Matching Supply & Demand

It’s that time of year when we’re all returning from vacation and ready to start ordering again.Yet the ewe (female sheep) are already starting to dry out and release less milk. The goats will be next, and then the cows.

One of the biggest challenges the farm faces is that customer demand is lowest in the summer, when supplies are most plentiful. Then in the winter, when the animals are preserving their energy and many are pregnant, causing huge drops in milk production, that’s when customer demand is highest (especially Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks and in January – perhaps a result of new year’s resolutions to eat healthier or cook more?).

My day job is in the IT industry, where cloud computing is the answer to this problem. Companies with seasonal demand, like makers of tax preparation software who have greatest demand in April, can lease time on servers hosted by cloud computing providers like Amazon. Their computing power and therefore their cost elastically scales up and down with customer demand. You only pay for what you actually need.

Unfortunately farm animals are not so elastic. Eating seasonally and locally often means giving up the convenience of ‘any food, any time of year.’ Nevertheless, the farm does think hard about ways to smooth out the supply. Many products are preserved through traditional methods like fermentation and canning (sauerkraut, cheeses, yogurt, tomatoes, pickles, salsa) or through other processing methods (e.g. clarifying butter by heating to remove the perishable milk solids, rendering animal fat into lard/tallow). Some products are preserved using the modern technology of freezing (berries, rhubarb, goat milk, sheep milk, colostrum, broth, meats, ice cream).

There are, however, several modern approaches that the farm does not employ. Pricing promotions, for example. (We could have a whole separate discussion on this topic). Heating the barn. Transporting foods from other parts of the world, such as the southern hemisphere, whose seasons are opposite ours. They do not drug their animals to extend lactation or increase production (in fact they use no drugs whatsoever). In fact, the annual dry period is important for keeping the animals healthy and happy, though the schedules are somewhat staggered so that not everyone is dry at the same time.

I know that the Amish get a bad rap for being technology-averse, but my experience with this particular family is that they are very open to technologies as long as they don’t a) negatively impact plant, animal or human health,  b) conflict with the “Ordung” or Amish community rules, or c) cost more than they can afford.

If you have any ideas on how the farm could better match supply and demand through the year, we are all ears! And in the meantime, consider this an early warning to think about stocking up on items you need through the winter and want to preserve yourself.

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