My Summer as an Inferior Species

by Sam Jones

Farming is hard, especially when animals are involved. Sam Jones recounts her time working on a chicken and pig farm in Colorado where only the fearless survive.

I am a white female, five-feet-three-inches tall, weighing in at a whopping 115 pounds. I spent my summer wrangling hogs and killing chickens. The following is a harrowing account of my survival.

My first day of work at Jodar Farms in Fort Collins, Colorado involved kicking a rooster in the chest, learning how to drive a manual truck with the back window blown out, and navigating 50-mile-an-hour winds while trying to fill five-gallon buckets with pig feed. It was everything I could have hoped for as a job-seeking college graduate.

While the demands of the job remained the same throughout my five-month stint, they did become less taxing over time. Upon arriving at the farm around sunrise, I would immediately open the doors to the five chicken coops scattered across the farm. Releasing thousands of chickens into the great outdoors with a buffet of chicken feed waiting was how I pictured Black Friday. That is, thousands of hungry consumers bottlenecking at the doors to paradise, some of whom are inevitably trampled in the scuffle.

It was this first duty of the day that already indicated to me that chickens are stupid creatures. All of you animal-rights activists out there—bear with me. Every day, with the rising of the sun, chickens are prompted to wake up and find food. On a free-range chicken farm like Jodar, these chickens knew, at the very least, that food laid just on the other side of those wooden doors. What they were repeatedly unaware of was that piling on top of one another was not a good solution to their problem. Alas, human intervention was all that could spare them from suffocating one another to death. For those that didn’t make it, I merely tossed their sad souls into the dumpster—and on an empty stomach no less.

Next, I would check on the brooders. These are essentially stacked metal cages attached to a source of heat that give young chicks being raised for meat a better chance of survival during their most fragile life stage. Refilling the feed and water trays and verifying that the heat was set at the right temperature would have been my favorite job had it not been for the poop trays. That’s right: six massive cookie-sheet-like trays onto each of which the feces of roughly 86 chicks collected. As I mentioned before, I am only 5′ 3”, which was incidentally shorter than the top two trays. Slowly and methodically, I would slide one poop tray out with both hands over my head, carefully lower it to a trash bin, and fold the underlying newspaper in a way that prevented the poop from breaking through the paper and onto either the tray or my hands. Finally, and with much satisfaction, I would roll the steaming wad of poop into the bin. I repeated this glamorous task five more times, every day.

Now, about kicking a rooster in the chest. If you have ever been exposed to the wrath of the rooster, you might sympathize with my aggression. The chickens were fed twice each day, which I accomplished most efficiently by carrying one five-gallon bucket of feed in each hand and dumping them into the feed troughs. Perhaps due to my size or the scent of fear emanating from my pores, these roosters went into full-on Kill Bill mode every time they saw me. They chased me and trapped me in the back of the coop while I collected eggs. And at feeding time, while my hands were filled with buckets of feed, the two black and white speckled roosters (whom I affectionately named Umbridge and Voldemort) would stand up straight, flare their neck feathers, and charge at me from behind. Despite kicking Umbridge (out of self-defense) so hard that he developed a limp, I still sustained many above-the-knee bruises in the shape of a chicken’s foot—farming is dangerous business. To add to my bruised legs and ego, I learned that I was the first and only employee at Jodar to be attacked by these roosters. The problem became so cumbersome that my boss and coworkers rounded up all the roosters on my day off and gave them to a neighbor just so they would stop karate-chopping my kneecaps. I am eternally grateful.

 

Another of my glamorous duties included collecting the eggs of roughly 2,000 laying hens, which amounted to 1,600 eggs daily, give or take a few hundred. This was my favorite job (once the roosters were voted off the island) because I always felt like a toddler on Easter Sunday. Some eggs were blue, pink, brown, or white. Some were massive double-yolkers while others were the size of a gumball. The only downsides to egg collecting were the incessant screeching of thousands of chickens, the occasional chicken jumping on my back while I was bent over, and the necessity of yanking three or four chickens out of a lay box by the neck just to see if there were eggs to collect. Otherwise, this duty was by far the most enjoyable.

