Here in the “heartland,” grocery shoppers are fortunate to live close to the source of much of our produce, bread, milk, and meat. It’s easy to be in touch with the local working families whose labor supplies our dinner table. You’d think the relationship between grower and consumer would be simple – they cultivate their product, then exchange it for your money.
In a truly free market, that would be the case. But this is 21st-century America, where our government has burgeoned out of control. Often there is an exorbitant amount of red tape that prevents an organic connection from farmer to customer. This means that a task as uncomplicated as selling fresh eggs to the community is now a tangled mess of paperwork, permits, and regulations. The irony: the bulk of our state’s exports are food items that get shipped out and then shipped back in for us to purchase in stores.
Allison interviewed LPKS Marketing and Advertising Director Olivia Hayse, whose family runs a farm outside of Derby, KS, to find out more about this process. Thanks for sharing, Olivia!
AR: First, tell me about your farm!
OH: We are on 20 acres south of Derby. Right now the main thing we’re doing is pasture-raised, grass-fed chickens and chicken eggs. We have one flock for eggs and another for meat. We also have ducks but are only selling duck eggs as of now. We just took our pig into the butcher for pasture-raised pork. There is also a seasonal garden on the property.
Our goal is to raise enough for us to eat – but if there’s an abundance, we sell to other people. It’s kind of hit-or-miss with what there is – “do we have enough produce in the garden to sell?”
The next step is to get some cows, we’re just not quite there yet. We’re working our way up.
AR: Who do you sell to?
OH: It’s mostly friends and family, by word of mouth. We don’t sell at the farmer’s market yet, so people have to come on-farm to buy. Legally, we can’t sell the meat at a farmer’s market and make a transaction off the farm.
AR: So, what is it you attempted to sell, and why did you eventually decide not to?
OH: We had a deal where we were going to raise chickens for a specific restaurant in town. We were preparing to ramp up our numbers, and were confident that we could do it. We have a friend who runs the farmer’s market in Old Town in Wichita, and he was pushing for us to be vendors. We wondered why you don’t see a lot of chickens sold at the market. It turns out it’s not necessarily the USDA that’s the barrier, but the KDA [Kansas Department of Agriculture].
We process and butcher the chickens ourselves on the farm, in an open air facility. Family and friends come over. It’s safe and humane. But in order to sell at market, KDA has to come to my facility and approve, and they would want closed-air and all these things we don’t believe in. That would be a ton of money we’d have to put into building a KDA-approved facility, and who knows how many times we’d have to go back and forth with that.
In order for eggs to be considered “pasture-raised,” it only takes a minimum of one hour outside to officially get the stamp of approval – versus my chickens who spend 24/7 outside (they have a pen for inclement weather). So we’d also sacrifice the quality of what we’re doing. KDA regulations include inspecting the facility and the animals, things like how to label the chickens, all these touchpoints that add so much work onto us. Even then, you still can’t sell out of state, so [the KCMO metro] is off-limits. If we do have a KDA-approved facility, we still have to prove that we process in separate batches what we sell and what we keep for our family.
We could also take our chickens, get them on a trailer and transport them several hours away to the next closest facility. The off-farm process includes extra gas, time, etc. At this point we’re only hobbyists, so we can’t afford the resources this takes. Even at a farmer’s market, there’s the cost of renting a booth.
So, we are able to sell our chickens, but people have to come to the farm. Eggs are simple – the work-around is the amount of hens you have. If it’s less than 200 birds, no regulations. We only have 25 hens, so we’re able to sell our eggs pretty easily – but on-farm, not at market. We have a sign so people can stop by.
AR: Is this true for all products, or specific to poultry?
OH: There’s a separate process for meat, eggs, dairy, pork, and produce. It’s all treated differently. Raw milk is a separate thing, too. You’re not allowed to advertise. You can do it on-farm, but that’s a whole different can of worms.
I wish I could get the KDA to approve our farm, but I have to go to them multiple times to be able to sell everything we want to sell. We’ve talked about going ahead with the [approved] facility, but the reason we keep backing out is that we believe, as libertarians, that the consumer should decide. The USDA and KDA claim “quality assurance,” but our principle is that we should do what we want on our farm, and other people can deem us “safe” or whatever they are looking for.
I’m really big on knowing your farmer. Dean’s and my goal is to sell you food that makes you feel good and connects you to the process.
AR: What would you say is the biggest misconception that city folks like me might have when it comes to the origin of our food?
