Where To Find the Eggs
Where To Find the Eggs
Most of the images with this essay have come from archived publications as old as 150 years. Some are newer and a few are as fresh as daisies, you figure out which is which.

Where To Find the Eggs?

Where To Find the Customers for the Eggs?

(How Do We Reconcile Advertising?)

by Lynn R. Miller of Singing Horse Ranch

It was 1970. The banker, an old-world Eastern European, had a precious Sunday ritual. Though not yet forty, his form and manner suggested fifty eight. He would shave and take pains dressing in his best, three-piece suit, framed past the bottoms by spit-polished, oxblood, wingtip shoes. His wife and children would take extra time to present themselves as a picture postcard family. Mama would always check to see if Papa’s platinum watch chain was draped just so. And she’d moisten her fingers to slick back any errant hairs from around her boy’s ears. The children might complain but there was absolutely no option for them to refuse, they were all going to behave and go to church.

They rode in Papa’s long black Buick, and arrived exactly on time moments before the beginning of service, walking in procession to the front pew, right side, just below the pulpit. Mama and Papa’s faces were unsmiling, serious if not tragic. This church going was solemn business, so solemn you didn’t comment on it, not this family, not back then. To them solemnity was gratitude manifest. It was 1970 but this family made it seem like it was 1950. They were old world. Both Mama and Papa had grown up on hard scrabble farms in the Balkans. Arriving in America as teenagers, their own parents had impressed upon them the importance of the mystique and fashion of this available propriety.

But this real person, stoic Papa Tom, held comfortable, loose-fitting, defining secrets close to his heart: the one he treasured most was that, difficult as it had been, he loved his childhood on the old farm. Oh, he understood that now – these days ( – those days of 1970), with this glorious new life and opportunity, the distant rural past was something less than favorable; and that his children were blessed not have to work in the fields and barns. Still…

Where To Find the Eggs

At that very same time, a commute from Eugene, Oregon, where Tom and his family worked and lived, I managed a goat dairy on a small farm in the tiny burg of Dexter. There were pigs, milk goats, a few sheep, two horses and lots of laying hens. The big kitchen garden surrounded perennial plantings including Jerusalem Artichokes. There was a big traditional barn with hayloft above and stalls and granary below. The hens produced so many eggs that I kept a sign out by the mailbox. It said Eggs $1 dozen. (You could buy them back then for $.75 a dozen in the stores but I was hoping not to have to make change.)

Earlier that year I had moved from San Francisco to Oregon. In the city I attended the Art Institute for five years and worked at odd jobs. My first job, in 1965, was as a box boy and then eventually salesman for Leed’s Shoe Store on Market Street. The store manager Fred Dubeau was a stout, short, posture erect, eastern European who could smile with his eyes, never moving his lips. He always wore a three-piece suit with pocket watch and chain and drove an immaculate 50’s vintage Cadillac. He commuted from Daly City. I was fond of my boss.

One Sunday, on the Dexter farm, it was Spring and I was finished with the milking and feeding chores and walking back to the house when I saw the long, tail-fendered black Buick pull into the driveway, slow. When the man stepped up and out of the car, I first thought, with genuine pleasure and surprise, that it was Fred Dubeau, he and Tom Jaris looked that much alike. Suit coat open, hands in his pockets, he made a polite effort to hide that he was looking me over.

“I stopped because of the sign. May I see your eggs?”

I invited him up on the porch and retrieved a dozen from the house. He looked at the brown beauties, held the carton up and inhaled lightly.

“I would like to buy two dozen please. But, unless you are in a hurry, I would like to visit just a little?”

And as simple and direct as that a ritual started. Every Sunday after church the Jaris family would drive out to the farm to purchase eggs and ‘visit’ for a while. We innocently shared stories about our respective backgrounds and formed a genuine friendship. Tom was fascinated with why a young man would come from a city with a college education and choose to live on a small farm. Over time the discussions were exchanges, he would tell a story from his farming childhood and I was expected to reciprocate with any story or news of my farming.

But then, I passed the purpose of this story. Left it back there several sentences.

