Monday, July 7, 2008

Chicken CSA Final Newsletter for 2008

Thanks to all our Chicken CSA members this year! I can't believe how smooth things went considering the general un-smoothness of trying to raise chickens on a small scale outdoors. We have to worry about predators, which have done some damage to us this year, the price of feed which keeps going up mostly because people want to feed their cars with corn, and we have to rely on small-scale processors who may or may not be in business by the time the birds are at market weight.

Two things you may have noticed for the last pickup, (1) The labels are different. Rest assured these are our chickens. We have started taking them to a processor that just opened this year in Siler City called Chaudhry Halal meats, and it takes a few weeks to get our names on the labels. For the first three pickups we had been taking them to Virginia which took nearly two entire days off the farm - one day to bring the birds in, one day to go and pick them up, with a drive of 2.5 hours one way. Now we drive 15 minutes to get there at an appointed time, unload the chickens, go into the office to let them know what kind of cuts we want, and drive 15 minutes home. This takes at most 2 hours out of our day, and another hour to pick them up on Wednesdays.

The second thing you may have noticed is the birds are smaller. We took them at 7 weeks old instead of 8 because we wanted to give you the option of eating them on the 4th of July. But since all the other birds were much bigger (if you're worried about math) I think it all came out even in terms of what you paid up front. In fact you probably came out ahead in the end. But people who join CSAs and buy from small farms understand that we are less likely to cheat nature by increasing volume, and we're certainly not a supermarket with a giant stock room (we are aiming to put in a walk-in cooler this winter), so you're bound to get a small box of produce in your veggie share or some smaller birds one week, but we always try to at least average it out by giving you extra another week.

We have many customers say, and this is what we think too, that you can never go back to a supermarket chicken after eating a pasture-raised bird. It's like going up a shelf on wine. But of course the chickens, as the wine, are more expensive. It costs a small farmer more to buy baby chicks because we don't own the hatchery, to buy feed since we can't buy in the volume that the big chicken industry can, to raise because we are out moving pens every day and it's more hours of labor per flock since we don't have them housed, there is a greater risk to have them outdoors where despite all our efforts they are susceptible to predators, and the chickens are more expensive to process because we don't own the processing facility.

We don't eat a lot of chicken here. We'll have a chicken or a package of legs or wings every two weeks (for 2 people). But do we really need to eat chicken every day? If we had any need for a slogan, it'd be the opposite of Chik-fil-a's: "Eat less chicken". - but eat quality chicken. The chicken industry can raise 10 times the amount of birds we can in the same amount of space. So pastured chicken takes up much more space, but that space would either be idle pasture or just used for vegetables if we didn't grow chicken on it. So, if people ate 10 times less chicken, but quality chicken, maybe pastured poultry can become the norm.

And as it is now, you can only get a truly pasture-raised chicken from small farms. Even the chicken they sell in Whole Foods is grown in a house. Though they're labeled "free-range" they probably have never seen a blade of grass in their lives. Here is how the USDA defines “free range”:

“Birds are raised in heated and air-cooled growing houses with access to the outdoors” --

“What is access to the outdoors? Access to the outdoors simply means that a producer must provide livestock with an opportunity to exit any barn or other enclosed structure. Access to the outdoors does not require a producer to comply with a specific space or stocking rate requirement. Neither does the requirement mandate that an entire herd or flock have access to the outdoors at any one time” --

So you see how dishonest food producers can be, even if they are within the bounds of the law. We base our business on honesty. Since we sell 100% direct to the people eating the food, we have no stake in being dishonest, and if we find we're making a mistake, we'll change it. For example, when we first started raising chickens for eggs, we put "Antibiotic and Hormone Free" on the labels to stick on the egg cartons. Then we found out hormones have been illegal to use on chickens in the US for decades - we can't use them, Tyson Chicken can't use them, and there's absolutely no need for hormones in chickens. So it was like selling "fat free beer".

My whole point is, quality can rarely be mass produced, especially with food and drink. Budweiser will never even try to produce a beer that's as tasty as some of the microbrews. The mass-production through few huge companies economic model does not enable quality, of life nor food.

I'm not pointing this out to get more people to buy chicken from us and not Whole Foods. We'll grow as many chickens as possible without over fertilizing our farm next year and I doubt we'll even meet the demand. I just want CSA members to understand that you cannot have an honest, quality food production system with a mass-production-by-few-corporations economic model. Joining a CSA is not only getting you access to good food, but participating in an alternative economic model that enables food production on a small scale, enables independent business, enables quality and enables the people who do the actual work to make an honest living that we can take pride in.

So with that to think about, I just want to say thanks to everybody for supporting us! Hope to see you next spring!


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