Aug 17, 2010

Vote for Herman at Cove Creek Acres

Lately I've been getting to know a local farmer. He's an interesting fellow. But what's most interesting is what I've learned in the process. I believe my experience shows how there is a revolution occurring in the local food movement.

At the end of last summer, I was at The River Market and struck up a conversation with a Mennonite farmer, Herman Hostetler.

He sold fresh eggs and frozen chickens. Just moments before I'd purchased a few dozen eggs from the Certified Arkansas Farmers Market on the other side of the river. Even though I didn't need more eggs, I asked Herman how much he charged for a dozen (I'm a bargain shopper). He told me his price and went on to say, "I've only sold one dozen today."

It was almost noon.

He'd been there for at least six hours. That's two eggs an hour.

Telling me about his meager sales wasn't a way of guilt tripping me to buy from him, it was "just the facts ma'am." That's the kind of guy Herman is: just the facts.

We stood and talked for a while. Entertaining my five-year old son while we talked was his oldest child, Charles - who's about eight-years old. With the fury of activity momentarily distracted, I pelted Herman with questions. He answered with few words. He told me about his natural farming practices, that he was currently a carpenter but wanted to make the vocational switch to a full time farmer.

At this point I'm reminded of a line from the end of the movie, Food Inc., where Michael Pollan says we vote three times a day with our fork. Most people wonder, "How can I do that?" Buying from a farmer eliminates the separation between the source of my food and me, allowing me to vote locally.

So armed with his business card I went home, called a few friends and told them that next week we should buy from Herman.

Each week I'd chat a little more with Herman, learning that his wife and I were both pregnant and due in the spring. Herman and his wife, Mabel, have five children.

Fast forward a few months. The River Market had closed for winter ending my weekly conversations with Herman. I still wanted to see him succeed. So I called him and asked, "Do you ever come to Little Rock?"

Not normally, but if we could gather a large enough order, he would make the two hour drive from Clarksville. My friends and I rallied again and bought as much chicken and eggs as our fridges would hold.

One freezing Saturday morning I asked him if he had ever thought of selling through the Arkansas Sustainability Network (ASN). He had not heard of it. After explaining that it was an on-line market, - Houston we have a problem. No computer. No email. No Internet.

Herman was just a wee bit behind the times.

I'm not sure if it was then, or a few months prior, that I became the unofficial marketing firm for Cove Creek Acres. *grin* If you know me, you know that when I find a product I love - you're going to know about it soon. When I run into people and naturally start talking about food, I ask them if they have access to fresh eggs and healthy chickens. If they don't, I add them to my ever growing email list for ordering from Herman. Accuse me of being a modern day election-fixer, coercing voters to return to the ballot box.

As his campaign manager and director of marketing I was concerned about his lack of technical prowess. But lo and behold, by the next time he hauled us a fresh flock of frozen fowls, he had been to the library, hunted down an email account, and would soon start selling through ASN. By that time, he was selling a lot of chicken and eggs to me and my friends. Not yet ready to forsake our group, he said, "Every penny counts (ASN charges the farmers 5%), so would you mind continuing to buy from me in this parking lot?"

Our contingency of voters was approaching the ranks of a new political party. We were overwhelming the Whole Foods parking lot; it was time to move the campaign headquarters to my carport.

What a blessing to get to know Herman, to learn about farming, as well as the ups and downs of farm life. It's been a long process of building a network of buyers and it's exciting to see it come together. But just as exciting has been the value of supporting the farmer who grows our food, connecting with his family, learning about farming, and building a community of people who care about food on the table.

I'm seeing that by supporting Herman, I'm not just buying eggs and chickens. We are collectively working to change the way food is grown and distributed in our community. We are helping to connect the people who grow our food to the people who eat it.

The sad news is: even with all the effort of buying regularly from Herman, he's a long way from supporting his family with full time farming. But he's headed that way and it's exciting to think what could happen in the future.

Next I'll show you pictures of his farm. A group of us went to visit last Friday.


This post has been linked to Real Food Wednesday with Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

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  1. I enjoy myself very much upon reading this article and sometimes think it would be nice to live at the farm. Everything looks so pleasant except the big dunghill that the farmer keeps right in the middle of the yard, near the dirty little pond where the ducks and duckling swim all day long lol

  2. enjoy this post immensely- we are considering raising chicken here for eggs- my husband did as a child.

    big pat on the back to you for helping hermann succeed.

  3. I thank God for the day Julie "found" Herman at the River Market. His hard work has nourished our family this past year. And my kids LOVE Charles! My 4-year old just asked me this morning, "Are these eggs from Mr. Herman?" They sure are! Herman is a VIP at our house.

  4. Good for you! At the farmer's market I visit, there are 3 main vendors. 1 old man & his wife, been farming and selling for 35+ years, an old lady, and a guy who went to school w/my brother. The younger farmer has a website, facebook page and email updates. You can bet, when it's tomato/melon season, he's sending out reminders of where they'll be that weekend and what's for sale. Since he started all the social media, I've seen his sales pick up tremendously!

    The older farmers don't do the website/facebook thing, but they have a dedicated following. I usually end up buying from all of them!

  5. Wonderful post!I found your blog from one of my farmers' market manager friends and had to stop reading all your wonderful entries long enough to comment here. I am on the AR Farmers' Market board and have a few outlets that Herman could use if he has enough product. Hop over to my blog or email me at buckatwos at gmail dot com.

    Thanks for supporting local farmers, it means a lot to us to have people like you in our corner!



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