Apart from the lifestyle and being able to produce healthy food for our family, one of the most rewarding things about a small farm is providing specialty products to people who truly appreciate them.
A prime example is duck eggs. Unless you live in an Asian enclave, you will never find duck eggs for sale in an American supermarket. There are many reasons, but it’s chiefly because (1) you can’t cram ducks into factory-style cages like you can with hens; and (2) there is little market for burned-out laying ducks. Most laying hens become Chicken Noodle Soup; there is no similar commercial demand for ducks. But free range laying ducks are a wonderful addition to a small farm: they are easy to raise, fun to watch, and provide plenty of large delicious eggs. The fat content is slightly higher than in chicken eggs, giving them a richer flavor. And there’s nothing as good as duck soup.
But most importantly, some people who are allergic to chicken eggs can eat duck eggs. Several such people have found us, and they’re now among our most loyal customers. Every time I’m in the Chicago area, I email them…and they figure out a way to meet me to get their duck eggs. Tomorrow, I am taking ten dozen to a woman in the city who had to go without eggs all winter as our ducks were taking a collective break. Last Friday, when my daughter and I walked around the Loop, our first stop was at an office building near St. Peter’s; an executive, who’d last been able to get our eggs in November, happily came down to get three dozen from us. Chatting with him in the lobby about all he planned to do with the long-awaited eggs, the excitement in his voice was palpable. He emailed me a few days later, again thanking us for the delivery…and asking when we’d be able to bring more.
And then there’s my Filipino customer, who lives in the far western suburbs. He is disabled, but has made a side business of taking our duck eggs and brining them in buckets of salt water; this product is a big seller in the Filipino community. He and his wife have driven all over Chicagoland, meeting me in crazy places (usually at the airport before dawn, when I have a business trip), buying upwards of 30 dozen at a time.
Before we started doing this, I wondered why so many people refer to farming as a “vocation.” The more customers we get to meet, the better I understand it. You can’t do this for the money—and not just because, after the expenses, there is so little profit to a micro enterprise like ours. It’s because there’s no way to put a price on the smile a person gives you, or the heartfelt gratitude they express, when you’ve brought them something they cannot find anywhere else.