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Column: Starting from Scratch

Welcome to the New Year! The Christmas holidays here at Oxbow farm were very cheery, that is for the time that we were actually here together. My family still lives in Canada and so I packed up the kids and left for a few days, leaving farmer Jim at home to take care of the dogs and the rest of the animals. I may have also left him a few dirty dishes in the sink, but not enough to put me on the naughty list.

As is my luck these days, I had car trouble with no way to fix the problem until the morning of Christmas Eve, so we decided to stay for a few extra days through the 26th. A quick email was sent to Santa and the kid’s gifts were redirected to their grandparent’s house. Poor ol’ Farmer Jim had to celebrate on his own. But you need not worry, he was well taken care of by friends as he bounced around from house-to-house like a hungry pauper looking for a hot meal.

When we returned after Christmas, he noted how hard it was to take care of all of the animals in the barn day after day and make deliveries to the various stores. I think he had it easy as he was not working around kid’s school and extracurricular activities, but I never mentioned that. How does the old saying go? Don’t judge a woman until you have walked a mile in her muck boots? He now understands to a degree the complexity of my life.

The complexity continued as we sat down recently to evaluate the past two years here on the farm and decide if we can start to treat it as a business, and not just provide cheap eggs for the public, subsidized by free labor and supplies on our part.

First off, we love what we do. We love working to improve our soil and land. We love raising our own food and we love to be able to provide this to others who share the same values as we do.

We are lucky in the Monadnock region as we have a large and ever-increasing population that desires to eat healthy and know how their food was raised and processed. They know the value of a great meal and don’t mind spending a little extra for an egg sandwich made with homemade bread and local cheese, instead of one that costs pennies to buy, but has larger hidden costs towards the environment and our bodies. (Not to mention it is as tasty as a shoe heel.) The first option sounds like a great McOxbow breakfast, if you ask me.

So what is the true cost of our food? What does it cost to produce what we put inside our bodies? Think about the ingredient list and the purchase price. Why does there seem to be a direct correlation between more ingredients and a cheaper price? I can buy a prepackaged pasta side dish for about $1 on sale and half of the ingredients I would have to do an Internet search to find out what they really are. Here is another saying: Don’t eat anything that your grandmother can’t pronounce. Now think about a bag of carrots, preferably organic, from New Hampshire and purchased in season from a farmer at a local market. There is one ingredient in that package, yet it could be considered expensive.

This is no different when it comes to broiler chickens or eggs produced by someone in New Hampshire, or let’s just say for arguments sake, a dashing female farmer living in Dublin. The cost of farming is high, no matter what the product and, therefore, the price reflects that.

Well, most prices reflect that. You can purchase a dozen eggs for less than $2 in some grocery stores. How much do you want to bet that the labor that is put into that carton of uniformly colored and shaped, logo-stamped eggs, is cheap? How much do you want to bet that those chickens are packed double or triple full into a space that was meant for one? How many of these operations would let the public roam freely inside their barns, gathering their own eggs with their little kids running around outside? Most of these places require masks and full protective body suits before entering.

I can assure you that the products you buy from farmers living within the subscription range of this paper and a little bit beyond are from family farms that are not large-scale operations that qualify for various financial aid or discounts. The situation at large-scale farms certainly do not reflect the work and the pride that goes into every freshly cleaned coop and hand-washed egg that gets delivered to a neighbor in a small New England town, or any small town for that matter. And in the end, there is really no comparison in the quality of the product produced.

It has been shown over and over again that animals, and specifically in the case of laying hens which are raised on pasture, lay eggs that have a better nutritional value than those raised conventionally. Farm fresh eggs have more Vitamin A and E and Omega-3 fatty acids that are key to one’s overall health. Why would you want to consume anything of lesser quality? I like to think of farm fresh eggs as the Rolls Royce of all eggs. It’s just too bad that local farmers can’t charge a used-car price for the same quality.

Are you convinced yet as to how to spend your money at the grocery store? Perhaps I am preaching to the choir, as you already support your local grocery store that supports the local food producers fairly. Or perhaps you drive an extra mile or two out of your way to shop at the little farm store attached to the side of a barn? Either way, I hope that someday in the not so distant future we will have a new, and in some ways a return to the old definition of “conventional” farming in our region and across the U.S.

Kim Graham lives in Dublin with her husband, Jim, and their two children. The couple hails from New Brunswick, Canada. This column chronicles their first-ever adventures in farming. For more about the farm, see www.oxbowfarmnh.com.

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