When Kevin and I were dating, Kevin gave me a Garfield card that said on the cover, “Do you believe in destiny?”. On the inside, Garfield replied, “You mean like belly buttons and lint?”. Isn’t that card romantic? There is a part of me that loves the notion of the stars aligning to bring Kevin and I together.
Now, I’m not the kind of person who sits around waiting for “destiny” or fate to happen to me. No way. As a flaming Type A personality, I’m a big believer in goal setting, strategic planning and tactical execution when it comes to business and my personal ambitions. But I also believe in being open to possibility — that by being true to oneself, doors open and opportunities present themselves in life. Do we call this our destiny? Do we bring destiny to fruition? Or do we call it serendipity — accidentally finding valuable or pleasant things?
Can the same thing happen in business? Were we destined to farm? Or was it accidental good fortune we stumbled across Pine View Farms? In our first few years of farming, we wondered if we had made a grievous mistake.
You see, our timing was terrible. In our first six years of farming, we encountered four years of excessive drought, complemented by plagues of grasshoppers, and rock bottom commodity prices. Low yields and low prices meant meager cheques at the grain elevator. We had no feed for our cows. Instead, we had to beat the grasshoppers to the canola to make silage for winter feed (Note: cattle do not usually eat canola silage, canola is for oil, but we learned cows love it).
We found ourselves in a high risk, low return farming business governed by external forces like weather, exchange rates and global commodity prices. We felt hopeless with no control over our destiny.
In the meantime, we had this fledgling All Natural meat business on the side, growing at 20-30% per year. More and more people were coming to us, asking for more meat. We started with chicken, added beef as a logical expansion because we raised cattle. Then customers craved bacon and so we partnered with a local, free range hog farmer, then lamb and turkeys and so on. Our little butcher shop wasn’t yet profitable but it had upside. Was it serendipitous we had this going for us in light of the grain farm crash?
Hard times are the crucible where one discovers his or her resilience, commitment and determination (more on that another day). Hard times provide tremendous clarity about what to let go and what to unabashedly claim as your own. We did some soul searching and made difficult decisions. Everything was on the line, including our destiny.
We realized that in order for us to remain farmers, our farm must transform itself. We asked ourselves what would make our farm sustainable and analyzed every aspect of our business. For us, sustainability came down to three things:
- Economics – We believe that the primary producer (farmer) should earn a fair return for his/her product from the market and not have to rely on subsidies, handouts or an off-farm job to support the farming habit. In return, the farmer needs to surprise and delight the customer, providing good value for the dollar and an excellent experience.
- Environmental – We believe that we need to carefully consider the impact of our agricultural practices on people, land and animals and always strive to improve what we do. This is enveloped in our All Natural Protocol which states “At Pine View Farms, all poultry and livestock are raised in a low stress environment, on a healthy vegetarian diet, without the use of growth promoting medications or hormones. All animals have access to the outdoors, weather permitting.”
- Community – when we employ local people, it creates a vibrant, local economy as wages are generated and spent at other businesses. This is super important in rural Saskatchewan.
From that point forward, we began to weigh all our business and personal decisions against these three pillars of sustainability. This sideline meat shop became our mainline.
So, in 2003, we let go of grain farming and told Kevin’s parents we wouldn’t rent their land anymore. That was a tough conversation to say the least. We sold the tractor, swather, combine and air drill and reinvested the money in an expanded poultry butcher shop. We jumped in to the All Natural, local meat market with both feet. For us, there was just as much risk in staying the same as leaping into the unknown.
The drought of hard times was our accidental good fortune that brought us to where we are today — running a farm that aligns with our truest selves. Maybe it was destiny after all.