Small farm isn’t eggs-actly easy

Lin­coln free-range poul­try raiser works hard to scratch out a liv­ing.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - NATHAN OWENS

Satur­day morn­ings find Kim Kapity pa­tiently wait­ing at the Fayet­teville Farmers Mar­ket — wear­ing sun­glasses, a ban­danna, a name tag on a rolled-up-sleeves, but­ton­down shirt, and sweat­ing in the sum­mer heat.

Cu­ri­ous chil­dren ap­proach her pro­duce stand. Many have never seen the kinds of eggs she sells.

The chalk­board propped against her um­brella says her goose, duck and chicken eggs are from lo­cal pas­ture-raised her­itage breeds that are fed soy-free grains that have not been ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied. She says she doesn’t use pes­ti­cides or her­bi­cides ei­ther.

At a glance, they look like or­di­nary eggs.

But some cus­tomers know bet­ter. Her reg­u­lars know that the prod­ucts aren’t U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture­cer­ti­fied or­ganic, but they meet most of the re­quire­ments to be so. Kapity just doesn’t pay the $1,500 cer­ti­fi­ca­tion

fee.

Her prod­ucts serve a niche mar­ket in North­west Arkansas. Some peo­ple who

are al­ler­gic to chicken eggs, say they are able to eat duck or goose eggs with no ill ef­fects. Some peo­ple think they can find the eggs she sells some­where else.

“The first thing out of their mouth is ‘I can get this cheaper at Wal-Mart,’” she said. “And I have to slyly say ‘no, it’s a dif­fer­ent prod­uct.’”

Kapity, owner and op­er­a­tor of Sy­camore Val­ley Farms in Lin­coln in Washington County has been farm­ing as a hobby most her life — full time since 2009.

It’s been a chal­lenge. To turn a profit, most small farmers must com­pete with gro­cery re­tail­ers and farmers mar­ket ven­dors.

U.S. re­tail prices for a dozen eggs are at a record low this sum­mer, which is hard on large- and small-scale egg sup­pli­ers. One North­west Arkansas econ­o­mist said he’s seen chicken egg prices as low as 65 cents a dozen re­cently. Some Wal-Mart stores in Arkansas re­cently listed a dozen large Best Choice eggs for 48 cents.

Hong­wei Xin, direc­tor of the Egg In­dus­try Cen­ter at Iowa State Univer­sity, said cur­rent egg pro­duc­tion costs are higher than re­tail prices, and that’s hit­ting egg pro­duc­ers hard.

Kapity’s prices for a dozen chicken or duck eggs are nearly five times the low­est re­tail prices. But her prices are sim­i­lar to or a few cents cheaper than what other freerange egg sell­ers charge.

Over­all, Kapity said she hasn’t no­ticed a dra­matic drop in the de­mand for eggs this year, but last year it was no­tice­able.

“It hap­pened right af­ter the new Whole Foods opened,” she said.

Be­fore full-time farm­ing, she worked as a North­west Arkansas area con­ser­va­tion wa­ter qual­ity and soil tech­ni­cian for the USDA’s Na­tional Re­sources Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice. Her main job was to take soil sam­ples at farms, in­clud­ing a few com­mer­cial dairy op­er­a­tions.

On her farm, she now re­lies on two dairy cows for her milk.

The taste of dairy prod­ucts and eggs from the farm, is no­tice­ably dif­fer­ent from what’s mass-dis­trib­uted, which is why cus­tomers con­tinue re­turn­ing to her stand, she said.

Most of her cus­tomers are health-con­scious, Kapity said. Some have had bouts with can­cer and con­se­quently changed their di­ets. Older cus­tomers have told her that her eggs re­mind them of what they ate as chil­dren.

In 1998, her par­ents moved to the 60-acre plot, with a gar­den, a few horses and some hens. Now, Kapity and her hus­band live on the same land, where she has lim­ited her poul­try and pro­duce op­er­a­tions to roughly 5 acres. On the farm, she feeds and over­sees about 40 chick­ens, 75 ducks and 19 geese.

Keep­ing her com­pany are five Great Pyre­nees dogs.

As she does her chores, she brain­storms about ways to di­ver­sify her small busi­ness.

On av­er­age, Kapity wants her chick­ens to each lay two eggs ev­ery 2-3 days. A chicken’s lay­ing rate changes with stress and the amount of sun­light ex­po­sure. In the win­ter, her farm’s egg pro­duc­tion drops. To get through the win­ter, she re­lies on sell­ing home­made jams and jel­lies — el­der­berry, orange mar­malade, pas­sion­fruit, and wild black cherry — and hand­made poul­try- feather ear­rings.

She’s sat­is­fied with mak­ing a liv­ing with­out com­pro­mis­ing her an­i­mals’ qual­ity of life.

She tried work­ing one sum­mer in a large chicken house. Her job was sim­ple: pick up the dead chicks and place them in a bucket. She re­mem­bered, as a 14-year-old, walk­ing through the chicken house, breath­ing in feather dan­der and step­ping over thou­sands of broil­ers. The plan was to work there a few months.

“I only lasted a day.” Small farms, to Kapity, are the bedrock of the world. Ac­cord­ing to the U.N. Food and Agri­cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion, small-scale farmers pro­vide 70 per­cent of the world’s food. In the Euro­pean Union, though, about 90 per­cent of sub­si­dies and 80 per­cent of re­search fund­ing go to sup­port con­ven­tional in­dus­trial agri­cul­ture.

Kapity has had to down­size her farm re­cently. She said her chicken num­bers have dropped from 120 to about 40 be­cause of mites, preda­tors and nat­u­ral causes. Her gar­den — once filled with col­lards, onions, toma­toes, mel­ons, okra and herbs — was wiped out by her­bi­cide drift from her neigh­bor’s farm. So, she has taken on a sec­ond job. She works at a farm in Prairie Grove to help pay her bills.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK

Kim Kapity holds a Barn­evelder chicken at her Sy­camore Val­ley Farm in Lin­coln on Thurs­day.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK

Geese have room to roam at Sy­camore Val­ley Farm in Lin­coln, where owner Kim Kapity also raises chick­ens and ducks.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK

Horses stand in the shade Thurs­day at Sy­camore Val­ley Farm, about 20 miles south­west of Fayet­teville.

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