I've got my chicken farmers on my mind this morning. Last night I went to pick up my weekly order from Ali and Dustin from Beaverdam Farms. They do this amazing service where you order what products you want from over ten farms they collaborate with, and then you pick it all up in one spot the next week. I use them because I know they are passionate about bringing healthy food to Mississippi. I buy from them because they farm honestly, naturally, and harder than they have to. I know this because we are friends, because I have been out to their farm, because we have shared meals. I know my farmers, just like the Department of Agriculture's promotional ad encouraged me to do.
The problem is, that same Department of Agriculture is killing their business. For those of you who have been following this saga, Ali and Dustin were most known for their Beaverdam Chicken. It is the only chicken I can get locally that is raised entirely on pasture, out of doors, like chicken is supposed to be raised. Why does this matter? Because animals that are raised in cages or feed lots their entire lives like most meat we eat are missing some essential things (not to mention any quality of life).
A 2003 study by Penn State University researchers found that eggs from pastured hens have higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids and vitamins A and E - that is brain food my friends. Think kids aren't as smart as they used to be? You may be right. Most people hardly get any Omega 3s in their diet.
Grass-fed beef consistently contains a higher proportion of stearic acid, which even the mainstream scientific community acknowledges does not raise blood cholesterol levels.
Grass-fed meat surpasses grain-fed is that it contains considerably more antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, are precursors to vitamin A that are found as pigments in plants.
- Almost half the meat and poultry sold in the US is likely to be contaminated by highly dangerous bacteria, according to research published this month (April 2011) in the scientific journal, Clinical Infectious Diseases.
- The study estimates that 47 percent of the meat and poultry on US supermarket shelves contains the bacteria staphylococcus aureus ("Staph"). It is not, however, among the four bacteria—Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, andEnterococcus—routinely tested in meat by the US government.
Anyway, despite growing evidence that pasture raised meat on small farms is a healthier option, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture does not abide by the federal law that enables farmers processing fewer than 20,000 birds to sell anywhere but at the farm. That means they can't take their product to farmers markets, buying clubs, restaurants, or other retail facilities. It means they are effectively cut off from their customers.
We gathered 2,000 signatures this May in ten days petitioning our Department of Agriculture to make the policy change that every other surrounding state has already made. We followed the petitions with hundreds of calls. We are supposed to hear about their decision by the end of August. I am praying there are no sinister agendas at work, and that reason will prevail.
Meanwhile, Ali and Dustin look tired. The compressor broke on the refrigerated cooler they bought (thinking it would enable them to comply with the law and move their product around the state to customers). They lost several turkeys in the extreme heat last week, despite their exhaustive efforts to protect them. I wonder how many turkeys died in the huge bird houses last week. We will never know. We aren't allowed inside those state sanctioned institutions.
They don't have to do this job. They could go sit in air conditioned offices with their college degrees. They could move off to any other state where their business is perfectly legal. Ali and Dustin believe in their job. They believe in their calling to steward health of people, animals, and land in their home state of Mississippi. If you want to see more on their story, you can see a movie here.
I've got my chicken farmers on my mind this morning.