7 Tips for Shopping at Your Local Farmer’s Market

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Shopping at your local farmer’s market is fun but can take time to get used to.  Americans have grown accustomed to having whatever they want, food wise, at their finger tips regardless of season.  As a grower, I want to share some tips that I feel will help the seasoned farmer’s market shopper as well as the newbie.

1. Seek out a producer only market.

The beauty of shopping at a local farmer’s market is being able to talk and buy directly from the person that has produced the food.  I am not a fan of markets that allow people to set up mini grocery stores and sell produce from hundreds of miles away.  I understand that everyone has to make a living, but in my opinion a farmer’s market should be just what it is called; a market belonging to the farmers.  These small, local markets are essential to the survival of small family farms.  Large farms that sell wholesale have large corporate grocery chains that buy from them.  There are many certifications with hefty fees that are required to sell to large grocery store chains that many small farms cannot afford to pay.

We also ask our customers if there is something that they would like for us to grow.  How cool is that!?  A lot of farmers will try different crops if there seems to be an interest.  I have seen more variety available at the farmer’s markets than what is available at the grocery store.

The most important thing about a producer only market is that you can find out exactly how your food was produced and get to know the farmer.  You can find out if any chemicals were used, fertilizers etc. We have an open door policy at our farm which allows our customers to come out and visit.  Transparency is crucial when it comes to being an informed consumer.  You also know exactly where your dollar is going.  There is no middle man when you buy straight from the farmer.

2. Learn to Eat with the Seasons

I am sure you have heard this before but it needs to be repeated.  Farmers can only grow what the weather will support.  Call your local agricultural extension office and get a copy of a seasonal produce chart.  Most of this information is available online as well.  This information lets you know what to expect currently and what to anticipate will be available in the future.  This will also come in handy when talking to farmers about what they are planning to grow for the next season.  If you aren’t sure how to prepare a particular crop, ask farmers if they have any recipes and search out recipes.  The market where we sell has a chef come and do food demonstrations.  The chef calls all of us farmers early in the week to find out what we will have available and then plans his menu accordingly.

Remember that the seasons not only control produce but they can also control pasture-raised meat availability.  Since our chickens are raised on pasture they can only be raised during certain months of the year.  We can’t put them on pasture when it is too cold and we don’t put them on pasture when it is terribly hot.  Summer in North Carolina, where I live,  can be very different in the mountains than the piedmont.  We have a lot of customers that stock up on chickens when we process in June because they know that they may not be available in the middle of August and they will have to wait until October when we process our next batch.

Matt cooking at the market.

Matt Huggett, the chef that cooks some delicious food at our market.

3. Get There Early

This is pretty easy to understand.  If you want the best selection be there when the market opens.

4. Plan Your Meals After Your Trip to the Market

I know this seems a little backwards, but remember this goes along with purchasing food that is regulated by nature.  This is where having cookbooks that feature whole foods come in handy.  You can check out my post on my favorite whole food cookbooks for some ideas.

5.  Bring Something to Carry Your Goodies

Having something to carry all of your purchases in is important.  Some farmers offer bags, but some don’t.  Some of our customers that live within walking distance pull a wagon and load it up with their goodies.  Baskets with handles work great as well.  If you are buy meats and eggs I would highly recommend bringing a cooler.

6.  Bring Cash 

Many farmers like us are now able to take payment with credit/debit cards.  Many only accept cash.  I recommend bringing  cash in a variety of 1′s, 5′s and 10′s.  Twenty dollar bills are harder for making change.

7.  Treat Each Farmer as an Individual Store

I tell people to think of a farmer’s market in the same way they think of a mall.  You don’t expect the stores at the mall to have the same practices, so don’t assume that each farm will either.  Don’t barter like you would at a yard sale.  Some farmer’s don’t mind this but some do.  You would not go to Wal-Mart and when your total comes to $10.59 ask the cashier if they will take $10.50 for your purchase.  If a farmer cut their price by $.09 for 100 people they would loose $9.00 that day.  While that may not seem like a lot, multiply this amount by twelve weeks (the average length of seasonal markets) and that total is $108.00.  Farmers have many expenses and every penny counts.

Shopping at farmer’s markets can be fun, rewarding and healthy.  You get out in the fresh air, meet great people and eat some of the freshest food you will ever put in your mouth.

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Life of a Broiler-Week 2

Our chicks are continuing to eat and grow.  They have reached the age of two- weeks old and we haven’t had any losses.  I am surprised but pleased.

Two-week old cornish cross broiler chick.

 

We moved one of our moveable pens that we raise our pastured broilers in by the brooder.  Since the weather is nice, and the chicks don’t need to be kept at ninety-five degrees anymore, we started moving them into the pen during the day.  We place the pen in an area where the chicks can get grit, grass and sunshine.  This also gets them acquainted with the bell waterers so they will know where to get water when they are moved onto pasture.

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The chicks have already eaten 100 lb. of feed.  Next week they should be out on pasture enjoying the grass and bugs.

