Playing Chicken in Mississippi

Good Morning,

Here is an update on the Petition to the MS Department of Agriculture on the Poultry Exemption. I want to congratulate all of us who came out of our comfort zones and entered the uncomfortable arena of politics for something we believe in. Over 2000 people signed this petition in just ten days. Hundreds of you followed the petition with phone calls saying one thing, "We want access to healthy poultry in Mississippi."

To review, this was the problem. There is a national policy that says poultry farmers producing less than 20,000 birds fall under an Exemption. Their birds do not have to be processed with an inspector present like Tyson or Sanderson Farms birds, because it is simply not feasible for small producers to build large processing facilities like large-scale producers. Mississippi policy nullified that exemption by saying, sure, they can process, but they can't sell those birds anywhere but on the farm. This cut off small farmers from their markets.

Our petition asked the MS Department of Agriculture to allow these farmers to bring their product to the customer. We asked that, like in most other states, our small poultry producers be allowed to sell chicken through buying clubs, at farmers markets, and at retail facilities.

I got their decision Friday. It is a partial victory. I got my chicken back, so I am thankful. My chicken farmers at Beaverdam Farms, sell chicken through a buying club, and that is now acceptable again under Mississippi Policy. Beaverdam Farms will not have to fold up shop. For them, I am happy.

Selling at Farmers Markets and retail facilities is still prohibited. This means access to healthy poultry won't be as widely available as it is in other places. I understand the fear of disease, bacteria, etc. I also understand that it is a highly educated population who is demanding naturally raised poultry. We have done our homework. We have conducted our own research. We need to keep pressing these issues.

The only way healthy options are going to grow or continue to be available in our communities is if these enterprises are economically viable for farmers. In a state whose main enterprise is agriculture, we have to readjust our priorities. Let's not stop, please. Let's keep voting with our dollars. Let's keep being the squeaky wheel.

Whenever you see an article in support of small, naturally raised, local food systems, send it on to the Department of Ag. Drop them a phone call now and tell them thank you for using good, common sense, and that you hope they will continue to investigate more options. The letter I am attaching says the decision will be reviewed in three years. What could we do in those three years to assure our family's have access to healthy food? What could we do in three years to encourage, rather than discourage young people from taking up sustainable, healthy farming practices that promote health of people, land, and economy in Mississippi?

Thank you again for all your support. Congratulations to the little guys. Keep clucking!