Regular Farmers’ Market Season Has Begun!

Memorial Day weekend is the traditional opener for farmers’ markets. Here in the Corvallis area, we open about six weeks earlier than that, but still, there’s a big upsurge in both customers and vendors over Memorial Day.

Saturday’s market was a tremendous success, with swarms of people taking a relaxed amble through the market on a beautiful spring morning. The Corvallis Saturday Farmer’s Market is set in Corvallis’ Riverfront Park, which is a wonderful setting, at the edge of Corvallis’ old-fashioned downtown.


The Fire-Hose Trick for Towing Vehicles

What do you do when your tractor is stuck in the mud and any vehicles that you use to pull it out is likely to get stuck, too? Put the tow vehicle on relatively dry ground and use an extra-long tow strap! We used a hundred-foot coil of old fire hose (1.5″). This stuff is lightweight, immensely strong, and not too inconvenient to use.

Actually, when I say “we,” I mean “my neighbor,” who appeared with two sons and a pickup truck to rescue my tractor. They loaded the pickup with some of my firewood for extra traction, and plucked out my tractor from the mud. It was nicely done! That tractor was dug in so deep that the wheels were grating on pagodas in China.


Price War!

We’re dropping our prices this week. There’s no more room in the refrigerator, so we need to drum up some extra sales. Since there are other egg vendors at the Saturday Farmer’s Market, undercutting their cheapest eggs with our cheapest eggs ought to draw in some bargain-conscious customers.

Setting prices is a screwy business. Most farmers are too insecure to do it well, and end up setting their prices too low, increasing the odds that they will fail. Just the concept of, “What’s the right price?” is pretty much an imponderable: a question with so many ramifications that your mind can spin around in tight little circles forever.