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  • Writer's pictureChrissie Manion Zaerpoor

Why food shortages and empty shelves when there's plenty of food at farms?

Watching the news over the past week, I feel like we’re all caught in some kind of “Groundhog Day”-like repeat loop. The news programs seem to love showing panic-inducing shots of empty supermarket shelves, getting people all riled up in fear of going hungry, leaving us all wondering why is there no food in the stores (and then not ever completely or satisfactorily explaining it, so we have to keep tuning back in).

Frailties of American distribution systems

Just like in 2020 and 2021, the grocery store shortages 2022 have little to do with actual food shortages or meat shortages. There is plenty of food being produced on American farms. The question of “why is my grocery store empty” has a lot more to do with large-scale processing and transportation than with actual farming and production. America’s modern food supply chain is based on “just in time” ordering and stocking so as to carry a minimum of inventory, mostly for reasons of profitability and cash flow for large companies. Carrying inventory is costly, and requires having cash tied up in inventory that will be stored or carried for some time before it is used or sold.

Wisdom of stocking up at home

Kinda like stocking up your own pantry and freezer: stocking up is costly (compared to buying just a day’s worth of groceries for immediate use, and not storing anything), and requires having cash tied up in inventory that will be stored or carried for some time before it is consumed. On the other hand, buying small quantities of food on a daily or weekly basis also means spending a lot more time shopping, and paying higher unit prices for that food, so that a family’s overall food costs for the year end up much higher. In a year of inflation, food already purchased and in your freezer holds its value, while food you haven’t purchased yet continues to go up in price.

Just Start Already!

When I had a “town job” and lived in town (that is, years ago, when I was working at Intel Corp and lived in Hillsboro), I didn’t own a chest freezer, and I typically visited the grocery store twice a week. Which I hated. I had a fantasy of having a house in the country and having a freezer and a large pantry and a garden, but I wasn’t quite sure how to start. Turns out that, like with so many things, the best way to start is just to start.

Owning your own family’s food security, and how to eat like a king

For me, the habit of stocking up began somewhat by accident. In the early years of the farm (say, 2005-2008), we worked insanely hard, and literally never had a single day off in the first three years. There was never any time for anything. So if someone gifted us a loaf of homemade bread and we already had some, I just stuck it in the freezer. If we butchered chickens and there was one with a wonky leg or something, I just stuck it in the freezer. If we had a surplus of milk one day, I just made butter and stuck it in the freezer. After a few years of this random squirrelling things away in the freezer, we could hardly shut the door. And then the epic week-long snowstorm of Christmas and New Year’s 2008 hit. It was a mess, with traffic jams, long grocery store check-out lines, and empty shelves. We were too busy working to even be able to consider going out to the store, and then the next morning, we were snowed in, for more than a week. In the first hour I felt afraid. And then I discovered: the freezer was full of butter and chickens and homemade bread and beef and lamb and salmon. The garden was still full of carrots and onions and kale and beets, and they were all still fine under their protective blanket of snow. “Food security” took on a whole different facet of meaning. The news programs showed empty stores and cars stuck in snowbanks, while, tucked safely at home, we ate like kings.


By eschewing the myth of scarcity, we create space for abundance.


Taking care of you

As many of you know, you’ve had the good fortune to choose a farm run by engineers. Our professional training includes failure modes and effects and risk management. We have been working hard the past two years to ensure that we maintain livestock inventory on our pastures, and solid processing appointments with our local small processors, to make sure that we can continue to take care of the food needs of you, our devoted customer base. We feel the same loyalty to you and your families, that many of you have so touchingly expressed feeling for us. So we want you - our existing customer base - to know when new inquiries and orders are ratcheting up. This is one of those times. We are experiencing a spike of phone calls, with people placing larger than usual orders, which means lead times are getting longer, even though we have plenty of beef in the fields.

Time to get your 2022 orders on the schedule

With people googling things like “food shortages America” or “food shortages Oregon”, we are seeing a spike in phone calls and emails, and once again we are seeing an increase in people ordering beef halves and even wholes, instead of 1/8ths. Which means it’s a good time to look in your freezer, figure out by what date you’re going to need to stock up your proteins, and get your order on our schedule so we can be sure to take care of you. The best way to protect against inevitable future glitches in the supply chain, and the best way to stay home when weather events and other things come up, is to carry a larger inventory now, before those problems impact your access - in other words, to stock up now. Farmer Chrissie has been giving this same advice every year since 2008, and will be giving this same advice the rest of my life. Check out our free "Kookoolan Farms Guide to Freezer Beef" eBook to answer all your questions about putting a beef share in your freezer.

The intimacy of farm store shopping

We’d also like to remind you that our little Yamhill farm store rarely has more than two customers at a time, making it a relatively safe place to come shopping. And the vast majority of our products are reserved in advance, meaning that little of our inventory is “out” for people to handle: as a result, the items you pick up to take home have been touched by far fewer people than in a large mainstream grocery store.

Go rogue and get intimate with your food and your farmer

In a way, it makes us happy that COVID has caused increased media coverage of the realities of the modern industrialized food system, because more people than ever are finding satisfaction in participating in the environmental benefits of regenerative grazing and agriculture, finding better health through cooking more meals at home from scratch, and finding a sense of connection and community through a more intimate relationship with their farm and farmer and where their food comes from. If you’ve been wondering why there is no meat in stores, and why there’s a beef shortage in the US, at least part of the answer is that some small farmers have had enough dealing with large processors and large corporations, and have gone rogue to sell direct to individual customers. It’s not actually a question of when will the beef shortage end, it’s a question of how consumers and farmers can partner more directly.

Make this the year you buy a freezer

If you don’t have a freezer, do yourself and your family a favor and go buy one; Costco, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Hutchinson’s Appliances in Hillsboro, and Standard TV and Appliance can all take care of you. Check out this older blog post from Farmer Chrissie <LINK> and this other one from Kookoolan Farms customer Maxine Taylor, author of “There’s a Cow in my Freezer,” <LINK>for more detailed tips on how to choose the right freezer for your household.

Choose not to have a food shortage by planning ahead now

When your freezer is stocked up with a side of beef from Kookoolan Farms, you do not have a beef shortage. We can help you with pork, lamb, chicken, salmon, and beautifully-raised and beautifully-processed proteins too. Call or email us today. 503-730-7535.

As always, thanks for your support of our little farm, now in our 17th year!

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