With giant corporate agribusiness, like Tyson and Conagra, taking over the role of many small family farms, it is undeniable that the nature of agriculture in the United States is changing. As the giants move in, they replace traditional farming methods with large-scale, modernized operations. Additionally, many of the family farms that remain are little like what our imagination would suggest. While these farms may be owned by one family, they are far from small. In order to compete with the big farms, these family farms are often massive operations. In fact, they employ numerous individuals and use many of the same practices as the mega-corporations.
This leaves true family farmers on a precipice: how can they continue to exist and prosper?
Traditional small family farms have limited options when it comes to developing a sustainable business. It is simply too expensive for most families to build a business that can compete with the giants. However, a pasture-raised egg model has a more realistically affordable upfront cost for many families. Pasture-raised farms, like the Handsome Brook Farm model, do not allow cages or “mega-barns” which intrinsically lowers start-up cost.
In fact, a typical barn for 5-15,000 pastured hens can be built for around 1/10th of the cost of the 300,000 hen aviary system barns required for a competitive cage-free operation.
This allows small farmers to raise the start-up capital for their operations. By turning the tables on the giant financial hurdles facing small farmers, pasture raising becomes not just an affordable option, but a profitable one too.
Another critical difference with pasture-raised hens is that farmers can earn a reliable living from their investment. In the commodity egg market, the prices for eggs are set by the market. Like other commodities (oil, copper, wheat, etc) the prices for conventional and cage-free eggs rise and fall based on supply and demand. While this can be a windfall for large farmers, it is also very risky. Small farmers are often unable to withstand these fluctuations.
In the pasture-raised egg market, prices are fixed by contract – at an average of more than twice the price of conventional eggs. This allows farmers to make rational investment decisions and understand what they will earn over the life of their flock.
With pasture-raised laying hens, farmers can afford to enter the business and earn a profit on their investment. This means that more small farmers can stay on their land. This is particularly helpful in the rural communities where Handsome Brook Farm works with small family farmers who are seeking sustainable and profitable options for using the land that they already have.
In central Pennsylvania, Eastern Kentucky, and the other states where we have farming partners, Handsome Brook has become a lifeline. This is especially true for the Amish and Mennonite communities where there is a cultural, as well as economic, importance to living off the land.
Through our continued growth and partnerships, Handsome Brook Farm helps preserve the heritage of traditional farming. From providing expertise for those producers who are new to laying hens, to working with banks to approve capital loans, Handsome Brook Farm is committed to the development and preservation of the small family farm in America.
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