Compared to the hens and roosters, about whom I had unwavering opinions, I developed a complicated love-hate relationship with the pigs on par with the one between Americans and democracy. First, Jodar’s pigs lived outside in the mud and pasture, so the smell typically associated with pigs was not a factor in our love story. I loved these pigs because they were smart.  I lost count of the number of times the pigs got out of their pens by busting through weak wire or finding a malfunctioning section of electric fence. Rounding up pigs at 9 o’clock at night is maybe the most frustrating thing I have ever done. At the same time, the ridiculousness and humor of the situation reminded me how lucky I was to work outside with cute animals every day. On hot days, I would use the hoses to spray them down and create cold wallows—it was the closest thing to a wet t-shirt contest I’d ever seen.

The hate part of this love-hate relationship can actually be blamed on the poor infrastructure that was set up for feeding. Most farms have one large trough or automatic gravity feeder for their pigs, but not at Jodar. Not even close. I filled five-gallon buckets with feed and beer byproducts (which we called brew), lifted the buckets over to the outside of the pigs’ fence, set them down, climbed over the fence, bent down to lift the buckets into the pen, then proceeded to walk to all of the small feeders scattered around the large encampment. All the while, the pigs became unbelievably and unmanageably excited that it was breakfast or lunch time. And there I was in the mud with them—a small, helpless, feed-hauling mammal. It should impress you to know that they only knocked me to the ground once in my five months of feeding them. I’m pretty proud of that.

Lastly, the most memorable job was the weekly chicken slaughter. Every Tuesday, the person with the closing shift would accompany our boss, Aaron, in rounding up the fattest 250 broilers from the oldest of the four chicken houses, each containing 500 broilers (give or take the few temperamental birds that lost their will to live at some point in their 10-week journey to slaughter). My wrists would be so sore the next morning from repeatedly grabbing three chickens by the legs in each hand (the guys could lift five), that the only way to drink my coffee was to perform a graceful tipping bird motion of my face onto the rim of my mug, and slurp.

On Wednesdays, we hung the birds by their ankles on metal hooks that closely resembled the large paddle attachments for an electric stand-up mixing bowl. They became rather calm and limp as they lay upside down, blood rushing to their heads as they glimpsed the ominous black bins below, with the sun beaming off their white feathers.

First, one of my coworkers would painlessly zap each chicken in the neck with a stun knife that essentially put them to sleep. Then, my other coworker (both of them men—actually all of them men except for me) would follow by slitting their throats with a knife, allowing the blood to spill into the black bins underneath. Once enough blood had been spilt, the chickens were placed 10 at a time into a hot water bath and rotated on a timed cycle until they were properly sanitized.

This is where I came in. First, I removed the steaming chickens from their bath and placed them breast-side up on the plucking machine. Then, I would lock the door of the plucker and slide the birds into a cylindrical basin fitted with black rubber fingers that spun the birds at high speed before the machine automatically unlocked and flung the chickens onto a metal catch. My sexy job in this process was to pluck the few remaining feathers off the chickens’ armpits and butts. Lastly, several Hispanic women processed the chickens until they eventually resembled the whole chicken you buy in the store and roast with a salt-brine and a few sprigs of rosemary. From start to finish, including cleaning, it took 10 people about three hours to slaughter 250 chickens.

Not too shabby for a hard day’s work.

Sam Jones is a first year student in the AFE program who worked on farms for two years after graduating from the University of Puget Sound. Her interest in agriculture began in the summer of 2012 when she WWOOFed in France and Scotland. She likes to cook, be outside, drink wine, and dreams of one day living in Italy.

