Chickens are remarkably versatile. They go with everything: grains, nuts, berries, veggies, even other animals. It’s not just their meat and eggs that make poultry a great product, it’s the numerous ways they contribute to the farm ecosystem. They provide an affordable entry point for long-term economic investment and help transform that investment into a wide array of marketable products. We chose them because of their social and environmental benefits, and because they contribute to a vibrant farm economy.
The perennials that protect the birds from the elements can bring a profit. The vegetables they fertilize can be sold in the community. The grains they weed provide food for the chickens themselves. Since chickens turn plants into protein more efficiently than any other farm animal, they offer a great return on investment. Processing birds is easier and more affordable than rendering cows and pigs. And the soil nutrients they replenish means this system can survive and thrive indefinitely, without expensive, harmful, addictive inputs and repellents. With a little luck, any farmer can grow a good crop for one year. Consistency and resilience are the hard part, and the part that makes so many farmers turn to synthetic supplements. Poultry help preclude those damaging decisions by doing their part to keep the system healthy.
But the chicken can only live up to its full potential in an equitable food system. The poultry-centered farm model can be the fulcrum of a community-led, integrated industry, where people in the region take on the packaging, marketing, processing, and distribution of the poultry, produce, and value-added farm products like salsas and jams. We have already forged relationships with a sustainable food service company, sold meat locally, and made poultry processing available to local farmers. A fully integrated, alternative food system could do so much more, restricted only by the community’s creativity and entrepreneurship. And that system is our ultimate goal.
The current food system, if it could talk, would try to convince you that in order to survive, you must bow down to profit at the expense of all else. The consequences of this kind of thinking are painfully obvious, even when the costs are hidden. But committing to a triple bottom-line of economic, ecological, and social resilience allows us to discover and expand on the practices that strengthen all aspects of the system. Invested workers make better farmers; happier chickens are healthier chickens; strong soil brings financial resilience.
Yes, we are a non-profit. Non-profits do great work. But our goal is an alternative, resilient, regenerative food system that <em>is </em>profitable for all participants. We are moving towards a self-supporting model, and practical, self-supporting farms that also contribute significantly to the economic resilience of the entire community. And not just this community: the model is adaptable enough to have a global application, and change farm economies around the world.