Friday, July 22, 2016

Farmer Friday - Lay Z Ducks Farms

GardenShare summer intern, Amanda, reflects on another farm visit this week...

When I went grocery shopping at Price Chopper with my parents this week, I couldn’t help but notice distinct differences in our shopping habits now that I buy food for myself. My mom reached for a head of lettuce, leaving me to sigh loudly as an expression of my disapproval because I knew Dulli from Birdsfoot Farm offers a great salad green mix with signature fresh dill. Watching her pick between the six shelves of jams and jellies, I again shook my head knowing Mary-Ellen from Circle G cans the best strawberry-rhubarb jelly in St. Lawrence County. Then, I stopped myself. Was I becoming a food snob?

“Voting with your forks,” as Michael Pollan says, or changing the consumers' shopping habits seems to be the only way we can alter the American style of eating. After all, large-scale farmers produce what the government subsidizes (corn rather than broccoli, soy rather than kale). When one goes to the supermarket, the consumer is essentially foraging for energy. So naturally when one buys to keep essentially alive, stretching food dollars is top priority. For example, one dollar spent in the processed section of the grocery store can offer 1200 calories. Conversely, spending that same dollar in the produce perimeter will get a shopper 250 calories worth of carrots. As a mother, feeding children snack packs after soccer practice then is much cheaper compared to a bag of carrots with a scoop of (organic) peanut butter. The decision is a no-brainer.

I thought back to my visit to Lay-Z Ducks farms, owned by Wendy and Phil. Tragically, a lot of kids in St. Lawrence County don’t understand what real fruits and vegetables are as an upshot of opportunity expenditures.  Not too long ago, Wendy brought carrots to her grandson’s sporting event. She offered the snack to other children, but they declined, claiming her carrots didn’t taste as good as the orange Cheez-its or fruit snacks they are typically accustomed to for a snack. Wendy and Phil have reared their grandson as a locavore. Every Friday, Wendy takes him to the Canton Farmers market. He always makes a pit stop to see Jean Tupper for her famous homemade doughnuts, and he gets excited to pick their produce for the week. His taste buds salivate for a fresh vegetable. “Unless you have been raised to appreciate fruits and vegetables, you just don’t know,” Wendy commented.

This knowledge is something Wendy and Phil practice on their farm. Wendy’s husband, Phil, came home 18 years ago with ducks in an attempt to begin a duck farm. Wendy’s ducks were horrible; they wouldn’t mother their young. “They were just lazy!” exclaimed Wendy, which is how the farm got its name. Fast forward to present day and one can find ducks, heritage breed turkeys, several varieties of chickens, and Overhasli goats. From the goats, Wendy makes three types of cheeses: chevre, mozzarella, and ricotta. The two mothers are milked by hand once a day. In the future Wendy wishes to increase her herd to meet the growing demand for goat cheese. However, Wendy claimed finding fellow goat farmers are difficult; there are only two other locations in St. Lawrence County. Goats aside, Wendy raises approximately fifty Cornish hens for pre-order meat sales each year. Just recently, Phil butchered thirty twelve-week old hens. Wendy is passionate about eating locavore, a term used to express diets largely sourced from local food. All of her animals are fed organic or natural feed. She does not use chemicals on her property.

 For now, Wendy’s profits generate mainly from home base, but she is open to selling at both Canton and Massena Farmers Market. She has found just from her house sales the difference in demographics. Some areas of St. Lawrence County are willing to pay the added value of her labor, even though Wal-Mart or Aldi’s is a cheaper option. Currently, the chickens sell for either $4.50/lb. for pieces or $3/lb. for a whole. Wendy said she tries to present the data on growth hormones, economic development, human treatment, but has found “financial restrictions” prevent many customers from purchasing her products. For Wendy, her bottom line of healthy food outweighs a few extra pennies. “I would rather pay full price and eat half a pound of high quality food (fruits and vegetables), than three pounds of the nutritionally lacking counterpart.” This made me think of “food elitist,” a term used to describe someone who strongly advocates for a return to the healthy basics of buying fresh, local food. The lifestyle can be expensive and largely unrealistic for many, a group that once included myself. So how can we support the local movement without putting up a wall between the public and their choices for healthier living?

This made me wonder the possibility of changing a child’s eating habits if they aren’t the ones footing the bill. Of the families receiving SNAP, approximately 50% are children. If a working mom chooses the less expensive snacks for her children, they will surely learn to prefer that over the healthier alternative. Wendy wishes at school events there was more representation of good quality food. The classic hot dogs, hamburgers, potato chips and Coca-Cola may be tasty, but Wendy desires an apples or orange. “I believe if you are raised out of a box, you stay in a box. I refuse to let our grandson live that way. We actively take him to different markets and the Potsdam Co-Op.” This I recognize is a form of privilege in the form of purchasing capability. However, it is this very privilege GardenShare tries to eliminate through our CSA program and our Double Up program and the Farmers Market. By providing families with an incentive to shop locally, we hope to encourage them to change their eating habits.