Last week Mark and Pam Burow of Wateroak Farms shared with us their decision to discontinue operations, citing reasons we hear all too frequently from small-production farmers, ranchers, and artisans: they are simply overworked, over budget, and lacking resources.
We deliver this message to you, our loyal, local food-loving customers, not to render feelings of guilt or sorrow. Quite the opposite in fact. We want to offer our thanks and instill in you a sense of pride for speaking with your dollars; for helping businesses like Mark and Pam’s to thrive for as long as possible and, by extension, enabling more and more Texans to benefit from the experience of tasting real food. Here’s what we think you should know about why small farms are forced out of production and why your choice to support them is so significant:
Speaking to Wateroak specifically, raising goats for quality milk is a business with countless intricacies like space, budget, seasonality, and the health of the animals. Large-scale goat farms find ways to side-step many of these challenges by raising their goats in confined spaces, packing in as many animals into as little space possible, and milking the does year-round to the point of exhaustion. While this results in a more economically efficient product, it offers little care for the well-being of the goats and, as a result, a lower-quality product (not to mention the hormones, antibiotics, and chemically treated feed that works its way into the milk and meat of these compactly-raised farm goats).
Our small-production farms, on the other hand, are a labor of love, not a labor of profit. They refuse to compromise their practices, denying the option of taking shortcuts for the sake of bigger profits. For example, at Wateroak, the animals are free to graze in open pastures, feeding on fresh grass whenever they please. The does are never milked before or immediately after giving birth (a practice that results in a richer and more consistent flavor), and each member of the herd is lovingly cared for by the families that raise them at any and all necessary hours. This restricts the number of goats they can raise, thereby restricting the amount of milk produced. And it’s not easy.
Small-scale farming is grueling. It is a 24/7 job requiring demanding physical labor, grand financial costs, and constant adaptation to unpredictable obstacles. Time is money, and the level of care and attention required of small farms comes with a price.
Many times, they can’t charge what they need to. As the cost of food production continues to inflate (equipment, property taxes, new licensing requirements), consumer expectation for cost of goods remains level. Chain grocery stores set pricing standards at an inconceivably low dollar amount, as they source their products from high-production, low-cost factories and massive commercial farms around the world and, simply put, it’s a pricing structure that local small-production farms can’t compete with.
As large-scale, factory-style farming continues to thrive in our country, the hardships of small-production farming become more challenging and less feasible. It’s people like you whose support (financial and otherwise) allow small, sustainably-practicing farms and ranches to be able to thrive in a culture that often-times chooses low cost over quality and convenience over consciousness.
These hurdles, though daunting, are offset by the passion our farmers have for keeping this shrinking industry alive; their passion for feeding the Texas community real, hand-raised food.
It breaks our Texas food-loving hearts to live in a world without Wateroak’s incredible cheeses, yogurts, and milks; to live in a world where integrity and a commitment to quality sometimes just aren’t enough. Mark and Pam may never truly know how much their hard work and commitment has touched the lives of the people around them. But one silver lining we can take away from this is the knowledge that our dollars and dedication to real food are helping to sustain and grow a stronger, healthier food community.
Eat Well, Eat Local,