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Farm to Table

J.D. Ray


Joined: Apr 01, 2012
Posts: 44
Hello again.

I've mentioned elsewhere that my wife and I own a restaurant. It's medium sized, with 65 seats (scaling to 85 in the summer with outside seating). We serve primarily breakfast and lunch, focus on local sourcing, organic where it makes sense, and other aspects of sustainability such as using compostable to-go containers. Our menu is heavily meat oriented (though we do have quite a few vegetarian options), focusing on pork, though chicken and beef figure prominently. Of course, with a heavy breakfast focus, we serve a lot of eggs and potatoes.

I tell you all this because I thought, in a discussion on farm income, it would be interesting to know how much product a single mid-sized restaurant consumes. It may help with ideas about how much a direct-to-restaurant sales strategy might be worth.

In 2011, a sample of what we purchased is:
  • 3400 pounds of bacon,
  • 1180 pounds of ham
  • 954 cases (171,720) eggs,
  • 475 gallons of half 'n half,
  • 1065 gallons of milk
  • 1100 pounds of Cheddar cheese

  • So, our restaurant consumed 130 pigs' worth of bacon, the egg production of 575 chickens, and the milk production of just one cow. We buy enough cheese, though, to keep a small herd of cows busy. In addition to the Cheddar, we bought between 1500 and 2000 pounds of other cheeses, from pepper jack to chevre (goat), in a variety of sizes and quantities.

    A friend of mine has a restaurant, similar in size to ours that focuses heavily on meat. He buys pigs by the half, two halves a week and consumes everything he buys. Between us, that's a lot of hog.

    I've been knocking around the idea of buying a farm and setting up a farm-to-table system of food production to offset the grocery bill for our restaurant, which last year was over $200,000. If on-farm production could supply even half of what we consume, that's an operational budget of over $100K for a farm. I don't know what kind of farm it would take to produce that much product in a sustainable way, but it seems like that much money is a reasonable base to start from.

    Any thoughts?

    Thanks.

    J.D.
    Devon Olsen


    Joined: Nov 28, 2011
    Posts: 1002
    Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
        
        6
    thanks for posting, useful info for sure, i have been wondering just how much
    lettuce, tomatoes, canteloupe, cucumbers, beans, corn, squash and just about any other vegetables a restaraunt may use on any given day/week month or year...


    Current Cheyenne, WY project
    "Do you Hugel?" T-shirts and other products
    J.D. Ray


    Joined: Apr 01, 2012
    Posts: 44
    I can check with our produce vendor, but I suspect we're going through 1-2 cases each of tomatoes and potatoes a week, a sack of onions, a case of lettuce... It'll take getting a full report from the vendor to be sure, though. I can tell you, though, that we average around $300 a week in produce purchases. That's over $15K per year; not too shabby for 'taters and 'maters.

    Cheers.

    JD
    John Polk
    steward

    Joined: Feb 20, 2011
    Posts: 6650
    Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
        
    137
    Before you buy a farm, go to your State AND County Health Boards. Each jurisdiction has its own set of rules.
    Some jurisdictions are quite lenient in this regard, while some are militantly anal.

    About a year ago, I read about an organic farm that opened a Bed & Breakfast. The B&B was shut down and fined for serving their farm eggs instead of eggs purchased through a registered purveyor.

    If you are in an area that permits this, the benefits go far beyond just saving some cash seasonally.
    Customers seem to love this 'taste of the country' that they cannot get at the supermarket.

    Good luck.
    Devon Olsen


    Joined: Nov 28, 2011
    Posts: 1002
    Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
        
        6
    awesome info JD, i aprreciate it greatly!
    if you don't mind sharing, feel free to post/PM the case price if you do find out, either way thanks for the info thus far
    J.D. Ray


    Joined: Apr 01, 2012
    Posts: 44
    Devon Olsen wrote:awesome info JD, i aprreciate it greatly!
    if you don't mind sharing, feel free to post/PM the case price if you do find out, either way thanks for the info thus far

    Oh, I can tell you about the case price on tomatoes: It ranges from $17 in the summer to $50 or more in the winter. It's crazy. Dunno about the potatoes. We buy Kennebecks for making french fries. We move enough hash browns that we buy them pre-shredded, bagged and frozen for somewhere around $16 per case.