On that first visit Tom gave me $10 for the two dozen eggs. I told him they were only $1 per dozen. He insisted that the road trip out to visit this modest little farm, and the time spent getting to know the farm and me, was worth every penny of ten dollars. And so it was: every Sunday Tom brought me ten dollars, took two dozen eggs, but not until we shared stories. In economic terms, this was at a time when I was lucky to get $100 for a week’s work on the farm and fuel was $.25 a gallon. A ten dollar bill was a big deal to me then.

It took two or three weeks and somehow in conversation we came around to an extensive farm project that I needed to take care of. Later Tom asked if the following week they might come a little later than usual, after the noon meal on Sunday. I said yes.

When they showed up the whole family was dressed casually, in work clothes. Tom and his family then went out behind the barn and helped me with the ditch I needed to dig. We talked as we worked and when it came time for them to leave, two dozen eggs in hand, I said “those are in trade for you helping me today.” Tom would have nothing of it. “I should be paying you more for the pleasure of sharing your work.”

The point of this little story? I would never have met Tom and his family except for that sign by the mailbox, “Eggs For Sale $1.”

Where To Find the Eggs

Something so small and insignificant as the example above does not fit into most commonly held notions of the workings of a farm. But it should, because for small farmers such notions of balance, hands-on scale, and human connectivity go to the core of an agrarian course. Yet, I’ve always believed there needed to be some sort of accommodation, some serious nods towards economics, some reality checks; some effort to carry our comforts and sacred motivations into a room where we then craft our own compromises with the vulgarity of commerce and commercial advertising.

In this society, we are expected to recognize that to speak such a way, let alone act accordingly, is blasphemous. To hold the “marketplace” and commerce in general in such contempt (as I must confess I do and have done) is as much a threat to banking, insurance, health care and the body politic as any unruly mob of protestors. Imagine that. My father is probably fuming in heaven that people have continued to be so completely duped by the ornate lies which enthrone the rackets of finance, health care and politics as sacred. But he knew it was coming. The groundwork had been laid.

When I was very young I, and my siblings, in the fifties and early sixties, were captive to my brilliant father’s daily rants against “Madison Avenue” and the “liars, cheats, connivers, and thieves who wrote copy for most of the advertisements.” It was because my father was an intelligent man, well read, well versed, artistic and incredibly capable that we knew what ever he said, no matter whether or not it always rang true, merited our attention. I know now, as a senior citizen, that time and experience have shown me the truth of his observations. For most of my adult life I have felt as he had about the worms of commerce.

I recognize that it has had profound effect on the financial strength, or lack thereof, of this our publishing business. We have persisted over nearly a half century, same people at the helm, NOT because we have played the games of commerce well (we have not) BUT because our belief in what we do is so incredibly strong we must persist to persist, not persist towards commercial success but persist because the service we provide, the community we support, the ideals we treasure needs us to. It is expected.

But, even with my father’s admonitions, early as my teens I was always attracted to some advertising; to a certain elegant simplicity, to a brand of manifest good humor, to forms of attractive design and illustration which were part and parcel with the earliest, say oldest, forms of product and service announcements. Being schooled by the most effective, if not very best, art teachers in the world, I was repeatedly admonished in college studies to avoid the slippery slope of nostalgia’s deceit in all matters of esthetics. “Looking back fondly” was and is considered by gatekeepers of modernity to be a terminal disease. It has taken me an active long lifetime to realize how arbitrary these notions of nostalgia’s measure and effect are.

Benevolent attractive effectiveness

Or as Boswell Adroit might pine ‘Make it Simpleisimo y Bonito but jaybirds stay away from Can’t-get-it-out-of-my-head-O.’

Where To Find the Eggs
This early Nordell ad heading is pure announcement & magnificent.

That’s what’s missing in most all of commercial advertising – distance, changeability, credibility, intelligence, simplicity. But, once again I drift, because my purpose with this essay is to explore not only how we got here but where ‘here’ is and where we should be, as in ‘there.’ Waving in the breeze, I know. Let’s see if I can say it a better, more direct way.

