Sustainability: Two Sides to Every Coin

by | Jan 22, 2015 | 3 comments

Now that the new year is in full swing, it is time to get the creative juices flowing. I got away from writing for a while, as there were too many other things taking up my limited brain power. I found it interesting that I could miss it and have a major case of writer’s block at the same time. With all that was going on I couldn’t find anything fun or even snarky to ramble on about. This one is not supposed to be funny or snarky…but at least I’m writing something.

The blog post on New Zealand Beef from BN Ranch received several great comments, and really gave me a lot to think about. The main concern was both very valid and predictable. How can it be sustainable if is shipped halfway around the world to get here? I agree it is worth discussion and it should weigh into your decision about whether you choose to eat it or not. I had one comment in particular that really made me consider the justification of offering it.

With all that has occurred over the past few months, one great transformation has been the way I make decisions. It has a long way to go, but we are now creating a process where we can see what is REALLY going on in our business week to week. The other thing I have been reminded of is a basic tenant of my personal business philosophy. We have to be a sustainable farm/meat purveyor AND a sustainable business. Neither is more important than the other and neither can be successful without the other.

Our business is an amalgamation of farm, CSA, farmer’s market vendor, butcher shop and grocery store merchant. This is the beauty and the curse of what we have created, with many masters to serve that have sometimes competing demands.

We have many loyal customers who can’t imagine eating anything out of season or from outside our zip code. They are easy to satisfy because they purchase what we have raised/sourced locally and appreciate that we let them know what is available and where it comes from. And they come back to us when whatever they want is in season. They won’t compromise their eating philosophy and won’t fault us for ours.

We also have many loyal customers who trust us to make the decision for them. They buy their meat from us because they trust us to vet the farms and ranches for them. These are the customers that always concern me most because these types of decisions are trusted and accepted without much concern on the customer’s part. That is a weighty responsibility that I take very seriously. But at the end of the day, they are loyal to Victorian Farmstead and a consistent source of support.

Then there are the customers that like the idea of eating a better quality of protein that is better raised, but if they can’t get it they will eat what is available. There is an old saying in baseball: Every team will win 50 games and lose 50 games in a season no matter what. It is the other 62 games that determine who had a good year and who did not. These customers are those 62 games. To be honest, that’s who I would be if this were not my business and passion and if I did not have a wife who is militant about what we eat as a family. These customers are the difference between making it as a business and not. There just is not enough of the above customers to grow on.

If we were just a CSA or farmers market vendor, we would be required to only sell what we produced ourselves so there would not be a decision to make. If we were just a butcher shop or grocery store whose objective was just to make sure we carried what the customer wanted regardless of source, again no decision to make. But we have to deal with both issues in order for our business to be viable. Let me put it another way…

If we harvested beef seasonally and simply didn’t offer it in the winter months, a large segment of our customers would go elsewhere to get it. This is a huge business sustainability problem. It’s not likely they would come to us for pork chops and chicken and go elsewhere just for a rib eye. They would go up the street to do all their shopping at a place where they can get everything in one stop. So what do we do???

The decision for me was simple…make the BN New Zealand Ranch available to those that want it. I would rather my customers got what they wanted from a source that I trust rather than feed-lot beef from an unknown source. Is this just altruism on my part? Of course not. Selfishly, I want to keep as many customers happy as I can so they continue to spend their money with us and not “them”. Altruistically though, I can sleep at night knowing that the meat I provide is of the best quality available and I have honored their trust by letting them know what is available and where it is form.

One issue I do take umbrage with is the notion that we need to teach the customers how to be more sustainable by limiting what is offered to them. While it is a nice idea, it is not practical in any sense. The cost of customer acquisition is enormous and each one is the most valuable asset we have. If you need proof of that please see the results from our recent fundraising efforts in terms of how many individuals stood up for us and decided we were important to them.

I do a tremendous amount of educating about what we do, both formally and every day at the butcher shop and farmers markets. I consider it my duty to give people the information and let them make a decision as to what customer category they will fall into. It is not my duty make that decision for them by only supplying what I think they should have access to.

At the end of the day, any topic that gets this much attention is worthy of discussion and I’m grateful for the comments that make me think about my decision even after I have made it. We are in a great place at the start of the year and I now have a great support system to help us make these tough decisions. We are very lucky to have options and customers that care enough to get in on the discussion. Here’s to a great 2015!