Michael Parkot, owner of Always Something Farm, feeds his hogs asparagus as a treat, at his farm in Darien, N.Y. Parkot sells his meats to Western New York restaurants. <span class='image-credits'>Dan Cappellazzo</span>

Chickens and rabbits and pigs, oh my! What it takes to run a family farm

The name of the business--Always Something Farm--started out as a joke, says the farmer-in-chief Michael Parkot.

Parkot and his wife were living on a small parcel of land in Clarence, N.Y., trying their hands at farming and “maybe doing stuff that wasn’t within the zoning guidelines,” Parkot admitted. They endeavored to have a real farm on a properly zoned-parcel of ground, and when they finally realized their dream five years ago, their earliest experiences were chaos.

“It seems every time we turned around, we had to change plans, there was always something breaking down, escaping, or running loose,” Parkot said. In other words, it was always something.

The nickname stuck and became the name of their thriving farm in Darien, in Genesee County.

Now Parkot, wife Stephanie, and their three sons share their home and farm with chickens, pigs, and rabbits, and the Always Something Farm is making its mark on the local food scene by supplying quality products throughout the region, and by helping change people’s minds about food and farming.

Parkot said his interest in farming actually stems from his 15-year position as a physician’s assistant.

“We have all these drugs and advice and treatment for diseases that are entirely preventable. What has drastically changed for people is what we put into our bodies,” he said. “Farming and food sourcing has become industrial, and that doesn’t do anything for people or their health. I feel I can do more for people’s health by raising more nutrient-dense food.”

The inspiration to pursue farming came while the young family was living in Ithaca, N.Y., several years ago, where there was an abundance of community support agriculture programs.

“We had access to wonderful food and produce, and we were getting better, higher quality food from small local farms,” Parkot said. What sealed the deal was eating eggs from their landlord. “Eggs from free-range chickens are a totally different experience.”

The Parkots were convinced that they could make a major difference. They began reading and self-educating about farms and farming, and raising baby chicks (meat chickens), which matured in only six to seven weeks, super fast by chick standards.

“My wife’s grandfather grew up on a family farm, and he taught me how to butcher a chicken,” Parkot said. “It was a transformative experience for me. Farm-fresh, free-range chicken “is really quite special,” he said. “It’s what chicken really tastes like. “

When the family decided to come back to Buffalo (“Moving back here was a given,” Parkot said. “WNY called us back.”), they settled on 42 acres in Genesee County between Darien and Alden. Their homestead, while ideal for their long-term plans, needed time and elbow grease to clear overgrown scrub and return the soil to better health. The couple adjusted their personal career plans, too. Stephanie quit her veterinary technician job, while Michael works the night shift at nearby Noyes Memorial Hospital in Dansville.

A breakthrough moment came when the farm became a $25,000 Ignite grant recipient. This significant pump of working capital allowed the Parkots to leapfrog past about two years in their carefully planned growth schedule. They hired their first employee, purchased more Mangalista pigs, and added more laying hens to their stock. They also purchased and upgraded equipment, including a feed silo, so feed can be stored more efficiently.

“The cash infusion was great,” Parkot said, “but the networking and connections and relationships we made because we became part of Ignite was incredible.”

Being part of a dynamic ecosystem creates energy that begs to be shared, and collaboration can’t help but happen. Parkot is also an advocate for the program’s workshops, which created more synergies and gave this self-taught farm family essential lessons in marketing and using social media to advance the business. Through the workshops, the Parkots met the owner of Dani-Fit, who purchased employee gifts from the farm, and the proprietor of Casa Azul, who features meat from the farm on her menu. The Parkots also supply products to the Groundworks Market Garden CSA, another classmate, and they cross-promote their relationship on social media.

“That’s the biggest thing: figuring out how to work together and support each other,” Parkot said. Their list of Ignite alliances grows all the time. “The ecosystem is hugely supportive of each other, with lots of paying it forward. Loyalty is built by creating long-term relationships.”

The Parkots remain growth minded as they continue to explore new funding opportunities. Parkot said there are New York state programs available to farmers that can help improve profitability. His sights are fixed on helping farm relationships keep growing organically.

“We’re really focused on building relationships with our wholesale clients and meeting their needs,” he said. The farm currently supplies nine different restaurants with farm-fresh eggs and artisanal meats. Parkot said those relationships are key: He invites prospective restaurant clients to visit the farm and see the animals living a good life with access to pasture land in a low-stress environment. He said this adds to the quality of the meat and makes it more nutrient rich, too.

Despite the rigors of raising a family, and working a demanding job off the farm while managing a growing farm business, the Parkots are living their dreams. They are part of an important community that is making an impact on the local food scene by delivering quality products.

“We have the ability to create a local, sustainable food system,” Parkot said. “We have farmers and vendors who want to make this happen.”

Read more articles by Cherie Messore.

Cherie Messore is a native Buffalonian and has longtime experience in the region's vibrant not-for-profit sector with special interests in the cultural community and education. She is also a freelance writer, public relations practitioner, and volunteer docent at Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House.
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