At Chestnut Farms we are thrilled and blessed to be able to farm for a living. We LOVE our animals and take pride in making sure that all of our animals are well cared for, happy and raised as nature intended. All our animals enjoy fresh air and sunshine and a low-stress life. Friends often joke that we are the Zen Farm!
We must confess, the business side of running a farm has been a growth area for us. We are much better with cleaning pig pens and moving fences than crunching numbers and moving cost centers (we are still learning what those are!). Rich and I are really focused on our mission: Connecting Communities through Agriculture which for us means connecting with you, our shareholders, and helping all of us work together to preserve traditional farming and understand what it takes to raise an animal in Massachusetts from birth to plate.
We are committed to running a fully transparent farm and we want to make our meat as accessible to as many people as possible (hence the monthly charge vs. the full, upfront charge). Rich and I could not afford our CSA if we had to pay upfront. We also share our lives and those of our livestock each month through our newsletters and honestly and fully answer any and all questions. Finally, we welcome you to our home and our farm twice a year at our Open Barns so you can meet the meat!! (Second Sunday in June and Second Sunday in October). As we and analyze our expenses from last year and make projections for this year, we want to share with you the reasons for the increase of our CSA Shares.
We are all aware that costs have been rising. It is probably most noticeable for you at the gas pump. The same is true on the farm. For instance, the cost of fuel has nearly doubled since 2009. The cost to feed our pigs has increased by nearly 38% just since October 1st. Last year we spent nearly $50,000 on our all natural hog grain which means an increase of $19,000 this year. We feed hay to our sheep, goats and cattle for approximately 180 days (6 months) each year. Here in the northeast, grass doesn’t grow all year round. (unlike Central and South America where most commercial grass-fed beef comes from). So each winter we are faced with a hay bill in the same range as our hog feed bill. As many of you know we buy our hay from local farmers to both help preserve the land and support the community economy. This year we have already been notified that our hay bales (Large 750 lb round bales) will increase from $50 per bale to $65 per bale. We use 450 bales per year which will translate into a $6750 price increase. The layer pellets and meat bird grain has seen a similar spike in costs.
Slaughterhouse, transportation and processing costs have also increased significantly since our last price change nearly three years ago. Many of you may not know that under USDA law (love those guys!) we are NOT legally allowed to have possession of our labels. Those are the federally required labels on the front of our meat packages. They are created, sent to Washington DC for approval and then printed by a specialty printer. They are then sent directly from the printer to the slaughterhouse. Three years ago each label cost us .19 cents. Today, the cost of EACH label is .47 cents. The slaughterhouse charges us .05 to apply each label for a total cost of .52 on each lb of meat – just for the label. Vacuum sealing runs between .48 and .71 cents per lb of meat depending on the cut. Each lb of sausage links sports .78 worth of all natural, American lamb casings to hold the sausage in. So for a lb of Sweet Italian Sausage we are looking at nearly $2.00 before we pay for raising the animal, transportation, packing or processing. Did I mention we are also charged for “waste disposal” of innards, heads and hoofs?
Finally, there is the day-to-day costs of being a small business in Massachusetts . We are required and do carry health insurance for our family which costs us almost TWICE our farm mortgage ($976/month for our mortgage; $1613 for our family Tufts HMO). Obviously, we cannot afford to provide health insurance for any other employees. We carry auto, farm and liability insurance and pay our real estate taxes and utility bills. Last summer we were hopeful that we could have some help on the farm and hired some full-time employees who were great – but quickly learned that the cost of employee taxes, workman’s compensation, unemployment insurance, liability and human resources and a poor hourly wage (under $10/hour) made that prohibitive. As you know, Rich and/or I have been at each and every distribution for the last five years. We have cut back and now have a part time (2 hours a day) man who helps with chores and we will have someone to do the Farmers Markets this summer. Other than that, Rich and I continue to do all the farming, share packing and CSA distribution.
At this point, we feel we have cut as far as we can. We really love our farm and love our shareholders. We want to remain stewards of the land for many years to come. However, in order to be environmentally conscious we must be economically viable. We will have to raise our share prices to cover our increased costs. We have struggled to contain our increase – hence the $88 for a 10 lb share instead of rounding to $90.
Beginning in June our share prices are as follows: