Today we visit a farm in Forest Hill, Maryland where the cows are grass fed and the customers come from miles and miles in every direction for meat they can trust. Grand View Farm is run by Nick Bailey where the food raised exceeds the quality of organic. He has plenty of stellar advice for the backyard farmer in training.
Hiland Naturals: Why have you chosen Hiland Naturals to support the diets of your chickens and pigs?
Nick Bailey: We are committed to producing the highest quality, most unadulterated food for our local customers and for that reason we don’t cut corners in our production. We feel very strongly that if we are going to provide the alternative to the industrial food system, that our products are going to be as opposite from grocery store-bought products as possible.
It goes beyond labels for us; since day one our goal was to prove a business model that healed the land, respected the natural characteristics of the animals, respected the customer and respected the farmer. Therefore, we go beyond the “organic” standards by raising our animals together on rotating pastures just as nature intended. We would defeat the purpose of this if we were to supplement those animals’ diets with GMO-laced grain that had been sprayed with chemicals.
Furthermore, we needed a supplier that could meet our growing needs, and grow with us. We needed a company that could provide us with bulk feed that was delivered efficiently. We went from getting a few bags a week to needing a tractor-trailer every month and Hiland was there to service us and meet those demands. For those reasons, we chose non-GMO Hiland Naturals feed and are very happy with the decision.
Hiland Naturals: What does “farm to table” mean to you?
Nick Bailey: There are a lot of buzz words and phrases in our dynamic niche food system that direct to the consumer farms like GVF are carving out all across this country. Its’ an exciting time for local food but with that will come the growing pains associated with marketing the food.
We stress an open-door policy at the farm instead of focusing on fancy labels, this way customers can get that visceral experience that they deserve. By the time the tour is over, the label on our food is a mere afterthought—they know exactly what they are getting.
With all of that said, “farm to table” is a nice homely phrase that is pretty literal. Its’ not likely to be hijacked by multinational food corporations and really seems to fit what we are trying to do at GVF. We like it for now and think that our customers can associate with the phrase enough to want to learn more about GVF.
Hiland Naturals: In your “ask a farmer” area of the website, what’s the most common or interesting question that you get?
Nick Bailey: We are very fortunate to be a direct to the consumer business and we feel strongly about having a relationship with our customers. Most consumers have lost touch with the where/how their food was raised and we want to make sure that isn’t the case for any GVF customers.
They have our website, cell phone numbers, emails and home address; if they need to get ahold of us they know that they will be able to and we think that is extremely important. The second part of that, is that our customers are SMART, they come to GVF because they are educated and they know what they are looking for in their food.
For those reasons, we mostly get very intelligent questions, with the most common simply asking to expand on aspects of our production. They want to make sure that the cattle are NEVER fed grain, or that the pigs and chickens are on pasture and fed GMO-free feed, or they want to know that we don’t spray chemicals and fertilizers on our pastures and gardens.
These are all necessary, intelligent questions that we are happy to answer. We must be doing something right, because the typical response from them is “YAY! We’ll see you at the Farm Store!”
Hiland Naturals: Why did you decide to do a buying club? How has that changed your business model?
Nick Bailey: It was a no-brainer for us. Other farmers around the country had proven the concept and paved the way for GVF to implement a successful buying club program in the Baltimore area.
We already had loyal customers driving over an hour every couple of weeks to get their food. We’ve always been so humbled that folks go to that extent that we felt it only right to meet them halfway (or more) especially if it meant ten times the value of the order because all of their friends and neighbors were ordering as well.
Our retail dollar is very important to making sure the farm will be viable and relevant for generations to come. Having more retail customers not only makes the farm more profitable, it adds a layer of security. We don’t run the risk of losing a single customer that buys a large percentage of our product, like a big chain of grocery stores. We love the direct to the consumer relationships that we have for these very reasons.
Hiland Naturals: You have a bunch of local food partners! What’s your advice for a new farmer looking to make a profitable business from this way of life?
Nick Bailey: It’s really nice to work with chefs and business owners who get just as excited as we are about the farm and how GVF is raising animals. With that said, having a bunch of restaurants, farmers market delivery services and natural food outlets doesn’t necessarily make a farm profitable, just look at all of the reasons that big AG is failing and must be subsidized by the federal government.
Our local food partners are an essential part of GVF and we are very grateful for all of the chefs and shop owners that support our farm.
With that said, my best advice to a new farmer would be the same advice that Joel Salatin told me when I asked him about wholesale, “Do wholesale ONLY if you can’t sell enough retail.”
Sounds simple enough but that advice has steered us for years. It’s easy to convince a chef to buy 50 chickens a week from you at rock-bottom pricing, but as a new farmer you’ll soon find out that 14 hour days in all weather conditions makes one demand a respectable price for a quality product.
For that reason, I would echo Salatin in advising new farmers to respect themselves and our industry when selling their products—only go to wholesale when you can’t sell enough retail, always put your retail orders first, always work to expand your retail and never lower your wholesale prices to more than 10-15 percent off of retail.