Here's To You, 2022!
"Life doesn't get easier or more forgiving, we only get stronger and more resilient."
Inflation, devastating drought, & new beginnings
We began this year preparing for a lot of uncertainty. Coming out of 2021, we were finally matching the demand for our meats and actually held onto a little excess. December 2021 was our best month to date and yet, I had a very full walk-in freezer. It was stressful to think that perhaps we were taking this direct to consumer approach in the wrong direction. I found myself questioning what else we could be doing to reach a larger customer base. Fortunately, 2021 was a decent crop year for us and we were frugal with our spending in preparation for what might be in store for us in 2022. In discussing our concerns with other farmers who sold their products direct to consumer, we found a resounding similarity in the fact that everyone felt their sales and markets were slightly off from 2020. No one knew what to expect from the insane demand we all experienced in 2020, and yet, local farmers did their best to meet those demands and provide better food security for their communities. To David and I, it just proved to us that this would require just as much creativity and tenacity as initially anticipated. 2020 was a catapult year for us. Now we just needed to steady our course and keep pushing forward to figure out what post COVID demand would be.
2021 and 2022 felt like they were inversely related. What was a decent crop year in 2021 with subpar expectations in meat sales, flipped to subpar crop yields in 2022 in direct result of severe drought and meat sales that far exceeded expectations. Battling crops and the weather is old hat to David. He has witnessed it first-hand on his family’s dairy farm his entire life. 2021 and 2022 are just the beginning of my full time farming journey, however. I am just starting to understand the weather and crops and fully appreciate what goes into the preparation of feeding livestock that still have to eat, regardless of what Mother Nature has planned. With more livestock walking around than we have ever had before, and intentions of selling every single finished market animal through our direct to consumer sales, I felt the pressure was really on. Between the weather, crop yields, rising fuel prices, rising interest rates, and overall insane inflation, combined with other external and internal factors ranging from land acquisition to the health of our family, I felt as if I was a pot on the edge of boiling over for a good amount of this year. Overall, I just want you all to know; that without a doubt we relied heavily on our income in the farm store this year. You all literally kept us moving forward in 2022. You have truly made a difference in our lives and the future of our farm. Thank you!
We knew this year we had to increase our monthly scheduled beef dates and did so, even though we were nervous about finishing animals consistently to meet this demand. Not to mention, we were already inching close to capacity in our newly built monoslope barn where we feed and finish our cattle. In the fall of 2021 we were asked by the butchers to schedule our beef and pork processing dates for 2022. USDA butchers are booked out over a year in advance. So regardless of demand, we were sending livestock to the butcher.
We began product collaboration and preparation for wholesaling options of our meats to small farm-to-table restaurants as well as value added products that featured our beef and pork.
It became evident early on that we needed to have more hours in the farm store. So beginning in February, we extended our business hours to include weekdays. This was a huge step in allowing our meats to become more available locally, as well as become a more regular option for the weekly shopper.
March brought the beginning of our Spring calving season as well as a very special delivery. I have been working on shipping our meats since 2020 and we finally pulled the trigger on this large investment. Although increased traffic to our farm store has caused shipping to take a back seat, we are still thankful to have this option finally available to our customers. Although there was a lot of excitement around the events happening on the farm, March was overshadowed by the declining health and loss of a dear friend. His love for us and our children will be cherished for the rest of our lives and will be forever be preserved in his namesake, Wyatt "Charles". With your help, we were able to donate a percentage of our sales to the South Jersey Gas Engine Club in his honor.
In April, our first cab tractor arrived. We have been renting all large field tractors and implements since the purchase of the farm. This purchase was a long time coming and with the increased cost of used equipment, it certainly was not an ideal purchase but necessary nonetheless.
May was a huge month for us! We officially launched shipping our perishable products and can now ship our meats nationwide! David and I traveled to North Jersey for the New Jersey FFA Association State Convention where I was awarded the Honorary State Degree nominated by the Woodstown FFA Chapter. Lastly, we purchased another farm just a 2 minute drive from our home farm where we will graze our livestock and grow crops. This preserved farmland almost doubled the amount of acres that we own and will allow us to continue our trajectory with our livestock. Although it was not by any means an ideal time to purchase another farm, we feel honored that the owner wanted to entrust us with her family's farm that has been in her family for over 100 years.
June was another very busy month that started with giving the first of many formal farm tours where we welcomed Upper Pittsgrove School's "Ag-venture" club. As a member of the New Jersey Farm Bureau Women's Leadership Committee, I traveled to Washington D.C. for the Farm Bureau Women's ACE Summit. During this summit, I learned how to interact with key stakeholders in agriculture. We rounded out the trip by discussing Farm Bureau key issues with our representatives on Capital Hill. Representative Van Drew was very kind to meet with us and expressed deep interest in visiting our Salem County farms.
In the middle of the month, David and I welcomed our e-mail subscribers and visitors in the farm store for a walking farm tour. The tour was well received and we plan to continue these opportunities in 2023!
Lastly, we ran temporary fence on our new farm and made the first official move of some of our herd to the "new" farm. We have had a relationship with the previous owners and this is not the first time we have grazed here. However, this is the first time we were able to use more temporary fencing such as we have on our home farm and take better advantage of the acres available.