If you are a small farmer with pork, or cattle breeding stock, or eggs, or spinach or farm-made gizmos to sell today, where would you go to put that ‘announcement’ to get it in front of your most likely customers? Is there a proverbial street corner – or event best suited for you to hawk your wares? And what would you include with your announcement, how would you make the proper and most effective statements? And what would be your goal? Do you want to send prospective customers to a certain market where your produce might be purchased? Or, do you want to invite buyers to your farm to look over your livestock and produce and buy some? Lots and lots to think about. Get it right and you’re halfway to success. Get it wrong and you’ll find yourself tripping up most every day.

Where To Find the Eggs

We are small farmers and we prefer to be farming. Time is valuable. Why should we mess with inviting strangers into our workaday world? Why should we have to spend time and money with advertising and customer outreach? Selling local food direct is one of those good ideas that itches, wrinkles and burps when you try to fit it into the hard daily work of farming. For independent-minded farmers, there’s a whole lot to be said for having a ready, regular market with no messing about, no socializing. Most of the time, however, that dictates a scale of production that fits the handoff. You deliver your truckload of green beans or tomatoes to the local cannery, you get a check – done. You have trucks arrive that load up your broiler chickens, you take the money to the bank – done. You haul your wheat to the granary and a credit is set up – done. Steers and lambs and hogs get sold in lots, often at pre-negotiated prices – done.

But for genuine small scale farming, where the necessary quantities to warrant bulk sales are not available – selling direct, selling local, needs to be addressed and made to work with less hassle. We need to find ways to ‘get the word out’ about what we have to sell. And we need to find ways to safely connect with those who want to purchase the goods. How do we do that on our farms?

I know of several farms that have organized all of their bulk sales through local organizations; churches, schools, service organizations, etc. And others who have coordinated some of their sales to coincide with events; everything from auction sales to county fairs… you name it.

Where To Find the Eggs

And then yes, there have been, for some of us, unavoidable trips to shops, stores and farmer’s markets to sell farm produce. With luck and planning we might have established routes where restaurants expected us on Tuesdays and Thursdays, where mom and pop grocery stores welcomed our deliveries every Monday, and where we set up our stands at the farmer’s markets on the weekends. But, before the turn of the century, way back in the 1980’s, when fuel was under a dollar a gallon and a team of broke work horses could still be found for $1700 or less, many families were larger with more hands on deck, and clocks ran slower, it seemed to make sense. Back then big box stores, and computers and online commerce and overnight shipping were the stuff of science fiction. Back then if your farm had a ‘route’ it was all about genuine ‘local’ and the ever expanding fabric of customer relationships.

But that is not really putting ourselves out there through advertising; neither is sticking up a sign that says “We Sell Fresh Produce.” That’s all different, it’s delivery to an organized market or appointment market – not advertising. And I offer that if it’s an announcement or notice, it’s not advertising either.

So have we come round to the conclusion that advertising today is out of place for small farmers? We started by asking “where do we find customers for our good fresh ranch eggs?” And, on the mirror side, “where do those prospective customers go to find our eggs?” To steal from political sloganeering I offer that:

“All Small Farming is Local.”
a few steady customers – purest gold

Back in the 1980’s on one of my earliest junkets to Maine to speak at the Common Ground Fair and judge a horse event, I met a couple with a small mixed crop and livestock operation. I visited their farm and straight away noticed that in the deep front porch of their old Craftsman Style farm house they had tables and a glass front refrigerator. On one table was a glass gallon jar half full of dollars and coins. Hand lettered cards were standing there explaining to the uninitiated that they were welcome to help themselves to eggs and raw milk. There were suggested prices and they were asked to leave the money in the jar, make a note in the log book, and make their own change.

I stayed for supper with them and we talked about how the help-yourself marketing was working. They had been doing it for a couple of years and knew of no problems and three important advantages: one – they saved themselves time and energy going after customers, two – most all of the people who first purchased from them came back again and again, becoming regular customers, and three – more often than not, when they did their evening tallies there was more money in the jar than there should have been. At one point a customer had made a note in the log book: “This is so lovely. I am adding twenty-five dollars as a gift so that anyone who comes and feels embarrassed in that moment and unable to pay the suggested amount, he or she can use part of this for their purchase.” This caught on.

