Tricounty News

Not Your Typical Online Auction

NICOLLET--Some may think farming and the Internet are two opposite ends of the technological spectrum, but Joe and Liza Domeier are proving they work well together. And profitably at that.  They run Pehling Bay Farm near Nicollet. Joe's mother grew up on the 30-acre property established by her grandfather. Liza was raised on a hog farm near St. Clair.   The couple sells pasture-fed livestock and poultry, as well as fiber from their sheep flock. They are building a healthy business utilizing the Internet and direct marketing to draw buyers who are willing to pay premium prices for local grown products.   The small acreage would pay like a part-time job if they attempted traditional row crop farming. So a different approach was chosen: raising pasture fed animals to sell to very select markets.  Their sheep, hogs, chickens and beef are all pasture-fed, which may mean slower growth.  However, Joe said it makes for healthier and more flavorful meats.   They don't sell meat or fiber retail or wholesale, only directly to customers. Direct marketing allows more money to be generated from the land. Their web site, www.pehlingbayfarm.com, advertises their meat and is a place where they can take product orders. In fact, most of their sales come via online sources.  "Direct marketing without the Internet is like not having a phone," Joe said, "And you reach a much larger audience."   Joe says he is able to get about twice the market price for lambs as he would at a sale barn. Raw fleeces bring even higher rates than the meat. "It's almost like doubling our flock," Joe explained.   Internet auction site EBay and etsy.com are two places where the Domeiers are successful selling their fiber and craft items. They offer raw fleece to hand spinners on EBay and sell nearly all. The cheapest raw fleeces they sell through the sites bring about $10 per pound while wool buyers pay about 20 cents a pound for high quality fleeces.   Liza sells fiber products, including hats and yarn, from her store Wiley Wren via etsy.com, which caters to craftspeople and artisans worldwide.    Along with livestock and fiber the couple are into community-supported agriculture where people buy shares in the farm's garden in exchange for weekly distributions of the harvest.  "I'm really surprised it is taking this long to catch on in Minnesota," Joe said. "You see it a lot in California and on the coasts."  Each share in the garden yields a sack of produce each week for about 18 weeks, which Joe estimates is enough for a family of four to enjoy fresh produce. Shareholders can save some money by putting in some labor during the season. The cost is less than certified organic vegetables, but slightly higher than commercial produce.   "They have the benefits of growing their own garden without having to worry about it," he explained. "The customer knows exactly where their food comes from."  The Domeier's enjoy their unique farming enterprise. The long-term goal is to make a living at it.   Joe advises anyone thinking about branching into third-crop farming to read as much as possible and to learn from other peoples' mistakes.  "There's no manual that says here's how," to do conservation and farming, he said, adding that there are niches for people to get into.  Marrying modern technology to time-tested endeavors can prove to be the ticket for sustainable third-crop methods.   Rural Advantage is a nonprofit corporation based in Fairmont, Minnesota.  Their mission is to promote the connections between agriculture, the environment and rural communities in order to improve ecological health, economic viability and rural vitality.  Their work centers around efforts to reduce agricultural nonpoint source pollution with major programming focused on the 3rd Crop Initiative, ECoPayPack development and building the Madelia Model concept.  Contact them at 507-238-5449 or visit their website at www.ruraladvantage.org for more information.