For us, one of the more unexpected things about running a small farm is the extent to which immigrants have sought us out. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that the core customer base for a small farm operation consists of two very different types: (1) upscale urban dwellers seeking high quality organic produce (or pasture-raised livestock) and (2) immigrants of all social classes who very much miss the farm-direct produce and livestock of their home countries. #1 didn’t surprise us at all. What we were not prepared for was the number of calls we’ve gotten from such a wide variety of foreign-born customers. Some examples:
1) The successful electronics entrepreneur from Turkey, now living in an upscale Chicago suburb, who uses GPS navigation in his SUV to find our farm…and then drives off with live laying hens, ducks, and geese in the back, to establish a weekend farm retreat of his own.
2) The Ukrainian woman in McHenry County who buys our goose eggs 30 at a time, blows them out, and then paints them into incredibly beautiful works of art.
3) The several Vietnamese who have called from all over the country, seeking goose eggs to eat. (sorry…we can’t ship them)
4) The Filipino family in Kane County which buys our duck eggs a case at a time, to brine them in buckets of salt water and distribute to others in the Filipino community.
5) The Chinese-Americans who want all the duck eggs the Filipinos don’t take.
6) The Mexican guy 20 miles south of us, who’s come to the farm several times to buy live chickens, old laying hens, old laying ducks, and anything else he can drive home and butcher himself in his back yard. This Saturday, he’s coming to buy our male goat kid. Guess what they’re going to be having for dinner on Sunday? I just hope his neighbors aren’t around when he dispatches it.
7) The Romanian-born architect who buys a lamb each year, for a traditional Orthodox family feast at Easter time.
8) The Poles, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, and natives of other Eastern European countries and former Soviet Republics who have bought ducks, chickens, turkeys, geese, eggs, and who-knows-what-else. They often get a large box of stuff, which is no doubt being taken home to Chicago to be shared with others in the community.
9) The several Muslims who have called, wanting to buy a turkey and ceremoniously butcher it on our property according to traditional methods (sorry, but state regulations don’t allow us to let them do that).
10) The Jewish woman who inquired about having a mobile Kosher butchering trailer come down to our property, complete with Orthodox Rabbi to oversee the processing of the chickens. (We didn’t have the volume to make it worth their while.)
I could go on, but you get the point. The pent up demand for farm products like these, particularly in immigrant communities, has astounded us. If we were a bit closer to Chicago, we’d probably be getting even more inquiries. But even at this distance, folks in these communities don’t seem to mind sending one or two people down to get a big box of stuff to bring back for everyone else. We’ve gotten the biggest thrill from showing these folks around the farm, and hearing them excitedly describe either growing up on this kind of property or visiting this kind of property “back home” to get their food.
And the other nice thing about such customers is that they’re not terribly concerned about whether this animal or that animal ate certified organic feed. They care about the big picture, and the big picture is that our animals and eggs are delicious and wholesome, even if they’re not certified organic. And any time we get a customer who wants to take an animal off our hands, live, and butcher it himself…well, that’s one less animal I have to butcher here.
America may no longer be a nation of small farmers, but we still are a nation of immigrants. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the immigrants’ demand helps restore our nation’s yeoman farms?