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On the Present Past and the Struggle for Land Justice

by Kathleen Nay

On Wednesday, September 20th, Grassroots International hosted a reading and panel discussion with authors of a new book from Food First, entitled Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food, and the Commons at the Tufts Health Sciences Campus. The event was co-sponsored in part by the Tufts Urban and Environmental Planning and Policy (UEP) program, Friedman Justice League, and Friedman Student Council. Student Kathleen Nay reflects on what she learned. (A version of this article was also published at UEP’s Practical Visionaries blog.)

Land Justice Book Tour. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Land Justice Book Tour. Photo: Kathleen Nay

In undergrad, I had a history professor who liked to remind us that “the past is always present.” He opened each class period with a quirky anecdote tying the distant past to today. We learned things like the origin of the phrase “to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” and the ancient beginnings of practices we think of as quite modern: applying makeup or playing table games. He used the phrase as a mnemonic device to encourage students to remember the importance of history. While most of the historical snippets he shared escape me now, the idea that the roots of the past reach like tendrils into the present is something I still think about often.

But history is not always a quirky story about babies and bathwater. For many, historical oppression manifests as inherited present-day trauma. I’ve been reminded of this throughout my time in the Friedman and UEP programs, where I’m not only learning what it means to be an expert in my field (environmental and agricultural policy), but also where I’m learning to confront privilege in my life and practice, so as not to become a policy “expert” who ignores the lived experiences of others.

On the evening of September 20, around sixty people gathered to hear from the editor and coauthors of a new book from Food First, entitled Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food, and the Commons in the United States. Land justice is the idea that people and communities that have been historically oppressed have a right to land and territory. The book’s 20 contributors examine themes of privilege in property ownership; black agrarianism and liberation; women’s work on the land; indigenous leadership; migration and dispossession; the implications of transnational food regimes; land-based racism; and finally, opportunities for activism and healing. Notably, the volume includes a chapter on land access written by Caitlyn Hachmyer, a 2013 alum of Tufts University’s Urban and Environmental Planning and Policy program.

The evening began with a short mistica ceremony that grounded us, leading us to reflect on our relationship with the Earth and our place upon it. We honored those who have sacrificed (and are sacrificing) everything on the front lines of land justice; and reflected upon the ways in which we might continue learning and offering solidarity to those fighting for land justice. On the ground in front of us were seeds, soil, and signifiers of the struggle against capitalist interests and colonialist occupiers of contested land.

Mistica Ceremony. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Mistica ceremony. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Director of Food First and coeditor of the new book, Eric Holt-Gimenez opened with a reading from the volume’s introduction, which reflects on a mythos well-known to Americans and to New Englanders in particular, wherein Squanto [Tisquantum] shows the pilgrims how to plant herring alongside corn, to nourish the crop and ensure a plentiful harvest. What the mythic Thanksgiving story fails to capture, however, is that Tisquantum was a captive of European explorers. While held in Europe for 16 years, his tribes—the Massasoit and Wampanoag peoples of the “New World”—were decimated by disease introduced by the colonists who overtook their homeland.

The story of early America doesn’t offer much more hope for agrarianism. Over the next centuries, dispossessed British, Nordic, and European peasants led the transition from agrarianism to the Industrial Revolution, and over time agriculture became less about feeding people and more about feeding the capitalist machine that is corporate agriculture. Holt-Gimenez’s introduction to the book sets the historical stage by emphasizing that “racial injustice and the stark inequities in property and wealth in the US countryside aren’t just a quirk of history, but a structural feature of capitalist agriculture… In order to succeed in building an alternative agrarian future, today’s social movements will have to dismantle those structures.” When you begin to examine—really examine—the root causes of hunger in our country, he says, it all comes back to the land. The past is always present.

But there are seeds of resistance, and their stories are told in Land Justice.

