I cannot believe this is the second last newsletter of the year, it’s coming at us like a steam train!
I need to write two before we close on Christmas Eve for our final trading day of 2017 – always a very emotional time for me of reflection. This entire year has felt like a steam train.
I need to give you two articles from my recent trips, the one on Boschendal chickens and Farmer Rico and the second will be in my final newsletter of the year next week, an update on Charlie Crowther and Glen Oakes and his barley project where he is growing barley as supplement feed for his pigs.
Important end of year notices. We cannot stay open in the quiet time in Jozi, its tough to get deliveries and with being so quiet, it costs more to stay open and then we have to waste produce so our last trading day is on the 24th of December – we’ll be open until 1pm and then shutting down the fridges and switching off the lights and letting this uber special team of mine get home to their families.
The last two weeks of trading are where we stop ordering dry stock, thin down the lines and need to move our stock on the shelves. It’s a tough time as our overheads stay the same and staff need holidays but trading comes to a halt at Christmas until the second week of January. It’s a time when we have to get as much stock off the shelves, we have to discount it to incentivise you to help us in this regard even though the discounts mean we don’t get back what we need to cover our overheads. We just need to move the stock not sold before year close. So it’s a time when there are specials that we cannot repeat at any other time of the year.
For this week – our mission is to clear the freezers so all frozen stock – excluding chicken and the Soga organic orange juice range – is on special at a 20% discount. Our specials on dry goods peak in our last week and if last year is anything to gauge, there is a rush on that stock so if you have firm favorites that you want to purchase more of at a discounted rate – these are always your weeks.
It’s also a time when you can stock up on frozen stock of your favorite meat from your favorite farms and will help you manage the tight budgets January brings after the silly season abates.
If you don’t mind – please don’t wait until the door closes on the 24th and then come in and demand what is left at less than cost. I’ll tell you why – it’s a large insult to us. It shows a lack of respect for the costs of running this business and to the team who deserve salaries, to the rent need to be paid and to the farmers who need to be paid. When you demand stock at closing at less than the already discounted price – you tell us that we don’t deserve any return for getting it to the store and we remember that in the New Year, it is received as a serious insult as to our worth.
I’ll post news up on our Facebook page and Instagram on next week’s specials. Thank you so much to all of you who have always respected this store’s mission, I get very emotional about you in my last newsletter of the year. 😊
The other news is that the coffee bar is done and dusted and the final menu board now up. We’ve had much fun training on all the recipes and improving our skill – the focus is on organic single origin Arabica Sipi Falls coffee and the menu final has some really delectable recipes that are my firm favorites like the Mochaccino – Afrikoa chocolate chips with a double shot and frothed milk from our select farms only and topped with cream. The Superlattes are becoming firm favorites – especially when it’s nippy – all served with either the milk from our store, organic coconut milk or cream or Almond Creamery milk. We weren’t able to stock Almond Creamery prior despite requests as the soy lecithin prohibited us. Having a strong organic ethos there are certain compromises we aren’t able to make, we had to ask them if they would be willing to change the soy lecithin, although a tiny portion of the recipe to sunflower. To my joy, they agreed, we helped them source it and from January the soy lecithin will be removed. This is the best almond milk we have been able to source without making our own and on that note I’m really struggling to source organic almonds so this is the best option. Only sweetened with dates and no corn or gluten additives. The coconut milk and cream we use are certified organic.
The article this week is very much focused on chicken and my visit to Farmer Rico and the Boschendal chicken. It became more than about Farmer Rico as chicken is something we need to talk more about.
Being exceptionally selective about what chicken we have for you means that having consistent supply of chicken on the shelf has often proved to be elusive.
Supporting small, sustainable farms who farm with a philosophy that does not conveyor belt the lives of animals, means that we have to work within a farmer’s parameters. This sounds so obvious and yet this is not in line with how ordinary retail works – at all. Retailers, agri-chemical companies and big food brands shape what you eat – not farmers. Not even you do. Your options of what is available shaped by how these companies set the food system up for you – based on what best serves them – not you. In order to do this, their work is to make their offering seem appealing and make you enjoy the convenience of it as well as to shape your expectations about how to source food. Developers of retail nodes also determine what choices you have and how you get to purchase food, not you.
You might not have chosen to have lost all the local artisans, cafes, butchers and bakers and independent restaurants and coffee shops that were largely put out of business by big retail chains, but you did. It all looked so glossy – progress meant being able to spend time at a more professional and efficient supermarket. More became on offer, chains appeared all over suburbs and it appeared that there were more options when in actual reality what occurred was the loss of community and the soul in how food is brought and sold when those family run businesses closed down. We stopped engaging with store owners and people and engaged the professionalism of the corporate. We engaged with brands and processes, not people. The connection to the human and to the real story of how the food got there, the passion and emotion of those that brought it to you – lost. The producers of the food, the farmers all but disappeared from view. They became almost irrelevant.