OH: It’s gonna get a little dark for a minute. The biggest misconception is out of sight, out of mind – they don’t think about the death associated with their food. I will see people eat chicken breasts 3x/week, but when I ask them to take part in the butchering they say “oh I could never.” Well, that’s where your food comes from! If this chicken is going to sacrifice its life for you, the least you could do is be a part of [the process] and be thankful for it. Death is a part of your food whether you acknowledge it or not. It doesn’t have to be grotesque – the way we process our animals is a kosher kill. We have taken a lot of time to make sure it is painless for them.
We’re not pushing you to be vegan – these [animals] are designed for your consumption. Just be aware. People are so checked out. I meet so many people who are appalled by butcher day. Yes, that is a part of it, don’t be surprised.
We had a vegan come and stay with us for a long weekend, and we gave him a farm tour. On the last day he was here, I found him sitting by the pasture. I asked him if he was ok, and he said “I’ve been watching [the animals] and they’re so happy. If I were to eat meat, I’d want it to be one of yours.”
Our motto on our farm is that our animals only have one bad day – the one where they sacrifice for us. What your food eats matters. And the happiness of what you eat matters. Grocery store chickens were in peril when they died; mine were asleep.
AR: Can you recommend some resources – online or social media – that can foster this understanding of food and an organic connection to the source?
OH: Go to our farm blog to read about our mission and research what we’re doing! Also go to shopkansasfarms.com. I met the guy who started it. For a while during the lockdowns, you couldn’t buy chicken in the store. This guy realized that, and also that we’re shipping most of our food out of state, and created a whole [independent] system. The concept is that you announce where your farm is and where you’re selling. He had so many people supporting him – it grew to tens of thousands of people in a few weeks. I just recently met him at an ag day, and now there’s a website where you can list your farm and sell that way.
AR: Ok, now a fun question. Let’s say the KDA issues are eliminated. What are 3 crops you’d love to grow and sell?
OH: First I’d ramp up my egg production. And for sure, I’d sell my whole chickens! This is a little different since it’s not technically a crop, but I’d love to hatch and sell chicks and ducks to help other people do what we’re doing, on a smaller scale. Right now we order hatchlings and have them shipped in. I’d love for people to be a part of their own food process. “Food starters,” we could call them.
We’ve had people stop by and want to buy a chicken, but I don’t know the legalities of it. Sometimes you have to be careful because the hatcheries will treat them just as bad as the processing facility – for example, there’s only one hen whose job it is to lay all the eggs.
AR: Do you have suggestions for people who want to preserve a connection to local farmers during the winter, after the farmer’s market shuts down for the season?
OH: The best thing to do is to use the market as a mixer. Go and meet the farmers, decide whose prices and flavors you like, and cultivate a relationship with them. Ask if you can tour their farm and even buy their products directly. You’re saving them time and energy by going to them! We tell people, come visit and buy from us anytime.
The second thing is to find out who organizes your farmer’s market and advocate for a winter market. It is more expensive, because they have to find a booth instead of using outdoor space. Sometimes they’ll do pickup days, CSAs [community supported agriculture] and things like that. You can sell and grow meat year-round; winter is a good time to buy because they’ve already butchered [the meat] and it’s just sitting in the freezer waiting to be replaced with fresh items in spring. The only thing that’s limited by season is vegetables. But there’s a lot of people around here who are good at their wind tunnels and solar power and greenhouses.
Talk to these farmers about what the next step is, and how you can support them. Your food should be based on relationships! Let people decide safety and quality for ourselves, rather than getting the FDA and KDA involved. Kansas feeding Kansans is the way it should be.
AR: Any other thoughts about this that we haven’t covered?
OH: Dean and I were talking last night about how we’re like the third party, trying to break into the political system. We won’t truly make a huge difference unless the big box stores – Dillon’s, Kroger, Hy-Vee, etc. will let us be involved. We’re just a small farm, but the food industry needs to let us in. We’re never going to compare with Tyson and huge industrial producers like that, but we’re even limited at a farmer’s market. It seems like even if we do everything right, we’re only barely breaking through – just like the uphill battle the Libertarian Party faces.
Olivia Hayse is the author and host of “The Mama Marketer” blog and podcast. She has extensive digital marketing experience, including co-founding her own digital marketing agency in 2013. She also has experience working with nonprofits, event planning, photography, and design. Follow her @themamamarketer, where she is open to DMs about Hayseed Farm!
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