The first author to speak at Wednesday’s panel was Kirtrina Baxter, whose contribution to the book centers on black women healing through innate agrarian artistry. In her talk, she introduced the concept of women as seed keepers. “Black women’s acts of creating are often relegated to carrying the seeds of the human population,” Baxter and her chapter coauthors write, but “through historical and contemporary narratives of Black women agrarians, activists, and organizers, we describe innate agrarian artistry as the creative, feminine use of land-based resistance to simultaneously preserve the people and soil.” Baxter et al. acknowledge women as creators—not simply as prolific wombs, but also as literal and spiritual seed keepers, carrying on the traditions of seed saving and telling “seed stories,” (the cultural missives that get passed down along with the seeds). Baxter’s chapter in Land Justice celebrates the historical resistance “of which Black women have woven quilts, sang spirituals, and foraged from the land for survival.”

Suyapa Gonzalez was the next panelist to speak. Though not a contributing author, Gonzalez is an organizer with GreenRoots, a community-based organization in Chelsea, Massachusetts committed to achieving environmental justice through collective action, unity, education, and youth leadership. Through a translator, she gave a rousing appeal for land justice in Chelsea, where much of the soil is contaminated from years of chemical dumping, and where 72% of households are renter-occupied. “After God, it is to la madre Tierra that we owe our lives. If [our Mother Earth] dies, we will also die,” she opened, and ended with a call for everyone to demand better protections for the land that gives life.

Panel speakers from left: Eric Holt-Gimenez, Kirtrina Baxter, Hartman Deetz, Suyapa Gonzalez (and Friedman AFE student, Nayla Bezares, translating). Photo: Kathleen Nay

Panel speakers from left: Eric Holt-Gimenez, Kirtrina Baxter, Hartman Deetz, and Suyapa Gonzalez (with Friedman AFE student, Nayla Bezares, translating). Photo: Kathleen Nay

The final coauthor to speak was Hartman Deetz, a member of the Mashpee-Wampanoag tribe and an activist for land justice and indigenous rights. Deetz owns two acres of Mashpee land in Cape Cod—two acres of land, he emphasized, which has perpetually been under Mashpee ownership and never owned by white men. He pointed out that North America is entirely stolen land, evidenced by the many places across the continent bearing now-familiar American and Canadian names, but rooted in indigenous words: Nantucket Island, Massachusetts; Narragansett, Rhode Island; Nashua, New Hampshire; the Dakotas; Ottawa, Ontario; Winnipeg, Manitoba; even Massachusetts itself. It’s a long list.

But the taking of indigenous land is not simply a footnote in the distant past. Here too, the past is present. Today the Mashpee-Wampanoag tribe is fighting the government for federal recognition of their tribal status and rights to retain ownership over 11,000 acres of ancestral land. Unfortunately, it’s a situation not unique to the Mashpee; in his Land Justice chapter, Deetz recounts his experience standing alongside the Standing Rock Sioux in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline. People are still losing lives and livelihoods in the struggle for land justice.

Small group discussions. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Small group discussions. Photo: Kathleen Nay

The evening closed with a chance for attendees to break into small groups for discussion and reflection. My group took the opportunity to consider just how present the past really is. We reflected on how the histories of indigenous peoples and people of color, so deeply tied to land ownership (or lack thereof), are all but erased in our culture. I left with a deeper resolve to seek out those hidden histories, to use my profession and practice to amplify efforts for democratic community control of land, and to lend my support to organizations that do the same.

Kathleen Nay is a third year AFE/UEP dual degree student. This summer she discovered Native-Land.ca, a resource to help North Americans learn more about the indigenous histories and languages of the region where they live. If you have a zip or postal code, you too can learn more about your home on native land.