We live in an era where children have little idea of what food is or where it comes from. The distance between the source of food and the plate – a spacious vacuum of ignorance. Only the supermarkets and the industrial farms knew what was actually going on behind the scenes but of course that story was never going to be told. You needed to be sold an illusion, and you were.
Then the dawn of social and information connectivity rose. Globalization and the rise of interconnected technological platforms meant that information could be shared more rapidly and more widely. Social media and the age of technology meant that we could suddenly interact with vast amounts of information shared on new universes of connected communication networks.
In no time, we became aware that the food system was a mess. We learnt that we were actually living in a world where as well as species becoming extinct at the rate of 200 a day – farmers were also becoming extinct.
The range of choice got way narrower as big food retail chains took over – there was actually far less choice, it just didn’t appear so.
The traditional retail paradigm has shaped industrial farming and industrial agriculture. Then they shaped you. They presented and advertised a set of expectations about how you should eat based on what was profitable for them. Advertisements selling you an illusion of convenience and progress made you believe that the convenient food was something you wanted. Progress was about having to spend less time sourcing food, less time cooking, less time prioritizing nutrition, more time to do other things while this food system took care of nutrition for you. To maintain the illusion – it was necessary that a veil was drawn between the glossy packets and sparkly aisles and the methods used to get that food to you. The retailer – standing for giving consumers what they want whenever they want it is to a large degree driven by consumerist needs that align neatly with a retailer’s desire to make extraordinary amounts of money. When I spend time thinking which came first, the consumer demand or the retailers creating the scene and then selling you the lifestyle, I get stuck in a chicken and egg argument. Regardless – our modern food world in the mainstream setting is set up in such a way that you don’t have to think about farmers, or farms, pesticides or the abuse of animals that are bred on this conveyor belt system. The mainstream food scene doesn’t advertise the millions of species lost every year to the plunder and rape of natural systems that it rapes to offer this convenience and this endless supply of glossy packaged food.
The food revolution is shaped around people who motivate from a different place – the need to make a difference and stimulate greater access to unadulterated good food which requires an altogether different food landscape. And altogether different types of people.
It’s not that the people driving businesses in this space don’t want or need to make money – far from it – proving that these businesses and these farms can be sustainable means that we have to find ways to do this profitably. It’s not that those people and those businesses involved in trying to co-create a new food paradigm, aren’t needing to make money, it just means that don’t motivate from that place. Their primary drive that makes them a part of this, doesn’t energize off the need to make money – they are motivated by a passion to connect with food of value that is as it should be and connected to farming that does not maim the natural world but mimics its wisdom. People like this are different animals altogether. Retail does need to be challenged – farming needs to be challenged – access to market needs to be challenged as well as consumer behavior and how their demands affect what happens behind the veil.
The illusion sold is that you’ll be able to get what you want, when you need it, conveniently and regularly – while behind the scenes, conveyor belt logistics and industrial farming churns volumes to meet the consumer.
The consumer lives under the illusion that they are receiving value as well as convenience, glossy neat packs of fresh produce appear, only the largest commercial farmers make money in this paradigm and do so when they are able to monocrop vast volumes of produce propped up in dead soil by artificial fertilizers and massive amounts of toxic pesticides kill surrounding life. The plant has no immune system with which to fight off pests. Many middle businessmen make a lot of money out of maintaining this status quo.
That all happens behind the scenes, all hidden from view as the consumer walks past shiny shelves with a trolley popping in perfect looking produce into a convenient trolley. Environmentalists yell behind the scenes and try to make it known just how much this veil costs and how much death and suffering is a result. The worst of all the fact that we are running out of soil, making species of animals, insects, birds and plants, not to mention whole universes of bacteria extinct, running out of fertile soil and clean water and exposing ourselves to a lack of longevity to the rise of modern day diseases that maim us, becoming common place – for all the convenience and upholding the veil.
CEO’s of retail chains that manage to run these super-efficient models of dis-ease retire with yachts and obscene bonuses, small scale farmers who aren’t connected to the mainstream food system, live hand to mouth and we live on borrowed time in a rapidly decaying earth. For some of us, we’ll need to dedicate our entire lives to being a part of doing something to help create an alternative way. Some of us live connected to the daily knowledge that we are running out of time and have short time to try and do something.
A convenience that comes at a huge price on not only the health of the natural world but also our own. A convenience that will cost you longevity and the loss of quality of life, the cyclical consequence on the harm that has occurred behind the scenes to bring it to you.