    Hope this helps.

    Cheers.

    JD
    Jeanine Gurley
    steward

    Joined: May 23, 2011
    Posts: 1392
    Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
        
      10
    Just curious - how many potatoes average in a case?


    1. my projects
    J.D. Ray


    Joined: Apr 01, 2012
    Posts: 44
    I don't know how many, exactly, but it's a 50 pound case. I recommend going to http://charliesproduce.com/organic/organiclist.htm and checking out what they have. I'm presuming, of course, that you'd be looking at organic produce.

    Sorry, but no prices are listed. Their customer service line is super helpful, though, if you call to ask.

    Cheers.

    JD
    Jeanine Gurley
    steward

    Joined: May 23, 2011
    Posts: 1392
    Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
        
      10
    Thanks - it was just a curiosity really. I grow lots of potatoes for my own table. Just wondering what my time would be worth if I sold them. So that sounds like aprox 34 cents a pound.
    J.D. Ray


    Joined: Apr 01, 2012
    Posts: 44
    A lot depends on how you package them, if they're organic or not, etc. For consumers (grocery), five pound bags are the norm for bakers or reds. Remember that we're buying in the largest quantity we can to keep the cost low. We've found that we can buy a case of something, half of which will go bad because we don't use it, cheaper than buying just the amount we need. From the produce perspective, it's wasteful. But from a financial perspective, it's smart buying. And we have a buffer if we get busier than we expected. And we compost, so it goes back to ground.
    Fred Morgan
    steward

    Joined: Sep 29, 2009
    Posts: 972
    Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
        
      12
    Here in Costa Rica, many of the small restaurants are connected to a farm, especially for meat. If you send a steer to the auction, you might get 2 dollars a kilo. You will pay at least three times that in the grocery store.

    And of course, do your own butchering and all the waste can go to growing something else, like fish.

    Have your own milk cows and make cheese, the the whey fattens up the pigs...

    Cutting out the middle man, if done wisely, ends up with more profits, and more resilience over the long run. You can develop a vertical monopoly in time (that is where you own it all, from resource to end consumer). It is a wonderful thing.

    We have that with forestry. We do it all, from wood all the way to flooring, doors, cabinets, etc.


    Sustainable Plantations and Agroforestry in Costa Rica
    Lori Crouch


    Joined: Sep 26, 2011
    Posts: 104
    Location: Amarillo, TX.
        
        1
    I have a hard time seeing how all that meat could be sustainably met by a permaculture farm. Honestly, I don't think it could be done. I'm interested in hearing anyone with animal experience answer that portion.
    J.D. Ray


    Joined: Apr 01, 2012
    Posts: 44
    Well, if I understand permaculture correctly (which, mind you, is not assured), the idea is to provide a system, and therefore environment, for people to subsist sustainably. This to me sounds like a system that primarily provides food for the people working the property, with some fraction of the output that is above and beyond that needed to feed the workers going to operational overhead. In a perfect system, all the bills are paid, everyone's fed, and the land is at least not reduced (and hopefully enriched) by the process. However, there is no profit, at least not financially.

    With that understanding, I don't see anything that would keep someone from selling that much meat, or anything else, if the system is designed to do just that. The trick, it seems, is to design the system correctly.

    I've read elsewhere on this forum that pigs can be raised sustainably at a density of about 10 per acre. If a sow produces 20 feeders per year in a farrow-to-finish operation, the finished hogs have a butcher weight of 160 pounds, and the hanging, pasture-fed, organically raised hogs are sold for $2.00 per pound, then an income of around $6000/yr/sow can be had if all the food and labor is provided by the farm. So, if the density figure is correct, then one sow with two acres can provide an income of $6000. If a direct scale can be used, then a 20 acre farm could provide an income of $60,000 annually. Perhaps that farm really needs to be more like 30 acres to take into account feeding the family, having a patch of land dedicated to homes, outbuildings, and other non-pasture areas, but the fact remains that a simple (though labor intensive) system like that can provide an income sufficient to pay a mortgage, taxes, and insurance, some farm labor and machinery costs, and cover a few personal expenses along the way. It's not going to make you rich, but you'll get by nicely, particularly if the farm provides the vast majority of your living needs; a nice example of permaculture. But if one sow on two acres scales on any multiplier, then 100 sows on 200 acres of pasture pushes the income up over $500,000 per year. I don't know about you, but that sounds like "rich guy" type income to me. But if the land is not diminished, and is possibly even enriched in the process, perhaps on a farm that is twice as large as the required pasture so that a complex ecosystem can be maintained, is it any less permaculture than the 20 acre farm? One would think that, with all the vaunted process documentation being sold, classes being taught, etc., someone should be able to answer that. I'm new to permaculture, though, and I certainly can't.