The Basics of a Ketogenic Diet

by Mireille Najjar

The ketogenic diet remains one of the most extreme types of low carbohydrate diets, yet its potential role in tumor regression and pediatric epilepsy treatment has become an increasing topic of study among researchers and health professionals worldwide.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet is a low-carbohydrate, moderate-protein, high-fat diet often used to control seizures in children with epilepsy. In such cases, the diet is usually recommended when two or more anti-seizure medications fail to control the seizures or result in harmful side effects. The diet requires careful monitoring by a medical support team, including a pediatrician, a neurologist and a dietitian. After two to three years, a normal diet is reintroduced gradually, depending on the progress of the child. A doctor may also slowly reduce the dosage of medications at this time.

High fat sources common in the ketogenic diet

High fat sources common in the ketogenic diet

Some individuals follow the diet to lose weight and have reported successful short-term weight loss after several months by eating low-carbohydrate, high-fat meals daily. Several studies have also reported unknown or beneficial long-term effects of the diet, particularly in obese patients with high cholesterol. While it can induce rapid weight loss, it is always important to consult a doctor or dietitian before beginning a ketogenic diet.

How Does the Diet Work?

The ketogenic diet works by shifting the body’s energy source from carbohydrates to fat. When the body is in a fasting state, it creates molecules called ketone bodies that build up as the body burns fat for energy—a process called ketosis. The exact reason is unknown, but researchers believe that the high production of ketone bodies improves seizure control in some epileptic children who show no signs of improvement with medication. Some studies, such as a 2010 case report in Nutrition & Metabolism, also show evidence of reduced tumor growth in cancer patients who receive chemotherapy and radiation along with the ketogenic diet.

Characteristics of the Diet

In general, the ratio of fat to carbohydrates and proteins is four to one (4:1) and must be tailored specifically for each individual. This is approximately 60 percent of calories from fat, 35 percent from protein, and 5 percent from carbohydrates. When starting out, it is recommended to limit net carbohydrate intake, which is the amount of carbohydrate in a food that the body is able to use for energy, to 20 grams per day to help the body enter ketosis. Afterwards, it should be limited to less than 50 grams per day. The amount of net carbohydrates per day is dependent on an individual’s own metabolism and activity level.

Many people—particularly adults—find the ketogenic diet difficult to follow since it is very limited in the types and variety of food it allows. The diet is based mostly on fat, protein and vegetables (specifically green leafy vegetables) that provide most of the carbohydrates you eat. Since the diet does not supply sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals, people usually need to take vitamin and mineral supplements. They must also be completely committed to following the diet for it to work effectively.

Below are some tips on what you should and should not eat, as well as general tips, while on the ketogenic diet:

Foods to Eat

  • Eat plenty of green leafy vegetables like spinach, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, celery and cucumbers. Limit vegetables like red and yellow peppers, onions and tomatoes, and avoid starchy vegetables like potatoes since they contain higher amounts of carbohydrates.
  • Consume peanut butter, cheese or boiled eggs as a snack. Nuts (with the exception of macadamias and walnuts) should be consumed in moderation since they are rich in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Meat, such as beef, pork and lamb, can be cut or prepared any way you like.
  • Leave the skin on poultry (chicken, turkey, quail, duck, etc.) to increase the fat content. It can also be prepared any way you like.
Beef stir fry, an easy-to-prepare ketogenic meal

Beef stir fry, an easy-to-prepare ketogenic meal

Foods to Avoid

  • Avoid low-fat foods. Since you are getting most of your calories and energy from fat, you need to make sure you are eating enough high-fat products, such as bacon, full-fat dairy (including raw and organic milk products, such as heavy whipping cream, sour cream, cottage cheese, cream cheese, hard and soft cheese, full-fat yogurt, etc.), mayonnaise, oil and butter.
  • If you choose to drink coffee, avoid extra sugar and milk. Instead of sugar, use a sweetener such as Stevia or EZ-Sweetz®. Replace milk with almond milk or heavy cream for a low-carbohydrate alternative.
  • Do not eat fresh, dried or frozen fruit since fruit is high in carbohydrates and fructose, the natural sugar found in fruit. If you choose to eat something sweet, you can eat one or two strawberries, but the fructose might prevent ketosis.
  • Avoid all grains and grain products, juices made from fruit and vegetables, beer, milk (1 percent and skim), beans and lentils, which are all high in carbohydrates.

