What is profit?
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”
No matter what your beliefs, I think we can all agree: it’s a great question! It’s one that has been explored well before Biblical times. In fact, ever since man first mastered the art of feeding, clothing and sheltering himself, he began to look outside himself for meaning beyond the bottom tier of the hierarchy of needs.
The widely accepted definition of profit is “financial gain,” specifically, the difference between money spent and money earned. Webster tells us it’s so, the government tells us it’s so; every media venue – internet or otherwise – defines it as such. But therein lies the problem: accepting others’ definition of something in your own life. That is always dangerous.
When I tell a customer we lose money on every dozen eggs we sell, they are sometimes shocked. We haven’t calculated EXACTLY how much we lose. (Really, who really cares how far in the hole you are if you’re in the hole?). Get a chick, raise it, feed it and it lays eggs for years, right? How can you lose money on that?
Well, it’s because we feed ORGANIC, non-gmo feed. And because right now the highest price we think the market will support is $5 a dozen. Every single other egg producer in our area we’ve talked to feeds a quality non-gmo feed (called Sunrise), but it’s NOT organic. And most charge $5 a dozen. Sunrise non-gmo feed is $14 a bag for 50 pounds. The non-gmo ORGANIC feed available locally is $33 a bag for 50 pounds (additionally, the organic starter/grower crumble we have to feed from weeks 5-18 is $60 for 50 pounds – ouch!).
Most of the other producers gladly say “nope, I don’t feed organic, it’s too expensive.” (Although sadly, we met one producer up the road from us who advertises her eggs and meat as organic but she feeds Sunrise, which is impossible). If we accept the standard definition of profit, why not just feed Sunrise? We already have to price our eggs at the same price as those who feed the much cheaper feed. If we have to sell our eggs at $5 a dozen because that’s what the market demands, why not use the cheaper food to gain the same profit? (or any profit)? Why not just lie about being organic as some producers do, but feed whatever we want to meet the bottom line?
Because the word “profit” doesn’t have to mean the same thing to everyone.
No, I’m not telling you that losing money on your business is the right thing to do. Whether or not to stay a course that expends more money than it takes in is a personal choice. I’m not hinting that feeding organic feed is the saintly endeavor the packaged organic foods in the grocery store would like to tell you it is. It isn’t. I’m telling you that while we refuse to accept the status quo definition of so many things these days, it’s also okay to not accept the status quo definition of profit.
So while we lose MONEY on each dozen eggs we sell right now, we still profit.
When advised to feed the cheaper feed, I thought about it. However, my family and I eat and enjoy the eggs as well – that has value to us. We love fresh eggs, but also love the flavor of our free-roamin’, organically-fed eggs. We think they’re better and we like them. That has value to us. That is something that the IRS can’t measure or tax. It’s something that we appreciate and are grateful for – moreso than the bottom line in a bank account. While we could switch to a cheaper feed, we would lose the enjoyment of feeding our hens the best food possible.
Regular non-gmo feed IS treated with pesticides, herbicides, and other stuff unhealthy for chickens and people to eat. We know that whatever a hen eats is reflected in the egg; that means if the feed the hen takes in was exposed to pesticides or herbicides, it can be passed on in the egg. Researchers have known that for years and the farming world has seen it play out in the real-world from chemical spills in which carcinogens made their way into eggs and mix-ups in feed labelling that resulted in dangerous chemicals being passed through eggs and remaining in the human population 40 years after the mistake. The happiness we get from cracking open and eating an egg that was made by a hen we know personally and who has eaten a feed free from pesticides and herbicides has immense value to us.
We also have no plans to ever pursue certified organic. My 77-year-old mother who lives at the farm likes to occasionally share her meal with the hens and will put out part of her lunch for them if she can't finish it. Although the food is of high quality, (it's a sandwich made for human consumption, afterall) it's not organic. And there is no amount of money in the world that could convince me to deny her or my dad the fun of sharing a snack with the critters that love them and that my folks love to see. The delight my parents get from interacting with the chickens has great value.
Additionally, raising chickens has been an incredible learning experience. That has value to us. One of Farmer Tom’s grandmothers had dementia, one had Alzheimer’s. We manage caregiving for my mom with my dad (they're our farm tenants) and she is sadly at the beginning of Alzheimer’s. Both the Jolly Folly Farmers know that at least one of us, possibly both of us, will eventually be memory-care patients if we’re fortunate to live to an advanced age. When the doctor was advising us on mom’s Alzheimer’s, he said it’s important as we age to stay mentally active. He recommended reading, playing cards, crosswords, etc. Neither of the Jolly Folly Farmers is ever going to be the “do a Sudoku” type of person. We like to be doing things, finding new projects, learning about the world around us. This chicken adventure has expanded our minds and given us new experiences, new problems to solve, new processes to learn. It’s how we learn about the world around us, make use of the resources available to us and explore big ideas about how we walk through this Earth while we’re here. All of those experiences have value to us. We have learned so much so far and are grateful to continue learning for as long as we are able.
Finally, there is the people element. We love raising eggs for our own enjoyment, but letting others get access to them as well has value to us. We love it when people who don’t have the time, knowledge, or inclination to keep their own hens buy eggs from us. We love it when we can give a free dozen eggs to someone who might not be able to afford a healthy, happy, organically fed egg from somewhere else. We love talking to people about our retirement plan for our chickens or singing the praises of equine rescue. We love meeting the people from our little community that stop and talk to us, even if they are allergic to eggs. We have met people we didn’t know before and gotten to hug people who stopped by that we hadn’t seen in over a year. We have shared laughs about our crazy love for our hens, and solved the world’s problems while chatting with another vendor during the down times. The IRS says we’re in the hole, but I dare anyone to say that our soul hasn’t profited.
So although Suze Orman probably wouldn’t agree, the Jolly Folly Farm financial advice on “WHAT IS PROFIT?” is:
Never confuse value with money. They’re not the same thing and never will be. And never define profit as the monetary bottom line. Instead, draw your own line with your own crayon and then YOU be the one to decide where that line lives!