    Cheers.

    JD
    Fred Morgan
    steward

    Joined: Sep 29, 2009
    Posts: 972
    Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
        
      12
    Lori Evans wrote:I have a hard time seeing how all that meat could be sustainably met by a permaculture farm. Honestly, I don't think it could be done. I'm interested in hearing anyone with animal experience answer that portion.


    Well, we do make money on animals, but we have 900 acres of plantations that are sustainable (much on a permaculture mode). The extra "waste" from all those trees, which are raised primarily for wood, goes to raise chickens, cattle, sheep, etc. Here, trees that are good wood trees also produce a huge amount of food for animals.

    And to me, we don't subsist, we do very well, but sustainably, if anything, we use much less than our lands produce, I am always giving away food. As the forest mature, the income increases, as well. We have only been doing this for ten years or so, but evolving as we go.

    The truth is, as we move forward I will buy other farms with our excess and follow the same plan, which means that in time we might end up owning more like 1,000 hectares, than acres.

    The challenge always is how to live simply until your investments catch up and start providing for you, and then, when you do have more, how to reinvest, instead of just consuming more.
    Lori Crouch


    Joined: Sep 26, 2011
    Posts: 104
    Location: Amarillo, TX.
        
        1
    Thank you. It sounds better with the numbers in there. All I could think of when reading the pounds of meat consumed was a rack'em stack'em system to meet the demand. It would take a large amount of animals, but not as many as I had first assumed.

    I would like to think that we could put this system into operation when we get more property, but I get attached to animals too easily. Perhaps that would change once on a farm.
    Fred Morgan
    steward

    Joined: Sep 29, 2009
    Posts: 972
    Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
        
      12
    Lori Evans wrote:Thank you. It sounds better with the numbers in there. All I could think of when reading the pounds of meat consumed was a rack'em stack'em system to meet the demand. It would take a large amount of animals, but not as many as I had first assumed.

    I would like to think that we could put this system into operation when we get more property, but I get attached to animals too easily. Perhaps that would change once on a farm.


    The problem arises that if most people are going to have their slice of suburbia, without even a garden, then farming requires concentrated production. But, if people would covert lawn for food forest, then the amount of traditional agriculture needed, decreases. Traditional agriculture is not sustainable over centuries, so a change has to come, eventually, like it or not.
    Lori Crouch


    Joined: Sep 26, 2011
    Posts: 104
    Location: Amarillo, TX.
        
        1
    Suburban plots are typically too small to produce enough food for the family to feed themselves. But for a decent sized lot, I'd like to think that it's a possibility and perhaps trading with neighbors of surplus. Meat I do not feel is sustainable-speaking to the suburban area. On a small scale with eggs and occasionally eating the hens when they can't produce anymore is sustainable to my mind. The desire of everyone to have more than they need or to have what is not easily achieved in their area brings on many problems-concentrated production.

    I have ripped out about 1/3 of my lawn so far and I get so many comments from my neighbors as to how nice it looks. You would think they would do the same. There is also so much wasted space in cities that could be put to better use producing food for the poor, needy, or homeless within their limits. I couldn't agree with you more, Fred. Thank you!
    Sean Klomparens