Important Tips to Consider

  • Check the carbohydrate content of everything you eat. Some foods, such as processed sausages, cheeses, and sauces, contain hidden carbohydrates. For example, added honey and artificial sweeteners in regular low-carbohydrate mustard can increase its carbohydrate content. Be sure to check the carbohydrate content of mayonnaise and oil-based salad dressings, too.
  • Keep track of your daily food and carbohydrate intake. Keep a spreadsheet, use an online food intake tracker, or record the foods you eat in a journal. Write down how you felt each day and any changes you made. If you go off track, you can look back and see what was successful for you.
  • Always choose the lowest carbohydrate options to make sure you do not exceed your daily carbohydrate limit of 50 grams per day. Also, check food labels for net carbohydrates, which are the total carbohydrates minus the amount of fiber.
  • Take a daily multivitamin to replenish the nutrients lost while following the diet.

1-Day Sample Menu (4:1 ratio, approximately 1,884 calories)

Breakfast: Eggs (4 whole eggs, ½ avocado)

Total calories: 419
Fat: 31 g
Protein: 25 g
Net carbohydrates: 5 g

Lunch: Chipotle salad, no dressing (lettuce, chicken, mild salsa, cheese, sour cream and guacamole)

Total calories: 585
Fat: 38 g
Protein: 45 g
Net carbohydrates: 9 g

Snack: Large spinach salad (spinach, olive oil and vinegar dressing)

Total calories: 340
Fat: 32 g
Protein: 4 g
Net carbohydrates: 2 g

Dinner: Cheesy chicken (2 grilled chicken breasts, ½ cup cheese)

Total calories: 380
Fat: 15 g
Protein: 62 g
Net carbohydrates: 4 g

Snack: 24 almonds

Total calories: 160
Fat: 15 g
Protein: 6 g
Net carbohydrates: 3 g

Daily Totals:

Calories: 1,884
Fat: 131 g (63.7% of calories from fat)
Protein: 140 g (30.9% of calories from protein)
Net carbohydrates: 23 g (5.4% of calories from carbohydrates)

Mireille Najjar is a first-year Nutrition Communication student originally from Lebanon. She has a background in nutrition and dietetics and hopes to further strengthen her true passion—writing—here at Friedman.

Winter Brings Change and Innovation to Massachusetts Farms

by Lara Goodrich Ezor

As winter approaches and temperatures drop in New England, regional farms must adapt to the changes that come with shifts in season. Traditionally, the winter season is the slow time of year on Massachusetts farms; workers depart, fields lay near-empty, and harvests are minimal. But some are establishing innovative ways to enhance productivity and extend the growing season in spite of the harsh, wintry conditions.

By the end of October, seasonally hired farm workers often find themselves out of a job and in search of employment elsewhere during the slow months.

“If you’re an apprentice or crew member, you’re probably going to be laid off and not hired back until April,” Jordan McCarron explained. McCarron has worked on Lindentree Farm in Lincoln, MA for two full seasons as a work-share volunteer and the manager of the Field of Greens plot on the property, a one-quarter acre area set aside for growing produce to donate to the Cambridge-based food rescue non-profit, Food for Free.

Some seasonal workers take the winter months to travel, while others find temporary employment in the regional maple sugaring industries, or tree-pruning sectors.

Miriam Stason is the manager of the Boston-area CSA shares at The Food Project in Lincoln. While some workers are employed through the winter at The Food Project, irregular scheduling allots part-time hours to year-round workers.

“The year-round farmers work a lot of hours in the summer…but taper in the winter,” she explained. “Over the course of a year they have an average of forty hours per week, but in terms of the farm in the late fall, things really slow down. By the end of October, we try to have things mostly cleaned up and put away.”