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The Life of a Broiler – Week 1

We received 157 new broiler chicks last week.  They seem to be doing great!  Thankfully we didn’t have any dead chicks on arrival  and we haven’t lost any yet.  With that said, loss is to be expected, especially during the first two weeks.  The chicks can suffer from shipping stress that can result in death as well as unknown genetic issues.

Here we are getting the brooder ready the morning the chicks were due to arrive.

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We keep our brooder underneath a tree.  We learned the hard way that having a brooder in full sun is not a good idea.  Full sun helps to decrease the use of a heat lamp but it can get too hot real quick.  We found that we can keep the brooder at a comfortable temperature much easier under the tree.

The brooder floor gets a nice layer of wood shavings.

Seth spreading shavings in the brooder.

Seth spreading shavings in the brooder.

Our chicks arrive at the post office in boxes.

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We take each chick out of the box one at a time and dip their beak into water before we place them in the brooder.  The chicks are normally very thirsty from traveling and this helps the chicks learn where to get water.

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We mix Broiler Booster that we get from Murray McMurray Hatchery into their water.  This gives them vitamins that helps gut health and helps to strengthen their legs.

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We use two heat lamps to keep the temperature at 95 degrees for the first week.

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We scatter the feeders and waters around the brooder to allow easy access for the chicks.  If you are wondering what we feed our chicks, you can read my post about what we feed our chicks.

This is what a day old chick looks like.

Seth holding a day old chick.

Seth holding a day old chick.

This is what the chicks look like when they are one week old.

One week old chick.

One week old chick.

They are starting to get their wing feathers.

One week old chicks in the brooder.

One week old chicks in the brooder.

If you haven’t already, sign-up to follow me and you will get to follow the life of our pasture raised broilers all the way to processing day.

 

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What do You Feed Your Chickens?

“What do you feed your chickens?”  This is a very common question that we are asked.  I don’t blame anyone for asking, I would too.  The answer to this question depends on what type of chickens you are talking about.  Right now I am going to talk about what we feed our pasture-raised broilers, a.k.a meat birds.

Meat birds have definite nutritional requirements.  Unlike laying hens that need a high protein diet until around sixteen weeks of age, meat birds need a high protein diet their entire lives.  Since our chickens are raised on pasture they consume lots of grasses and bugs.  We also give them a feed that is mixed for us following our own recipe.  Our chickens receive no vaccinations and are never given antibiotics.  Our custom feed contains probiotics.

Here is our recipe.  This will make 1000 lb.

305 lb. cracked corn

305 lb. ground corn

150 lb. soybean meal

50 lb. roasted soybeans

50 lb. rolled oats

50 lb. alfalfa pellets

25 lb. fishmeal

30 lb. Fertrell Poultry Nutri -Balancer

25 lb. Aragonite

10 lb. Kelp

2 gal. oil

Young broiler chicks on pasture.

Young broiler chicks on pasture.

Lucky for us we live close to a family owned mill that mixes our feed.

On our way to the mill we stop by a small, family farm and purchase our supplements.  You cannot buy directly from Fertrell; you have to find a local distributor in your area.  For us, our distributor is Yesterways Farm.

That's me standing beside the sign.

That’s me standing beside the sign.

Now, we head to the mill.

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I know the picture is blurry but all I had to use for a camera was my phone.  The sign says, Mauney’s Feed Mill, Inc.  Mauney’s is located in a little town called New London, NC.  It takes us about forty-five minutes, one way, but is well worth the drive.  Kelly Vick owns the mill and has never seemed the least bit bothered by all of my many questions.  Believe me.  I am always full of questions and if I was ever bothersome Kelly has hidden it well.  I remember calling one day with a list of questions and he kept me on the line while he used his cell phone to call someone else to get me the information I needed.  Kelly, Darrell, Beth and Marco (the four people that make Mauney’s what it is) are always great to deal with.

Kelly (left) and Darrell (right)

Kelly (left) and Darrell (right).  Beth wasn’t available and Marco didn’t want his picture made.  I didn’t leave them out on purpose.

The first time I contacted the mill about having our feed mixed Kelly had me email him our recipe to make sure that he could get our ingredients.  They keep our recipe on file which makes it as convenient as a phone call to schedule picking up a load of feed.

Not only do I like the fact that we are supporting a local family business, we are also supporting local farmers.  Local farmers bring their crops out of the field to the mill to sell to Kelly.  The crops are weighed and inspected before they are purchased. One of the most important things that has to be checked is moisture content.  Crops are stored in concrete so the moisture level is crucial to make sure mold doesn’t occur.

Area where crops are inspected before unloaded.

Area where crops are inspected before unloaded.

A few of our feed ingredients, (fishmeal, Poultry Nutri-Balancer, Aragonite and Kelp.  This is what we picked up at Yesterways Farm.) we supply ourselves.  On “feed day”, we bring our supplements and a list of the amounts we need added.  Marco always meets us and helps unload.

Supplements unloaded and ready to be added.

Supplements unloaded and ready to be added.

Since I had never seen how the feed is mixed Marco gave me the grand tour and I was able to watch him prepare our feed.  His only request was that I didn’t get him in any of my pictures.

Adding one of our supplements.

Adding one of our supplements.