    Joined: Apr 12, 2012
    Posts: 2
    Location: Oregon City, OR
    J.D. Ray wrote:
    I've read elsewhere on this forum that pigs can be raised sustainably at a density of about 10 per acre. If a sow produces 20 feeders per year in a farrow-to-finish operation, the finished hogs have a butcher weight of 160 pounds, and the hanging, pasture-fed, organically raised hogs are sold for $2.00 per pound, then an income of around $6000/yr/sow can be had if all the food and labor is provided by the farm. So, if the density figure is correct, then one sow with two acres can provide an income of $6000. If a direct scale can be used, then a 20 acre farm could provide an income of $60,000 annually.
    JD


    If you're selling polyculture fed hogs for 2 bucks a pound, you're vastly underestimating how much you can get for that quality meat. Try doubling, tripling, or quadrupling that. I currently pay 6.50 a pound for bacon and about 4 bucks a pound for pork steaks.
    Devon Olsen


    Joined: Nov 28, 2011
    Posts: 1002
    Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
        
        6
    well if he is selling under typical price, i applaud him
    as permaculturists i feel that it is imperative that we show we can produce, quality, flavorful food for a cheap price without any government subsidies, we must set an example and become the change we wish to see in the world, such as everyone being well fed without advocating theivery, regardless of how popularly endorsed redistribution of wealth may be
    Walter Jeffries


    Joined: Nov 21, 2010
    Posts: 907
        
      18
    Hmm... You need to diversify your menu so it is sustainable. The pig is not just bacon and ham. There are a lot of other cuts. To deal with this we price the high demand cuts high and the low demand cuts low. Chefs learn to be creative. We have to sell the whole of every pig every week. When new restaurants come to us the first thing I explain is, no, they can't get the prime cuts. They need to do their time and earn their way up the pickings ladder. The long time customers get first pick of the pig. Show me some dedication to buying and then they get more seniority. This system works. We're in it for the long term, delivering fresh pork weekly to a lot of stores and restaurants so that all of the pig sells.

    This doesn't mean you always have to serve trotters. But you may have to some times serve lower cuts. Be a creative, adventurous chef and show your customers how you can prepare the pig nose-to-tail. It's a good selling point. People appreciate it.

    Cheers,

    -Walter Jeffries
    Sugar Mountain Farm
    Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
    in the mountains of Vermont
    Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
    http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop

    Check out our Kickstarting the Butcher Shop project at:
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sugarmtnfarm/building-a-butcher-shop-on-sugarmountainfarm
    J.D. Ray


    Joined: Apr 01, 2012
    Posts: 44
    Sean: I suspect those are retail prices you're paying. A farmer has to consider what he can get on the wholesale market as a supplier. Between the farmer and the table, there's typically someone to slaughter, someone to break the whole hog down into cuts, and in the case of pigs, someone to cure the meat. Then there's transportation costs, and don't forget the factor for the inedible bits. You may pay six bucks a pound for lean pork loin, but how much of the 160 pound hanging weight hog is comprised of loin? Not much. There's significantly more in pigskin, fatback, bones, and other parts such as the head. Sure, as Walter suggests, you can make trotters and headcheese, use the fatback in your pie crusts, and fry up the skin for chitlins, ultimately using the entire pig. But you're not going to get $6/lb. sort of production out of the animal.

    Devon: I agree that, while farmers need to do everything they can to be solvent, there's no need to be greedy. In a true free market economy, prices are self-regulating. With food production, obviously you have to have some controls around quality, and it's my belief that the government should put more controls around ensuring that our agricultural resources aren't being squandered for right-now production while diminishing their capacity to feed our grandchildren. My mantra is "profit, not profiteering". That's not going to make me rich, but I'll die knowing I did my part.

    Walter: Bacon isn't the only meat we serve. It's not even the only pork we serve. Our menu includes ham, pork shoulder, and other things. We're not in a position to be a whole-hog consumer, though I wish we were. If we can find ourselves another location, we'll set up with that in mind. I just talked to my friend with the restaurant that does consume whole hogs, and they're up to about a hog a week.

    Oh, and I read some early material on your on-farm butcher operation. I'm curious to know how it's going. Can you give a quick summary?


    BTW, I must confess that I found an error in my earlier report of farm income possibilities. I was mis-using a downloaded spreadsheet. I'll report back in when I find out more. But it sounds like Walter can give a lot better insights into the situation, being an actual farmer rather than a theoretical farmer like myself.

    Cheers.

    JD
     
     
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