July consisted of more farm tours and we announced our work with Brook Bound Farm in Alloway, NJ to offer pasture raised chicken to our customers and their now spray greens are now available in our farm store as well!
The bottom picture is of the boys following me along to check on a new group of laying hens we added. This year posed great challenges in the commercial poultry industry with High Path Avian Influenza. We felt the effects on our farm as demand for our eggs soared.The effects of Avian Inluenza are projected to continue into 2023 as many large poultry operations had to cull their flocks.
August is a special time in Salem County as the county fair takes place the first full week of every August. This fair is very reminiscent of a traditional county fair with the focus primarily being on the youth 4-H and FFA members who exhibit their animals and projects there. The Salem County Board of Agriculture saw this as a unique opportunity to invite many key stakeholders and politicians to the county to tour local farms. The NJ Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of the DEP, representatives from NJ Farm Bureau, USDA, as well as local politicians and their representatives included some of those in attendance. This was an excellent opportunity to highlight the devastating drought currently affecting the region and discuss pressing concerns with those of potential influence. This tour included a stop to our farm where we discussed drought concerns, lack of access to USDA processing facilities, as well as highlighted our regenerative farming practices. It was an honor to be a part of this county-wide tour.
During the county fair, two of our helpers in the farm store participated in the Salem County Fair Queen competition and received the title as well as first runner up. We are incredibly proud of these young ladies, and their willingness to be a representative of the county fair, as well as a face for local agriculture.
At the beginning of August, it was becoming very apparent that we were incredibly behind on rainfall and harvest would begin weeks earlier than usual. Our forage mix we had planted in anticipation of chopping for silage was dismal. In response, we had to change plans and chop corn to make our silage. A more costly feed option but nonetheless necessary to ensure we had enough forage to feed our cattle through the winter. Our anxieties about crop yields were shared by many in the area.
August also marked the beginning of our larger calving season. We time our larger calving season for this time frame so we can easily manage crop harvest separate from peak calving. However, this year everything managed to still happen simultaneously with the excessive heat and drought. We plan to push back calving a few weeks for our 2023 calving season.
September brought the beginning of corn harvest. As expected, our yields were half what a normal year would be. We still found ourselves fortunate as others had no crop to harvest at all.
I assisted in holding the Woodstown FFA Alumni Beef & Beer with fellow alumni members. We were incredibly proud of the outpouring of support we received to be able to continue our support of the Agriculture Education program at Woodstown High School. I can never stress enough the importance of supporting youth programs in the community and I am extremely passionate about continuing to support this program and it's growth in the Woodstown-Pilesgrove Regional School District. Most of the supporters of the live auction were local small businesses and farmers.
If you know breeds of cattle, your eyes are not deceiving you! Unfortunately after one of our oldest breeding cows lost her calf at birth, we nurtured a bond between her and a holstein bull calf from David's family's dairy farm. She has adopted this calf and is now raising it as her own. This guy will be raised just like our other cattle we finish for market.
October was without a doubt the most challenging time David and I have ever been through. On October 9th, while fixing the family's combine, David fell backwards and fractured his L3 vertebra. For weeks he had to succumb to very limited activity and still experiences limited ability and pain from this incident. There was a two weeks span where we barely saw the kids as they were cared for by our family so I could keep up with the daily chores. David's cousin, our parents, our customers, family, and friends were an amazing support system during this crazy time who came forward in different ways to clean house, watch the kids, help with chores and cooked us meals. I found myself emotional very often from the shear generosity of so many people. I have never felt so undeserving of so much kindness but all we can say is thank you for helping us move forward during such a challenging time.
With help, we were able to finish soybean harvest and plant cover crops and wheat to officially end most of the field work for this year.
Another major highlight in October/November was the new addition of Copper Knoll Farms lavender products in the farm store. Although have been carrying their mushroom and elderberry products for quite some time, we were very excited to offer their lavender products to our customers. They have been working toward this dream since we have known them and it has been such a joy to watch them make it all come to fruition.
During this time, I was also interviewed for an article in JerseyMan Magazine that highlighted our farm to table offerings and some aspects of our operation.
Many of the challenges of October in regards to David's injury carried into November and although those challenges were many, November held many highlights including our first annual Small Business Saturday Event. What began as just wanting to do a little pig roast with Kyle Smith of Smith Poultry, turned into a large event over 20 other small businesses and farmers as vendors, wine tasting, beer tasting from a local brewery, and pictures with Santa. In summary, it was awesome!!! If you made it out, thank you so much for stopping by! We hope you enjoyed yourself as much as we did. We certainly hope to have more events like this in 2023.
In December we struggled with keeping enough inventory in our little farm store. Simply put, it has been the best month we have ever had. Although planning for 2023 began in the early fall, we feel confident in our decisions to continue increasing our stock in 2023.
If you made it this far in our 2022 review, we just want to take this opportunity to thank you for being here. I do not share all of this to have our lives played out for all to see, but we want to form relationships with our valuable customers; for you all to feel a part of our journey, and know our story, which you all are a very intricate part of. We are truly blessed to have you here.
We wish you all good health and happiness in 2023!
- The Sickler Family