I’m very excited to bring you this interview with Joe Conklin of Conklin Farms. I met Joe at the Chambersburg North Square Farmer’s Market and was delighted to find someone dedicated to ethical meat production – not to mention veggies and other food – at market. I used to go to another market, but the meat seller stopped going (as did several other vendors), so I had to switch markets and this one was only a few more minutes away from home. When I found out that Sandy from Painted Hand Farm, one of my mentors, is also one of his mentors I was especially tickled!
Not all of us can be farmers, or raise all of our food ourselves. We’re lucky to have farmers like Sandy and Joe who we can rely on to raise our food humanely and in a healthy way. I’m also always interested in how other people do it so I can steal learn from their techniques and processes for the homestead. Joe is also only 26 and is a great example of how it’s the younger farmers who are leading the way to more sustainable, ecologically-focused, local farming.
Joe kindly agreed to let me interview him for the blog and I am thrilled to share it with you.
Tell us a little about you and your farm.
Conklin Farms is a USDA certified organic farm for vegetables, eggs and chickens. We also raise pasture pork and we sell 100% grass-fed beef as well. We raise all our animals in their natural environments. Pigs are naturally woodland animals so we give them access to the woods as well as grass. Our chickens are out on pasture as well. They eat fresh bugs and grass on their daily new pasture. We opened our farm up in the beginning of 2015 but the seed was long planted prior to 2015. My parents previously purchased the property about 12 years ago with the intention of one day living off the land. I previously worked on a few organic farms so I gained my experience with veggies and livestock through those different farms and I loved farming so much that I wanted to open my own farm.
I farm because I love growing/raising healthy food for my local community. I love the physical aspect of it as well as the mental. I don’t consider what I do as work because I love what I do, day in and day out. Even those hot summer days, I love it because I know that I get to make other people happy. My father is my partner in Conklin Farms and there’s no better feeling than working with your best friend every day. We work really well as a team. He handles the majority of the business side (he has worked over 30 years in the financial industry) and I handle the farming side.
What’s the one thing you wish your customer’s knew?
I wish customers knew the seasonality of food and not every vegetable is always in season. The majority of my customers know that but I wish that everyone knew.
Where do you sell your food?
We mostly sell at local farmers markets here in south-central Pennsylvania. I love selling to my local community because we develop these bonds that I wouldn’t necessarily make if I sold to restaurants or to larger outlets. I love that any of my customers can go to any of my markets and talk to me about how I grow/raise everything. That’s what it is all about! Knowing and talking to your farmer and gaining as much information about your food that you can!
Where do you see your farm in 5 years or 10 years?
I see our farm growing more on the livestock side in 5 years. I want to expand my meat CSA while keeping my local markets. In this industry, it’s hard to look far ahead because every year is different when it comes to weather, food trends, and how responsive customers are to farmers markets. I do think that small-scale farming will expand in 5-10 years because customers are looking for that personal experience with their farmer. It is tough so I don’t think that the growth of small-scale farming will rapidly increase.
What’s your biggest challenge? What do you like or dislike?
The biggest challenge as a farmer is the weather. You can’t control the weather; all you have to do is learn how to deal with the elements. Another big challenge is super markets and the way that our society perceives our food system. I know that it is easy to walk into your local grocery store to grab your produce and get tomatoes in the middle of winter, but that is not natural and I wish more people understood that.
There isn’t too much that I dislike. Sure, it’s tough working outside in the middle of the summer or in the middle of the winter but I know that my end goal is to make people happy so I overlook all the small things. There are too many favorite parts to list! I do love seeing the growth of all my animals/plants in a relatively short period of time. My absolute favorite part has to be giving my pigs daily belly rubs! They each have unique personalities and I love getting to know them on an individual level. All of these things make it worth getting up in the morning. From the beginning stages of a plant all the way to the farmers market and seeing that smile on one of my customer’s faces, it’s all worth and I’m happy that I get to do this every day.
How do you interact with your peers who aren’t farmers? What do they think of your chosen path?
Most of my peers that I interact with that are not farmers are my college friends. They completely understand why I do what I do and they are very supportive of it. They’ve been out numerous times and got to help out on the farm and they enjoyed it.
Do you have any plans for expansion? Any new animals/crops you want to add to what you’re doing?
I do plan on expanding my livestock portion of the business to incorporate more pigs, chickens, egg-laying hens, and even lamb in the near future! I love working with animals and I do want to expand our Meat CSA portion of the business. I’ll add some new crops every year, based off what the market is calling for during the season.
What is the business side of farming like?
The business side of farming can be challenging but thankfully, I have my father and all of his financial experience to guide our business into the best possible situation.
How do you network with other farmers and producers?
I network with other farmers through my weekly farmers markets. I get to talk to each farmer and see what is and what isn’t working for them. I learned a lot from them over the time I’ve been selling at markets. I’m also part of a group called PASA (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) and every year there is a winter conference where organic farmers all attend a weekend long conference full of seminars that incorporates sustainable practices. I’ve learned a lot from that conference and I look forward to it every year!
Do you grow any of your own feed for the animals?
We do not grow any of our feed for our animals. We get our chicken feed and hog feed from a certified organic producer of feed. The only thing that I grow and give to my animals is some of our leftovers from market.
Tell me a little about the CSA aspect – how does it work?
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture so the community supports the local farmer by investing their money into the farm. In return, they get either fresh veggies or meat delivered to a local pickup spot over an extended period. We have several kinds of CSAs but our two main ones are our Winter Vegetable CSA and our Meat CSA. We grow fresh veggies in our greenhouse through the winter and we deliver those veggies from the middle of November until the end of March. Our Meat CSA is a monthly delivery, which includes chicken, beef and pork. There are a few different packages that we have for our Meat CSA (10, 14 or 18 pounds delivered monthly).
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this interview! If you’re in south-central Pennsylvania, I highly recommend checking out Conklin Farms. It’s hard to pick a favorite item from them, but their bacon is incredible and their potatoes are very tasty. The good news is, with the amount of tasty meat and veg Joe brings to market each week you don’t have to pick a favorite! You can also find Joe on Instagram and Facebook!
Do you attend farmer’s markets? What’s your favorite farm/booth at your market?