I began February by finagling my way into the Missouri Organic Association conference, held earlier this month at Union Station. Justin was scheduled to be there to speak on a panel, and seeing that the day’s agenda consisted of several poultry-related lectures, I decided to tag along.
The morning started off with a decent lecture on poultry operation, production, and marketing. After a midday break, lectures resumed, this time being led by a different fellow, on the subject of free-range, humane certified broiler production. I won’t mention the poor man’s name or the name of his farm, but my notes from his talk include gems such as, “this guy’s a total joke.” For HOMEGROWN’s sake, I’ll just refer to him as Sustainable Sam.
Sustainable Sam started off explaining how organic certification inspectors look for potential hazards for birds to get injured like protruding nails and screws sticking out. He also said he’s required to have blinds in his “sheds” where passive bids can escape from hostile, aggressive birds. You see, it became quite clear moments into his lecture that Sustainable Sam packs quite a few birds into his sheds.
Mere minutes into his talk, and Sustainable Sam made a comment that totally baffled me. He was rattling off the list of certification requirements and said, “there’s this silly rule they have where you have to give the birds a designated dust bathing area. I still have a hard time with that, with stuff that doesn’t make sense.”
What doesn’t make sense about providing your birds with an area for them to properly clean themselves? As anyone who raises poultry knows, birds use dust bathing to rid themselves of dirt and parasites. So I raised my hand and asked him what part of that requirement is so silly.
He explained that his sheds are already lined with sawdust for his birds to roll around in freely, and in his view, it’s silly for him to provide another, more clearly designated area for his birds to dust themselves.
“But it sounds like you have many birds in your shed,” I replied. “Surely your sawdust floor is covered in bird droppings.” There were audible noises coming from the crowd at that point, but I couldn’t tell if people were siding with me, or deeming me to be some sort of pro-PETA, anti-animal cruelty crowd heckler.
As the lecture continued, and Sustainable Sam went on to inform the crowd that inspectors will also look for pad burns on the birds’ feet, and will check to see if your birds are dirty. He gave tips on things like how to skirt around the “perceived daylight” requirement by saying “a light bulb will get you through that loophole.”
Eventually, I quit using any confrontational posture I had adopted, started nodding my head in mocked agreement, and pretended to understand Sustainable Sam as he vented about the ridiculous requirements he has to meet for organic certification.
He wrapped things up with the moral: “Organic certification isn’t worth it, but it’ll get your stuff sold at Whole Foods.”
Though Sustainable Sam didn’t offer any tips that I would consider adopting myself, I did learn something: There are plenty of producers out there doing the same thing, doing the bare minimum to get by. That’s not a business ethic, nor is it a personal ethic, I believe in. I’d rather raise a few less birds, on my own terms, with care, than join the ranks of those who are certified for their callousness.
If you feel the same as I do, please consider visiting my farm’s Kickstarter page and making a pledge.
“I’m half of YellowTree Farm, an urban homestead that I founded with my husband in late 2008. Together, we grow vegetables and raise animals on less than 1/10 of an acre in St. Louis, Missouri. I don’t have children. I have animals, which is kind of the same thing as being a parent, except I eat my babies.”