Back in October I mentioned that I was going to sell our farm raised pork using a totally untested method. Being the rash unmanageable maniac I am, I was going to ask for a specific numeric amount of cash in exchange for the pork. Nobody in farm country does this; ever. I think it’s probably a rural religious thing that’s deeply rooted in farmer’s souls. I explained it here:
- Bacon Update: Part 2: Scoring Bacon From A Pusher
You’re radiating confusion… …No money changed hands, you don’t know what you’ll get, you don’t know how much you’ll pay, you don’t know when it’ll happen…
Three weeks later your cell phone rings while you’re in the middle of a business meeting… “Your pig is done. I close at five.”…
You go back to the meeting and explain that your child just got struck by lightning. Therefore you must leave right away.
…Bill sticks the rest in an old waxed box and hands you a bill for what appears to be a random amount… …You still don’t quite know what you’ve received or how the amount you paid was determined. They might as well be using a roulette wheel.
- Bacon Update: Part 3: The Barter Economy
“Yes I am selling pigs. Do you want one?”
“Yes! Yes I do! How much?”
“I have no idea whatsoever.”
Well I stood up to the world and won! I set a solid, numeric price and sold that way. I took on all the expense of the actual farming (which is a huge risk), then I took a deep breath and doubled down. I paid (out of pocket) the butchering cost (which ‘aint cheap). Then I gambled with hanging weight and a bunch of other unknowables by promising “at least” so much weight (and I exceeded that weight and let the customer enjoy their good fortune of getting a bit more than I promised).
I boiled a thousand unknowns into a price and I sold at that price. It’s not as easy as it looks.
Because I took on all that risk (and hassle) I reached markets that aren’t normally willing to buy directly from a farm. Not everyone is cut out to wander around farm country trying to score ham. I was trying to reach these people… because I care. Also because bacon.
Since I was taking on extra risk and doing more work and trying to reach untapped markets I charged fairly high; probably a bit more than one would pay if you bought from a local small farm and paid the usual random “by the pound plus butchering fees and an extra ten bucks if I need to pay alimony that week” pricing scheme. Doing all the leg work myself was a big hassle but I think it made for happy customers and allowed me to sell at a “value added” price.
Also our pork was epic quality. I expected good and got amazing. The kind of delicious taste that inspires sagas and poetry and becomes pretty much the apex of civilization. It was outrageously good. We had some on Thanksgiving and it was like nothing I’ve experienced. I think that big huge pen and all the exercise (and good bloodlines) combined to make the leanest tastiest pork I’ve ever encountered; and that’s not an exaggeration.
From a purely economic point of view, the perfect price starts when you cover all your expenses (piglets, feed, fencing, etc…), allow for risk, ensure a fair profit, an dvalue your labor at more than zero. Ha ha ha… like that’s ever happened in homesteading. Take it from me, if you’re raising food and selling it, you’re getting hosed. Switch to selling semiconductors or crack.
But suppose you’re so stupid that you can’t help yourself. (I’m not the only one. It’s something that attracts fools and believers. You know why family farmers have “day jobs”? Because they’re idiots. Nobody works a “day job” to support their hobby of accounting. Folks don’t work nights and weekends as a dentist to support their hobby as a transmission mechanic. Farming is not terribly wise if you’re in it exclusively for the money.) Embrace it and get on with it.
So back at the drawing board I picked what I thought the market would bear and hopefully make a fair profit (maybe). Everything was based on imperfect information. I didn’t even know the butchering fee until I’d already paid it. Capitalism is a crapshoot.
If I priced too low, people would stampede and shove money in my pockets, and then I’d work to death for hardly any profit. I’ve done that before with meatbirds.
If I priced too high, nobody would buy and I’d wind up with 600 pounds of meat to eat. Hm… is that really so bad? First world problem right?
Well I priced high and at first got no takers. I was pretty worried. Maybe I’d been too greedy. I dropped it a tiny bit and prepared to freak out if nobody called.
Then, gradually and from unexpected sources, we made a sale here and there. We sold 1/2 pig at a time. (That was part of my idea to make the price more accessible to a consumer who can’t handle a full pig’s worth of food or muster a full pig’s worth of cash.)
We’re just a homestead so we didn’t need to close many deals. Even so, each deal wound up being logistically complex and nerve racking. Also, delivering meat to a mutually convenient location, such as a parking lot, is totally legal but looks massively illegal. I’m just sayin’. (If you see a guy accepting an envelope full of crinkled bills while handing over many small white packages from the back of a truck… that’s me selling bacon and not Tony Montana.)
Because this was our first season, each sale was a celebration. I’d clutch the money like Scrooge McDuck and jump for joy. Of course the money instantly evaporated but it’s still a nice feeling when you make an honest buck.
One memorable sale left us with a handful of cash and everyone was in very high spirits. On the way home we and some friends were attacked by a Japanese hibachi grill. What a party! We burned half the profits in an hour long sake soaked blast. No regrets.
We wanted to keep 1/2 pig for ourselves. We wound up with two halves left. Ah well, I’d priced too high. I guess I’d learned my lesson. Also more bacon for me.
Then, when I’d given up hope, Mrs. Curmudgeon closed on the last 1/2, hauled it off, and made the sale. Now that I think about it, I never saw the money. It never occurred to me to wonder about it until now. I knew I married a brilliant woman.
Having lined up just exactly the bare minimum customers to clear our meagre inventory I’m convinced I picked just the right price. Another nickel higher and I’d have lost a few sales and would balloon on a full winter’s all pork diet. Another dime lower and I wouldn’t have been able to afford that extra appetizer at the hibachi grill. Yin and yang.
There’s nothing to do but wait for spring and try the whole fool cycle again. I figure we’ll get a few repeat customers (the meat was really really really good) and start advertising earlier and all will be well.
Today I got a call that reaffirmed my plans.
“Do you have any more pork? Customer X gave me your phone number.”
“I’m sorry. It’s all gone.”
“Oh bummer. Customer X recommended it highly.”
“Yeah, we cooked some for Thanksgiving and I’m still beside myself with joy.”
“I want one for next year!”
“Well I don’t want to pressure you…”
“I missed out. Was it that good?”
“Yes, your life is not complete because you haven’t tasted this pork.”
“Here’s my number. Call me.”
Isn’t that grand? Sometimes the good guys win! Also, I think next weekend I’m going back to that hibachi place. It’s expensive but I’m a rich pork farmer now.