Andre LaSalle

Last Thursday, I spent an hour on the phone with a farmer I had never met. The farmer, who raises meat chickens, turkeys and laying hens in northern Florida, was kind enough to bend my ear on the topic of low temperature refrigeration.

By no means was the farmer formally trained in electrical engineering, plumbing or refrigeration, but because seasoned farmers seem to be the quintessential “jacks of all trades,” he had learned enough about freezer technology by necessity over the years and was able to share some of his acquired expertise with someone 2,000 miles away, thanks to the wonders of specialty internet forums.

Thirty years ago, who’d have ever thought that “the internet” would provide a treasure trove of niche online communities such as “Green Tractor Talk,” a forum for John Deere owners, or “American Pastured Poultry Producers Association,” an organization and forum for chicken and turkey producers who raise their flocks outdoors instead of inside barns? Being a member of both of these online communities, and others, I can tell you that the anecdotal stories and goodwill I’ve come across is quite profound.

I can thank members of GTT for helping me diagnose a parking brake issue on my tractor. I can thank the members of APPPA for helping me diagnose a lineal feeder space issue with my broiler chickens.

The Floridian I talked to on the phone about freezer technology was someone I met in the latter forum. Pasture-based poultry producers are most frequently direct marketers, circumnavigating commodity markets and distribution chains, and thus knowledge about every step of the process from hatched egg to direct-to-customer sale is required to make such a business work. Feed formulation, marketing, and yes, refrigeration technology are all required knowledge when you raise and direct market your products.

Between our passages of shop talk on R-values and single and 3-phase compressors, it was fun to get a glimpse of what farm life is like in his part of the country. While we found we share many of the same struggles raising domestic fowl on pasture, many geographical and climatic factors have led us to have quite different experiences.

He listened with envy as I described how my well pumped ice cold water all summer long. The water from his well pump frequently crests 70 degrees for half the year.

I listened with envy as he told me he can raise poultry outdoors nearly 11 months out of the year while up here in the north we’re lucky to hit five months.

The farmer told me of how, on his sandy loam, a pair of tropical storms dumped 60 inches of rain on his farm over a period of two months, and within a week after the second storm had passed, his ground was dry and yearning for more water.

I told him how up here on our heavy clay “rock farms,” we can get an inch of rain that turns everything to pure mud for a week.

While our dormant season in Minnesota is winter, his dormant season–due to extreme heat–is peak summer.

Talking about successes and failures with someone who farms in a wildly different climate lends good perspective. There were countless advantages he mentioned that I envied. But of course there were countless advantages I mentioned that he envied as well.

As our conversation wound down and I reflected on his advantages and mine, that saying about the grass always being greener came to mind. It’s a saying that, in peak summer, I’m sure he’ll muse about when thinking of Minnesota’s green, lush pastures. And it’s a saying that in sub-zero January, I’ll be thinking about when I’m outside sporting three pairs of long johns, two coats and frozen eyelashes, knowing that he’s out doing chores in shorts and a t-shirt.

 Andre LaSalle is a Messenger contributer.

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