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What to Look For When Buying From a Local Farm!

dave stocker

At Dalew Farms, Chantal and I answer oodles of questions from all kinds of interesting people that are concerned about their food supply.  Most of the folks that contact us are asking questions about meats, and because we are passionate about grass fed meat and livestock, most of the folks seeking us out are already interested in the health and environmental benefits of grass fed beef, lamb and goat.  As a business, I know that passion for a certain system doesn’t necessarily translate into sales or profits – Just the same, I challenge anyone to find a farmer in the North Bay/Sudbury region that is more passionate than I am about Regenerative Agriculture / Rotational Grazing / Grass fed livestock / soil health / cover crops.  If you know of that person, let me know because chances are you just found me another new farmer friend!  J
Because we get lots of inquiries and questions, it stands to reason that we don’t always have what people are looking for!  For example, we would love to be able to say “YES!” to all of the people that call or email us looking for a supply of various grass fed dairy products made from and including raw milk!  There can also be times of the year when we run out of the products we are most known for – again as a business this is a double edged sword for sure.  We are happy that folks are seeking out our products but being out of something is also not good.  Whenever we run out of something, we are concerned for our existing loyal customers that we may not be able to supply them with something they have been getting from us for years!  We (and when I say we, here I really mean mostly Chantal!) work very hard to try to do the best possible job we can at planning and coordinating and managing our inventory so that we do not run out of our grass fed beef! 

But because we work with Mother Nature, who has a wicked curve ball in her arsenal of pitches, sometimes we run out of product despite our best efforts, and it takes months or years of advance planning to expand.  The fact that our grass fed beef is so special, unique and rare, makes it difficult for us to simply say to a customer – “Oh, I’m sorry we are out, but just go see Joe Blow over there, he can supply you with the kind of beef you’re looking for”.  In the real world this just doesn’t seem to happen. 
So what I’m trying to write here, is a bit of a guide to help you all with selecting your farmer food suppliers and what I think you should be looking for when you are making your choices.  I’m making some assumptions here; primarily that you are looking for something that is as nutrient dense as possible, as healthy as possible, and is produced and sold with some integrity. As a farmer, I can offer you a bit of an inside scoop as to what you should be looking at and what kinds of questions you can ask a farm or business you are considering purchasing from to feed your family.

Before you even make contact with a particular farmer, you probably need to narrow things down a bit.  Look at the website and social media you see coming from any of your potential options.  Do these folks talk at all about what they are passionate about with their system?  To stick to the beef example, even though I am passionate about grass fed, grass finished beef and feel that it’s the healthiest beef that folks can eat, I try to be open minded in my thinking and leave space for folks that want something different.  So if you’re looking for corn fed beef does that producer talk at all about why they are passionate about corn fed beef as the best choice for you and your family as prospective customers?  If it’s a grass fed producer, do they talk about why they’ve chosen the grass fed route?  Do they talk about how they rotate pastures so they can produce a quality product?  Do they talk about how they plan to or are improving their operation and practices to get even better in the future?  In my humble opinion, if you have a grass fed meat supplier that does not rotational graze their animals, then you’re not likely to get a consistently tender and tasty product that has all the positive health benefits associated with grass fed. 

Does your potential producer share pictures of their animals throughout the year?  Do they show you what they are doing around their farm?  Or do they just use cartoon pictures, or google stock photos of other people’s livestock?  Are they always concentrating on selling, selling, selling you on the best sale of the day or do they mix those messages up a bit with what they are passionate about around their farm and livestock? Do they share with you real videos of their own animals or fields? 

If folks say they are feeding GMO free grains to their hogs or chickens, ask them who their supplier is.  Ask them how they get those products.  Ask them what’s in their vitamin or mineral mixes.  Ask them what ingredients are in their feed sources.  Ask them what challenges they face going forward to continue.  A farm that does not face any challenges at all, is probably a fake farm.  Ask them what they do when they run out of their own products.  Ask what happens when the farm makes a mistake?  Here at Dalew Farms, we’ve certainly made mistakes from time to time.  Of course, I make more of those than Chantal, but I’m working hard to make less! J  As a business, how we judge and choose our relationships is weighed heavily on how another business fixes the mistakes they do make.  Always and only blaming the customer won’t work out in the long run. 

We try to focus on what we can do to fix the mistake, and then what we can do to prevent it from happening again in the future.  As an example, we had a customer that had asked to have the organ meats (think liver) ground into the ground beef of their ¼ beef order so that they could have all the health benefits, without “enjoying” the taste of liver on its own! Unfortunately that didn’t happen and their liver was separate.  So, Chantal and I traded them the appropriate number of ground beef packages from our own personal ¼ beef, which did have the liver ground into it, to fix this mistake for the customer.  (Now, a side benefit for me, is that I actually enjoy liver – and Chantal is amazing at preparing it, so we’ve already enjoyed a meal of delicious and healthy liver!)  Mistake fixed.  Yes, it did take some extra effort on our part, and on our customers’ part, (thank you!) but no one is perfect.  And we’ve got this noted for that customer so that on their next order we will communicate with our abattoir to try to make extra sure their liver is processed and packaged the way they want it to be! 

Be a little bit patient with your expectations for answers to your questions.  Genuine, integrity, Regenerative farmers might be a little slow to respond to your questions in spring, summer and fall if they are busy tending to their crops, pastures and animals.  Not too many of us in this business are able to have full time staff or family members able to respond to you right away – but we will do the best we can.  Heck, we don’t even mind if you give us a gentle reminder if we haven’t answered your email after a few days, that way it won’t get lost in our giant to do list!  Come to think of it, passionate, regenerative farms might even be a bit slow responding to your questions in the wintertime, because we are often busy planning, or attending farm conferences in an effort to learn more and improve our operations – or once in a blue moon we might even be trying to take a day off to rest or engage in some sort of recreation with our families! 

Integrity is impossible to license or certify.  Unscrupulous folks always seem to find a loophole somewhere that they can take advantage of.  The best certification system out there is YOU!  By asking the right questions YOU can weed out those that are pretenders, and choose those that have genuine integrity.  Watch out for answers like, “we only feed them a little grain to get them calmed down, but they’re still grass fed the rest of the time”.  If that’s the kind of answer you get, that farm should not have even been advertising or talking about grass fed in the first place, in my humble opinion. 

Choose farms that don’t have anything to hide.  Choose farms that share with you their genuine challenges and successes.  Choose farms that show you their own fields, their own cattle, their own sheep, pigs etc.  Anyone can go to the grocery store and purchase run of the mill product, but if you’ve taken the time research and find something special, that’s what you deserve to receive.  Choose farmers with genuine integrity.  Hopefully this will help you to do that! 

Your Farmer Dave 

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Contact Info

Dalew Farms
10781 Hwy 64, Lavigne ON
P0H 1R0

(705) 594-1823
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