Driving the winding dirt road up to Vogel Farms Country Market, off of Robinson Road in Kuna, the first greeting you hear is a healthy "Moooo" from Sappy the cow.
"She used to be called Psycho because she's so crazy," said Debi Vogel. "But eventually I began calling her Sappy. I bottle-fed her as a calf, so soon enough, I informed my husband she would not be in the food chain."
Though Sappy won't be on anyone's dinner table, visitors to the 200-acre Vogel Farms will find plenty of beef, poultry, eggs, dairy and a seemingly endless array of kitchen gadgets, jewelry, soaps and candles. There's even a Christmas store, which Santa visits regularly—oddly enough, no one has ever seen Mr. Claus and Vogel's son-in-law Chris in the same room.
Just as Vogel Farms was preparing for the hundreds of customers who will pick up fresh turkeys for Thanksgiving, Boise Weekly talked to Vogel about the holidays, the farm's menagerie and the Vogels' strong conviction about remaining non-GMO.
My sense is that you haven't always been a farmer.
My husband Ed has. It's in his DNA. I was a systems analyst and project manager for Bank of America and Fidelity Investments. I was working out of Seattle in the 1990s when I would visit my parents here in Idaho. I met Ed in 1994; we moved here in 1998. I continued to be a consultant until 2009, but I knew I wanted to grow our concept of the country market.
Let's start with eggs.
At first we only had about 20 chickens and would give eggs away to people who bought our beef. We gave the good folks at Boise Milk about 40 dozen eggs a week to give away, but then he said that wanted 90 dozen, and then even more.
We put out about 1,000 dozen eggs a week. They're sold here at the farm, through Boise Milk and through Idaho's Bounty. If you've eaten at Bittercreek in Boise, chances are you've eaten our eggs. Plus, our eggs are in Ketchum at Atkinsons' Market. We have about 2,500 laying hens at any time. We have plenty of room for them to move around, but you have to fence them in.
I'm afraid I know why.
Coyotes. Believe me, the coyotes know we have chickens.
How much cattle do you have?
We're bringing in about 30 new calves at any given time, rotating them in and out. We've got 12-15 head of beef cattle a year.
Let's talk turkey.
We'll have about 650 turkeys. Our customers who have pre-ordered their birds will pick up about 450 fresh turkeys on the Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The rest of the turkeys usually go to restaurants.
And the sizes?
They're pretty big: 17-25 pounds.
Sad to say, a lot of people have never eaten fresh turkey.
It's the absolute best. It's real flavor, not that stuff they inject into those store-bought birds. We also hand out special recipes with the birds, including a great brining method.
$4.25 per pound.
Speaking of 'stuff' in our food, let's talk a bit about genetically modified organisms.
It's a choice we all need to make. GMO proponents say things like, "Roundup [herbicide] is so safe, you can drink it." I say, "Fine. Go drink it. I'm glad you like it." But the more we found out about GMOs, the more Vogel Farms decided that we would be non-GMO, and we're a big proponent of labeling. Be proud of what you grow. All of our feed is non-GMO.
Can you give us a quick tour of the farm?
Well, the one thing I absolutely can't show you is our Christmas store. I've been told that I can't go in until we open. You can take a peek, but I've been instructed that I can't see it 'til it's ready. (Editor's Note: BW looked inside and Santa would be proud. The holiday store is now open and will be until Christmas Eve).
And the other buildings?
We have a pretty big egg-washing room. We have dozens of people here every Monday washing a thousand dozen eggs. Just down the path is a greenhouse that we're expanding. Of course, there are our giant freezers and coolers full of beef, chicken and getting ready for all of the fresh turkeys. Our main shop has different rooms for kitchenware, Made in Idaho products and specialty toys.
And this other rather small shop?
It's a former chicken shack. Now, it's the Chick Boutique: homemade soaps, designer jewelry, purses, candles, fashion accessories.
Is there anything you want to do that you're not doing?
I had to stop. Plus, I make jewelry. We've sold pretty much everything that I've made.
How is it possible for you to take time off when your home is also your business?
When you've traveled for work as much as I have, staying home is great.
But you're working your tail off.
I can't not work.
Do you have a long-term business plan?
Not a 10-year plan. We take things year by year.
Well, we run out of a lot of items. That's not such a bad economic indicator.