And then a problem raised its head.

They had become so successful that frequently they were out of stock when people showed up. Regular customers, good customers, traveling a bit to get their milk and eggs were frustrated to find that ‘first come first served’ was an inconvenience. When I left them it was while they were actively trying to figure out how to make it work and not jeopardize this delightful free form of sales and distribution. The last thing I remember is hearing her say to her husband, “We have to take those road signs down. At least until the number of customers levels off.”

I recall them saying that they were surprised how few regular customers it took to sell all of their production.

Where To Find the Eggs

Have I become an old cynic? In today’s world, depending on where you live and farm, I do believe in many places this would be a disaster. I do not bring up this Maine example now to recommend it to you for your sales. I bring it up to share some important points through example.

  1. Twenty or thirty regular customers, especially if they are families of 3 or more, can use a lot of fresh produce, milk, eggs, etc. You will be surprised by the amount of revenue so few people can generate.
  2. We small farmers frequently feel compelled to apologize for our prices when, just like Tom at the beginning of this essay, people inclined to go for your produce have a sense of its true worth to them and theirs.
  3. There is a comfort for customers to visit a farm direct and make their decisions on what to purchase WITHOUT the competition of several shoulder-to-shoulder vendors and customers concentrated at a farmer’s market.
  4. The vast majority of people, no matter their politics or economic station, are good, decent, generous and honorable.

This Maine example of direct marketing has its limits and its advantages. One of the advantages is that no outside advertising is required.

But what of the rest of us? Those who aren’t going to invite people up on the porch to make their own change? This is where a middle ground is called for. Some entity, business or organization which will take our produce and market it for us. Way back in the sixties, when I was growing an organic garden on 48th and Irving at the beach in San Francisco, co-ops were formed to provide sales and distribution. And when, in the seventies, I had a much larger market garden in Junction City, Oregon, several of us met and organized Organically Grown Inc. for this purpose.

As the healthy foods universe grew we began to see brokers who contracted farmer’s produce and provided an infrastructure to get it to markets.

There are many of us who see these middlemen, these marketplaces, as essential service provided, above and beyond the actual growing and harvesting. We again save time and hassle and pay for the service. We do not need to trouble ourselves with advertising.

Where To Find the Eggs

Back to those of us who aren’t inclined to use middlemen; when we farmers put food, fiber and livestock direct into the hands of other people, put it into their homes, isn’t this a service provided? As farmers of and for our local community, do we not provide an essential service, such as blacksmiths of days gone by, or the now long gone farm-call veterinarians?

Identity (read authentic ‘branding’ without the condescension – without the sarcasm), whether casually provided or formally presented, is becoming an essential in the success of truly local farm production. Those customers willing to avoid the industrial markets, willing to seek out individual farmers, need to find and connect with small farm identities they can measure and hopefully relate to, because that’s where the birth of trust and assurance resides. But how do future customers find us and our products and services? With the computer age the landscape has changed dramatically, the lingos have gone bizarre, the markets have become elastrated and hype is no longer tripe.

How Do We Present Ourselves and Our Products
in this Age of the Well-lit Lie,
of Quality as unqualified,
of Origin as a Moving Target
or Ingredients as maybe this maybe that,
of Professional Skullduggery and Cyber Larceny?
of advertisings dressed in obnoxious crazy fonts
combining lost children ads
with ‘you’ve got to have these’ diatribes.

The job for we small farmers is to publicly announce what we have for sale – products or services, and make it easy for prospective customers to get to the product, coins in hand or barter in mind.

Where To Find the Eggs

On an important and separate note: be mindful of your intended, preferred customer base. One of the splendid, if unintended, consequences of small scale farming is that we seldom have the bulk quantities which are required for bulk sales to processors and distributors. One translation of this: we small farmers enjoy the luxury of ‘cultivating’ a broad mix of customers, whereas commercial farmers are often ‘tied’ to single contracts (sometimes with production credit tying the knots) and these may mean, and often do mean, that the farmer can lose his or her market and income in the wink of an eye.