When you are retail around what is right for farmers and nature first, and stand for meeting the needs of consumers who don’t want to buy anonymously or buy in a way where they aren’t connected to the impact of their purchases, you are by definition creating a model where it is not possible to provide the type of efficiency and consistency that the industrial agricultural conveyor belt offers.
You are also conscripting to a different boss – that boss is the ones good farmers are at the mercy of and do no attempt to tame and that is the boss of nature. The Mother we all have to answer to.
Much of our work here is to help customers understand how their demands impact the way food is produced behind the scenes and the many expectations we are not going to be able to fulfill for them. An example that crops up regularly is the availability of fresh chicken on the shelves. When people get ratty with us that we aren’t able to consistently have convenient packs of fresh chicken on the shelves and have to freeze much of what we have, we have to explain why. If you think about the shelf life of fresh chicken – which is 3 – 5 days and then imagine how we would keep a constant supply of fresh chicken coming in every 3 days – you’ll start to see the problem. We would have to be attaching to an assembly line. We would have to be attaching to an abattoir and transport system that has volumes of chicken moving regularly. The transport can only work on volumes so to keep consistent supply this way, you cannot be connecting to one farm. When we purchase from one farmer – we have to order enough for him to make the transport make sense. Transport costs make or break any deal with a good farmer. A good farmer too is not running many chickens at different ages that are endlessly ready for slaughter. They are small and rearing one group of chickens altogether, for much longer than the 42 days which is customary with conventional chicken and need to slaughter all at the one time as they are not doing volumes. We then need to take everything they have and freeze much of it as we won’t be selling it all out within 3 days. Nor could a farmer like that ever suddenly have a fresh batch available 5 days later. Once we have taken it, we then wait for the next batch of chicks to be raised to full age.
This is normal for us but still something we have to often explain when people get ratty that to buy from small farmers like this who do it properly, means not having an endless supply of handy fresh chicken packs available all the time. So many aspects of farming that consumers have never had to consider before while retailers have offered them the consistent offering of the highly inefficient industrial farming models that give consumers the illusion of abundance. An illusion because this convenience costs the environment heavily and the cost of it is paid by the lack of health of all.
When it comes to the expense of an animals’ quality of life, it is particularly heinous. We have to select our farms carefully and we only select from farms that are rearing animals outdoor meaningfully.
This means I have to visit them, connect to them see exactly how things work there before we can represent them in-store.
Though there are many free-range chicken options available, most of them would not be suitable for our store because it doesn’t meet what I find meaningful. There are strengths and weaknesses to the fact that Organic Emporium is run mostly by my ideals. Very personal ideals and I am unable to put anything in that store that I am not passionate about or stand for a farm that doesn’t inspire me but Organic Emporium is that place and always will be.
It will always be a non-compromising space in that regard, I can only put things in the store that I am prepared to stand for and believe are examples of farmers that are meaningfully leading alternative farming models that make a difference. That’s where I get my motivation for this business from and if that ever changes, I won’t be doing this, that store for now is only filled with food I am happy to feed my family with and that we eat at home and that will never change so long as I’m at the helm of this businesses direction.
With the growth demands on us for next year, finding more farms that can meet a larger market is obviously most important and something I have to focus on. We need a catalogue of farms in each section that can meet the larger demands of the new stores and attached eateries.
Whilst this happened, I’m also knee deep in planning supply for the new store next year and realized just how much trouble I’d be in on a larger space that is going to have some very funky overheads and attached risk, if I don’t find other chicken options so that we’re not dependent on only two.
So that’s the context to why jumping on a plane to get to Boschendal and see Farmer Rico’s mobile chicken tractor project, became necessary.
This wasn’t the first time I’d connected to Boschendal. Two years ago, I was down in that neck of the woods visiting Charlie Crowther and Neil Jewell’s and Neil sent me to Boschendal to meet the head chef there Christiaan. That ended up being a long visit, connecting with their organic food project which had just been completed and spending time visiting their Black Angus grass-fed beef project, both of which were incredibly inspiring. They weren’t yet ready though to supply us with the beef so I never pursued that line for the store.
With Farmer Rico who worked with Farmer Angus moving across to Boschendal to start up a similar Mobile egg tractor project, I had to get down there to get you the story and connect back with this farm after getting their chicken in for the store recently.
The article focuses on chicken and how chicken is farmed and gets to the table and why we have to re-think the price of chicken and how often we consume it, if we are to shape a healthier food system. When it comes to animals, this is one of the most pressing areas.
See you in-store to end off what has been a bewildering and yet – exciting year of growth. Thank you for it all.