Though the deep winter is an ideal time for farmers and workers to take a break from farm work, winter months are dedicated to planning for the upcoming busy season, and the work is never done.

“Typically, there’s always someone around, and the farm is always on the farmer’s mind,” Stason said.

In spite of the inevitable seasonal changes, Massachusetts farms are finding innovative ways to expand their production and activities during deep winter months. Some hearty greens, like kale and collard greens, taste better after the first frost of the season, and The Food Project and Lindentree farms have enough produce to be harvested or stored late in the season to provide a hearty Thanksgiving share. Additionally, many local farms are beginning to experiment with high greenhouses that keep plants warm and protected by retaining heat from the sun and allow for growing and harvesting throughout the winter.

Red Fire Farm, with locations in Granby and Montague, MA, has systematically expanded its winter production and storage capacities over the last few years. Farmer and owner Ryan Voiland explained their decision to scale up in spite of the dropping temperatures.

Washed parsnips stored for winter in a Red Fire Farm root cellar/L. Goodrich Ezor

Washed parsnips stored for winter in a Red Fire Farm root cellar/L. Goodrich Ezor

“We are interested in trying to find ways that we can make locally grown food available to our local community for as much of the year as we possibly can,” he said. “Before we started doing this, we essentially had to lay off all of our employees [at the end of the season]…So, from a business perspective, it helps us provide steady work for our core employees, and they don’t have to go find other jobs.”

Farmer Ryan Voiland tends to one of Red Fire Farm’s winter greenhouses/L. Goodrich Ezor

Farmer Ryan Voiland tends to one of Red Fire Farm’s winter greenhouses/L. Goodrich Ezor

While Red Fire Farm employs fewer people during the winter months, they now remain steadily busy year-round. The farm participates in winter farmers markets, and offers both a late fall CSA share (November-December) and a deep winter share (January-March). The shares are made up of produce and other local food products – like cheese and pickles – as a way to showcase other local producers during the slow season and round out the winter share.

In order to continue to offer their produce throughout the winter, Red Fire Farm has made significant investments in building storage cellars, where vegetables harvested in the summer and fall are saved for winter distribution and sales. Between their on-site storage facilities and rented spaces, they store up to 200 palettes of produce for winter use. The farm also freezes fresh produce like berries, peaches, and peppers in the high season for winter distribution, and, with an acre of land cultivated under high greenhouses, is able to continue harvesting throughout the winter.

While winter inevitably brings changes to New England farms, farmers are adapting and finding ways to provide local food to consumers regardless of the season. Even on farms where work remains sparse in the winter months, the slow season passes quickly. By February, seeds are being planted, and farms become lively again.

“All of a sudden,” said Stason, “March is here, and most of the seasonal workers are on the farm by April.”

Before long, winter has inevitably come to a close, and the busy season is back in full swing.

Lara Goodrich Ezor is a first-year FPAN student and an aspiring gardener. She worked on a CSA farm on Whidbey Island, WA in 2010, and now experiments with growing vegetables and herbs in her backyard raised bed in Somerville, MA.  To learn more, visit our Meet  Our Writers page.

Mobile Poultry Processing Units Offer Viable Slaughter Option For Small Farmers in Massachusetts

by Lindsey Webb

Massachusetts is ranked 45th in the nation for the number of chickens and turkeys raised for food, but that doesn’t mean residents in the state don’t appreciate a high quality, locally-raised bird. Being a poultry farmer in a minor poultry producing state like Massachusetts presents interesting challenges, but plenty of room for creativity has resulted in considerable growth and flexibility in slaughter and processing options.

Poultry farmers in Massachusetts can go in one of a few different directions when it comes to slaughtering, processing, and packaging their birds. If a bird’s destiny is to be consumed by the family raising it, that bird can be slaughtered as the farmer wishes. However, if the farmer plans to sell the bird at a farmers’ markets, direct to customers, or to a restaurant, there are economic, regulatory, and logistical considerations that come into play.

