Oct 17, 2011

Large Scale vs. Me

I am currently in the AgriPower IV class through the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. This is a program that selects 20 individuals each year to participate and hone their leadership skills, learn more about the organization and politics. Over the next year I will spend 17 days with my classmates and staff from the Ohio Farm Bureau. At the end of September in Columbus, we met with many elected officials including state Auditor, Secretary of State, state legislators, Director of Agriculture and Governor Kasich. I am sure I have left someone out but it was an excellent opportunity to learn how our government works and how everything fits together.

After our formal meetings, we left Columbus and headed toward Raymond, OH to visit New Day Farms. This is a farm that houses laying hens and also has a processing facility for broken out eggs. It was a very large poultry facility to the eyes of most.

This farm was truly amazing. It had been nearly 10 years since I had toured a farm like this and I must say it was fascinating. We live in a society where people are very removed from the origins of their food. Children think their milk comes from the grocery store, eggs come from the refrigerator case and when you open the door it moos and clucks as an effort to help bridge the gap. When I was growing up I never realized how lucky I was to be raised on a farm. I often thought it was hard work and sometimes got tired of missing out on fun things with my friends because I was doing chores or working with animals.

After living in town for a few years after getting married, Matt and I realized just how lucky we were to grow up in rural America. While the town life was easier we knew we wanted to raise a family in the country. Our neighbors thought we were a bit strange when we would pull up in front of our house with a livestock trailer full of sheep. Our old neighbors who are now very dear friends asked us what we were doing with those sheep in town. We told them they were going in the backyard to mow and fertilize. We were clearly joking but they had concern in their eyes.

We raise layers on our farm and invite all of our friends to come see the hens that produce the eggs they purchase from us. Their children like to collect the eggs in a pretty basket. Our egg production is old fashioned and fun but not nearly as sophisticated, clean or efficient as New Day Farms and most poultry farms across the country.

Most uninformed consumers think big is bad! I as a small rural Ohio farmer am here to say Bigger is Better. My customers pay a premium for our natural antibiotic-free farm fresh eggs. New Day Farms feeds no antibiotics to their hens either. The hens have fresh water and food all the time on demand. I was most fascinated that the farm works with a poultry nutritionist who changes the hens’ diets to adjust for what their nutritional needs are week by week. When the hen lays an egg, is rolls onto a mini conveyor belt which heads straight to the processing end of the farm. All the manure is automatically dropped onto another belt system which dries and is discarded multiple times per week. Can you guess how many flies were in the barn? I did not see one fly the entire time I was there. It smelled a little like a chicken but no odor or smells of manure. The barn is temperature controlled for comfort and is on automatic light timers to ensure proper day and night schedules. Another fun fact about this large farm is that everything on the farm is composted. Even the egg shells are composted into lime which is sold locally. I would have loved to take photos but due to liability, which I understand, we were not allowed to take photos.

I would like to add that this farm takes great care to ensure a safe healthy animal and end product. I had to stay out of my own chicken barn for 72 hours prior to visiting and was in a full plastic coverall and hair net. After seeing this farm, I feel 100% safe buying eggs from the store and so glad we live in a country that values animal safety and consumer health.

The buy local movement is huge and I am fortunate to be a part of it. I love to buy local and I appreciate having this option. Do I always buy local? No, it is not always easy and frankly it sometimes costs more. Larger farms allow for a more cost effective food. Just because something is produced on a larger scale does not make it bad or change the nutritional content. Good, safe food, comes from well cared for birds whether they are on a large, or small, farm. Did you know that we are only 9 meals away from going hungry? Keep reading later this week as I will share more about hunger, food supply and Food Day coming up in one week. Every Day is Food Day to a Farmer.

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