Marco already had all of the ingredients that the mill supplies in the mixer.  He weighed out the supplements and so graciously weighed what was left of each and wrote it on the bags for me.  I need all the keep I can get when it comes to keeping things straight around here.  He even got out the sewing machine they use on feed bags and stitched the bags closed for me.  Of course I had to get a picture.

Handy dandy sewing machine.

Handy dandy sewing machine.

Here is Marco stitching up one of the bags.

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This is the only glimpse of Marco that you will see.  Half an arm and half a leg.  I told him he wouldn’t break my camera.

Check out this mixer!

Feed mixer

Feed mixer.  I couldn’t get a great picture of the whole thing but you get the idea that it is big.

Marco showed me the roller that they send oats through to get the rolled oats that goes into our feed.

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With the mixing underway I thought that I would get out of the way.

I decided I would go inside the store and see if there was anything that I needed.

No small business, especially if it is related to farming, is complete without a resident cat or dog.

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This is what the entrance to Mauney’s look like.

I just love old stores!

I just love old stores!

I decided I would take a seat in the sitting area that is a staple in an old store.

Sitting areas in old stores just says "Community".

Sitting areas in old stores just says “Community”.

Within about thirty minutes my 1200lbs. of feed was bagged and loaded and I was ready to go.

When I got home, my always happy helpers unloaded it for me.

Our oldest son, Noah, unloading feed.

Our oldest son, Noah, unloading feed.

Here it is all neatly stacked.

Feed ready for our next batch of chicks.

Feed ready for our next batch of chicks.

If you are in the New London area of North Carolina I encourage you to check out Mauney’s.  They sell pre-packaged feed as well as mix custom feeds.  Like their business card says, “When it comes to FARMIN’, let us be your GARMIN”. Before you go to your closest “box” farm supply store give them a call.  Even if it costs you a couple dollars more for something, you are supporting local families.  None of the money you spend there supports CEOs or shareholders.

Here is the contact information for Mauney’s.

Mauney’s LLC

40225 Hwy 52 North

New London, NC 28127

704-463-1331 Phone

mauneyfeedmill@ctc.net

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Knowledge is Power

My husband and I are all about education. We never get tired of learning. Last year we attend the first Piedmont Farm School, sponsored by our local agricultural extension agencies. For seven months we attended a monthly, evening business planning class and went on a monthly farm tour. The business planning classes were helpful in learning about laws, insurance, certifications, inspections, knowing cost and general resources. The farm tours were great because we got to see first-hand the different types of small farms in our area and learn from what established farmers are doing and also what they aren’t doing.
I was excited to be asked to attend one of the business planning classes and share what we do for marketing for our farm as well as the importance of good record keeping and knowing your costs.
I set up a table showing how we set up for the farmers’ markets we attend.

Me with Mike Roberts at Piedmont Farm School in Lexington,NC

Me with Mike Roberts at Piedmont Farm School in Lexington,NC

I am by no means an expert, but I hope that I was able to share some helpful information. All of us small farmers need to work together and encourage each other.

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A BUSY Spring!

We have been busy on our farm, Third Creek Cottage Gardens. We have our gardens planted and they are looking great! Everything is on the verge of producing fruit and we can’t wait. This past weekend we processed our first batch of broilers for the season. With the help of family and friends we were able to process 138 birds in four hours. If you have never eaten pasture raised, fresh chicken from the farm, you don’t know what you are missing.

The Farmers’ Market season is in full swing and I encourage everyone to shop at your local market as much as you can. I know it can cost more to buy directly from the farmer, but remember your money goes directly to the farmer and not some corporate CEO that has probably never worked on a farm. Even if you could pledge to spend just 10% of your weekly grocery money buying from a local farmer, it would make a huge impact on the local food economy.

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The Best Cold Medicine on the Market

It is that time of the year again.  Time for the crud and the flu.  There are all kinds of chemical remedies out there but in our family we turn to our honeybees when we are sick. Honey is for sure liquid gold.  Let me clarify that the mass produced honey in most grocery stores is NOT the same as the honey available from your local beekeeper.  Just like not all honey is the same, neither are beekeepers.  We try to never use chemicals in our beehives and I advise you to seek out a natural beekeeper in your area.

My go to remedy when a cold goes through our house is my special tonic of apple juice, honey and cinnamon.  This helps sore throats, coughs and congestion.  When I was pregnant and got a cold this is what I would sip on throughout the day.  No one in my house (when drinking this mixture) ever has a cold to last more than 48 hours.  My daughter requests this whenever she has a sore throat because she says it gets rid of it quick.

Hope you enjoy!

First you need to gather 100% Apple juice (no sugar added), raw honey and some  cinnamon (I buy mine in bulk).

Heat apple juice as hot as you can stand it.  If you heat it in the microwave, I recommend about 2 minutes.

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Pour in about two tablespoons of honey.  I never measure.

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Now, add about 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and stir well.

Drink this at the first sign of a cold.  My children have never minded taking this “medicine” and you don’t have to worry about awful side effects. Of course, I let it cool some before letting my children drink this and I do advise you to use caution and not give this to a child under 1 year of age.

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