It has been noted that there is a somewhat false sense of ease and security in dealing direct with middlemen or outfits; no advertising is required and very few people to deal with. But it is most definitely a false sense as rude surprises and difficult compromises are standard operating conditions.

All of the above two paragraphs point towards the planning conclusion that we need to give long and careful thought to what we want in the way of customers and also what we are willing to put up with. And with that clarity then go to the next set of questions: where to advertise and how to advertise.

Might I suggest that instead of ads we small farmers consider thinking of our reach efforts as ‘announcements.’ Since, it is obvious, that rare products of great value will always only be available for a limited time, and that the fragile availability is worthy of the integrity of an announcement. We don’t advertise weddings or births or deaths, is it so oddly raw of me to suggest that we shouldn’t advertise we have one team of exceptional horses we want to sell? That we have a limited supply of produce, milk, eggs, custom work, etc.? On the bulletin board of the coin-op laundry in the small town there might be a hand lettered card, with a limited number of tear off phone number tags. The card might read:

Bluebird Acres Announces Copper Maran eggs
will be available, as supply lasts, at $3 per egg.
Limit two doz. per friendly customer, emphasis on the ‘ friendly.’
Exceptions? A very few trades for labor might be negotiated.
Three dozen eggs for a thorough cleaning of the south layer shed?
Diligent, good humored, willing laborers always rewarded.

Where To Find the Eggs

How Do You Tell If The Announcements Are Sincere and Honest?

Consider the source, consider the motive, consider the smell, consider the taste, consider the swiped humor, consider the blatant intrusions, consider the obnoxious factors. Consider whether or not the presentation is a bare-faced dressed-to-kill ‘approach,’ rather than a straightforward announcement.

Consider whether there is any clear evidence that the hurried shortcuts of overpaid ad professionals divorced from life, as well as cheap shots of storebought and/or stolen artistry, have gone into making vulgar and blood sucking approaches to potential customers.

There. Right there. Is that a crusty trail along the edge of invented essentials or the rant of an old farmer?

Those of us small farmers who raise fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, forage, meats, fiber, eggs, dairy, oil crops, ornamentals, nursery stock, top soil, breeding stock, timber, wood products, and children are constantly challenged by our limited access to conventional industrial markets. We know in our gut that the Randall Lineback cattle, or the heirloom tomato varieties, or the lavender plants or the Jersey flavored cheese curds, or the ox yokes we build, or the young trained work horses and mules we present all have superior value, yet put any of those things into the mainstream as a bulk commodity and we are sorely shortchanged. We have learned that in order to maximize our return we need to find kin who already appreciate what these things mean to them and their continuation as small farmers as well as consumers.

Where To Find the Eggs
A poster at the local Hardware Store bulletin board may be just the ticket. Most especially for announcements about U-Pick opportunities. A couple two or three weekends at harvest times limits the individual farmers’ time spent with buyers. And having people come get their own potatoes or berries or hay bales saves time and money.

Spoke with a new acquaintance recently, a man with a lifetime of history in commercial cattle and a genuine immersion in the culture of his corner of farming. We were thrown together by the breakdown of my auto and his stepping in to spend the day helping me get back on the road. Lots of time to visit and get to know one another. Slightly out of context but important to this discussion; he stated that in his opinion today’s extremely low stock numbers of beef cattle would artificially raise the price of beef, in many cases beyond the ordinary household budget. He was working on a grand scheme to contract artificial insemination of dairy herds to beef bulls as a way to accelerate the increase in beef animal numbers.

My brain wasn’t so interested in the feasibility of the plan as it was in the identification of yet another breakdown in the always fragile industrial agribusiness chokehold on food supply. I lumped what my friend was presenting in alongside the very timely and painful status of poultry populations in the US. Eggs in short supply, prices going up. Broilers in short supply, prices going up. Point if you will to Bird Flu epidemics resulting in massive kill-offs of the national flock to head off further disaster. Point to shortages in truck drivers, storm closures of trade routes and highways, breakdowns in global trade infrastructures, collapsing economies, labor shortages, point where you will, the conclusion is the same – the national food supply is fragile.