Jennifer Hashley is the Project Director for the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, an organization that strengthens local food systems by supporting new farmers. She explains that farmers in Massachusetts selling their animals have several options when it comes to slaughter facilities. One is to construct their own on-farm slaughter facility. This can be quite a large investment, but makes sense if a farmer raises enough birds to sell at weekly farmers’ markets. Alternatively, they can transport their birds to a USDA-approved slaughterhouse, like Westminster Meats in Vermont. This slaughterhouse charges $5 per bird for slaughter and processing, making it an expensive but often sensible option for farmers who are comfortable leaving that work to others.

A third option is using one of the three Mobile Poultry Processing Units (MPPUs) in Massachusetts. New Entry partnered with the New England Small Farm Institute (NESFI) to fundraise for, build, and manage a mobile poultry processing unit. One other MPPU is run by NESFI alone, and another is managed by the Island Grown Institute on Martha’s Vineyard. With the MPPU option, farmers have control over every step of the process, from raising to selling their birds, without the investment required for an on-farm slaughter facility.

While the New Entry and NESFI MPPUs offer a lower price to farmers than Westminster meats does ($1 per bird and $3 per bird, respectively), there are other potentially substantial costs involved. Large amounts of ice are required to keep the carcasses cool enough. Knives, aprons, buckets, and other equipment must be provided by the farmer using the MPPU. Additionally, a significant amount of planning and preparation is involved beforehand, from getting approval from the Board of Health in the town where the MPPU will be used, to ensuring that there is enough labor available to complete the job. Transporting the MPPU, a very large trailer, can also be a challenge.

For some farmers, like Justin Webb of The Pasture at Pettengill Farm in Salisbury, Massachusetts, all of the planning and legwork prior to using the MPPU is worth it. He used the MPPU for the first time for his own birds this year. “The biggest thing for me is to keep everything on-site, to guarantee that it’s all my product,” he said. He appreciates that he can be there the whole time and know exactly what is going on. Avoiding the stress of transit is also a plus. “If I can not have my birds go through the trucking and all that…I’m all for it.”

Though it wasn’t easy, Mr. Webb got the required approval of his town’s Board of Health, which he says happened after “a lot of education.” He and his crew all completed a one-day training – offered by New Entry in cooperation with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources – to be legally able to use the MPPU. On the day of processing, a senior inspector from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health was on site from the very beginning until the last bird was put on ice. Mr. Webb is proud to say that his crew scored the highest approval rating on all of the inspector’s criteria, which is not an easy thing to do. He plans to use the MPPU in the future.

Hashley says that economically speaking, the MPPU is best for farmers who have 100-300 birds to slaughter in one day. For some farmers with larger flocks, she says their experience with and knowledge of the MPPU was a “jumping off point” that got them thinking about constructing slaughter facilities on their own farms. Some of them have done it, and may offer their facilities to other farms as well.

 

Unfortunately, so far neither the New Entry nor the NESFI MPPU has turned a profit. For many, the convenience of Westminster, where everything is taken care of from start to finish by people in that facility, is worth the extra cost. At this point, neither MPPU has been able to attract enough farmers to do more than break even.

That doesn’t mean new Entry’s MPPU is sitting around unused, though. According to Sam Anderson, Livestock Program and Outreach Coordinator for New Entry, three farms have used the MPPU in 2013. They have processed almost 3,000 birds – mostly chickens, but some turkeys – yielding over 12,000 pounds of meat. The finished product has generated approximately $70,000 in gross revenue to the farmers. Importantly, it has provided Massachusetts residents with an alternative to industrially produced poultry and a chance to support Massachusetts farmers.

Lindsey Webb is a second year FPAN student who, for the next three months, can be found drinking tea under heavy blankets, hiding from the New England winter. To learn more, visit our Meet Our Writers page.