A former Northwest farmer now lends a hand by loaning specialized agricultural equipment to local startup farms

click to enlarge Farm library founder Beth Tysdal. - CARRIE SCOZZARO PHOTO
Carrie Scozzaro photo
Farm library founder Beth Tysdal.

Exactly how long does it take to pluck a chicken by hand?

Colleen Messerschmidt doesn't know and has no interest in finding out. Although she and husband James raise meat chickens on their modest Rathdrum farmstead, they've been fortunate to find fellow farmers willing and able to share equipment, including a mechanized poultry plucker.

Resembling a washing machine drum with rubber tipped "fingers" inside that grab the feathers as the carcass tumbles and rotates inside, a poultry plucker can run upwards of $400. It mechanizes an otherwise tedious — not to mention messy — process.

The Messerschmidts have considered purchasing their own to process the four dozen or so Cornish Cross and Freedom Ranger chickens raised on their Grateful Plate Farmstead, yet would only need it seasonally through the warmest months.

"We're kind of getting a taste of doing it multiple times a year," says Colleen, who handles the chickens and produce, while James deals with the pigs, which they sell online, as well as through LINC Foods.

Besides the purchase cost, she adds, there's insurance, maintenance and finding a place to store it. And while borrowing from neighbors has been OK, Colleen worries about timing and the potential issues that might arise from inadvertently damaging the machine.

So when she heard about Beth Tysdal's farm "lending library," she was intrigued.

Tysdal, who's also market manager for the Kootenai County Farmers Markets, has several reasons for starting the library.

"Having been in the farming community and at farmers markets for a long time, I have seen how most small-scale and/or starting producers need equipment but don't necessarily have the money to purchase it. Or, it just doesn't make sense to own it outright when you only need it once or twice a year," says Tysdal. "So I thought having a lending library would be a great way to provide value and encourage people to farm."

Tysdal understands the challenges of running a farm firsthand. She and husband Dave purchased an 80-acre farm in Stateline, Idaho, 10 years ago. They called it Cable Creek Farm, a nod to the land's original 1800s homesteaders, and raised dairy cows, pastured pigs and various free-range fowl.

But it was forming her own real estate company recently that got Tysdal thinking about how she could better serve potential clients, as well as anyone interested in farming and ranching in North Idaho.

She decided that with each real estate sale, she'd dedicate some seed money to the library, which so far includes an egg incubator, seed block starter, apple press and grinder and the poultry plucker. She doesn't charge to loan out items and continues to gather feedback about future purchases: a paper pot transplanter, a gas-powered fence post pounder, a variety of trailers, a small grain grinder and milking equipment.

"It's a small start, but I'm hoping it will eventually be a good resource," Tysdal says. "There's no point in everyone owning things they only use once or twice a year. Small farms have enough expenses the way it is. And maybe having accessibility to equipment will encourage new people to give food production a try." ♦

Visit grassrootsrealtyidaho.com/farm-lending-library for more information.

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