It’s only my opinion but a conclusion such as that should worry thinking people because it means government will likely move in with legislative nonsense which will likely further gum up the works. But the good news is that small farmers, the independent ones will once again likely escape consideration. And it does add a changing landscape when it comes to our challenges with ‘advertising’ and selling local.

In thinking and writing about representing ourselves and selling products, I am reminded of a strange trip I took. In 2006 or 7, I traveled to New York City to meet with a big company that wanted to purchase this publication. I used the excuse to also spend an enjoyable and thought provoking day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to ‘talk’ with a few paintings and with long gone sympatico painters housed there.

But my first day wasn’t so pleasant, it was spent in downtown Manhattan in a skyscraper talking with corporate executives of a giant multi-national media corporation. They made a big offer, contingent with my staying on with this publication to guide its content. I wanted to know why they wanted the publication and what their intentions were. They wanted to know if I was willing to “play ball.”

In their plan; this journal was to be cornerstone to an endeavor to sell ads, to lock in on a fashionable demographic, to expand product and services and to purchase authenticity plus the creds that would result from their appearing to be invested in ‘green’ efforts (their words). They saw themselves mining recognized (if misunderstood) authenticity. To do this they would bring in an advertising firm to build an up-to-the-minute ‘legitimate’ global ad campaign. I found a stranger’s hand on my shoulder, with a television smile he whispered these words – “we will all make money, especially the stockholders.” They wanted an answer by the next day.

It was a crazy tall building and, as I rode the elevator fast to the lobby, I thought perhaps that’s why I was feeling dizzy.

That evening I walked from my hotel room on 5th Avenue, in the Chelsea district, to a corner mom and pop grocery. I wanted a few items I might eat in my room. Strolling the aisles I was impressed by the assortment of organic produce and handcrafted items. In the cooler I spied a glass pint milk bottle with a logo of a working horse. Here, in the center of Manhattan! It was a breath of fresh air and it helped me realize that I would never sell the publication to an ‘alien’ multinational corporation. I bought that bottle of milk and brought the empty bottle home with me. It has pride of place in my painting studio.

Where To Find the Eggs

I had escaped a strange moment of weakness. I believed back then that I owed it to this publication to find it a new well-healed owner so that it had a best chance to continue after me. That big corporation was trying to orchestrate a confluence; to bring in new ideas of sustainability, ecological balance and creativity and have them work under the umbrella of a corporate ethos.

I rejected the offer without discussion.

But back to the theme of this essay; it was that milk bottle advertising that grabbed me, shook me to my core and woke me up.

Where do we find the eggs? They are under the hen.

I have my own idea of a confluence, a useful even beneficial one. The best potential customers for a small farm’s produce and services are other small farmers. Those neighboring folks growing cane fruits and vegetables are the ultimate customer for your eggs and chicken manure. Those folks raising sheep and cattle are perfect candidates to purchase whole milk and vegetables. The man down the road with a filbert orchard and ducks, well, you can easily imagine all of the small farm produce he might need. And then there are all those other small businesses on-farm and nearby which repair equipment, do custom trucking, offer construction services, make fruit boxes and or pallets, do small batch custom printing, cut hair, run cafes, etc. etc. Building a vibrant small town also builds more “local” customers. Heck, it’s kind of like resettling America. We can do it. Maybe time is better spent giving folks help and encouragement to start their own farm and/or business right here in our community!

So the dilemma is how to make way, make wide, and make probable a path for more and more small farms? They will, as they increase, form neighborhoods of obvious commonality, All of this calls for individuals encouraged, enabled, and applauded. Who does this? The clusters, neighborhoods which came before. Towns without corporate. Towns with small happy toothless committees.

Such towns, named neighborhoods if you will, come defined by the surrounding numbers of individual (family) farms and businesses. And so it falls to them, the barber, the school coach, the pastor, the corner mechanic, the feedstore owner, the baker, the beautician, the grocer, the hardware store manager, the music teacher, the sheriff, the mayor, and the chocolate makers to herald and ‘announce’ for more small farms to join in. Each of you, pull the string deliberately, slowly, carefully and with apparent glee.

The eggs are under the hens.