Retirement is as unique and varied as the individual retiree. Some people want to travel the globe as we are doing. Others want to play golf or fish. And others just want to break away from the corporate world to live the good life on a farm of their own
For a time, we considered a brief stint on a farm. Already growing some of our own vegetables and greens on a small public patch of land in Seattle, we wondered what it would be like to raise a few chickens and maybe a pig
As food lovers with a great interest in grass-fed cows, free range chickens, artisan cheeses and cured meats, we loved the idea of moving our table one step closer to the farm
After reading Holy Cows and Hog Heaven: The Food Buyer’s Guide to Farm Friendly Food by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, we decided to give farming a trial run
We found a small farm a few hours outside Washington DC that was offering internships in their production of grass fed cattle and sheep, pasture raised chickens and ducks and eggs, and forest raised pigs, all in the Polyface Farm style. With a small stipend and room and board as part of the deal, this would have been a great transition from the working world. Not only would we be learning about raising great food, we would be spending next to nothing
One nice thing about the rising interest in sustainable farming and natural practices is that internships are available. One not so nice thing is that there is high demand for those internships. And interviews. So one fine weekend in January we flew to DC for a 3-day trial
With flights, hotel, and rental car, this wasn’t the cheapest interview ever, but we took advantage of the time and explored DC and the Shenandoah Valley
Our first day we woke up at the butt crack of dawn on a fine frigid January morning to head out to the farm.
The temperature was still below freezing at this hour, so some physical activity was welcome. Walking the farm took a couple hours. We saw the greenhouse where the chickens and ducks were still harboring the winter, visited the pigs in a nearby grove of trees, and the cows grazing in a nearby field.
Then we collected that mornings eggs and headed in for breakfast. Being at the epicenter of world class food we were excited. Fresh duck eggs, apple wood smoked bacon, and home made bread with hand picked berry preserves and fresh churned butter perhaps?
Nope. It turns out that whatever was on sale at Wal-mart was on the menu today (and every day.) Cost is king
This was the first of many disappointments from the weekend. It turns out that (at least in this case) forest raised pigs get most of their calories from corn and soybeans. And pasture raised chickens and ducks enjoy the same. The #1 cost of running the farm was feed
Grass fed cows and sheep do have an all grass diet, and they are pretty cute. As are baby pigs. But in order to be certified organic, antibiotics are forbidden, which kind of sucks when the herd gets pinkeye
We also learned how eggs are graded. What ever is the difference between A and AA eggs? Just size it turns out. AA eggs are often impossible to separate from the A eggs without a fine scale
Over the course of the following days we collected eggs, round up chickens, chopped wood, hauled wood, moved electric fencing around pastures and woody knolls, talked farming, and ate for the sake of calories
It became clear that interests weren’t aligned and we went our separate ways. Our farming days were over
$12 for 6 duck eggs at the farmer’s market doesn’t seem so bad after all
If you have an interest in where your food comes from and the operation of a small farm, I do recommend reading what Joel Salatin has to offer. He is eloquent and as opinionated as they come