Over the winter, Ecocentric interviewed farmers across the country from our Eat Well Guide in an effort to highlight both the challenges and triumphs of sustainable farmers across the country. Join us as we delve in to discover what it means to be a farmer in the 21st century.
Shannon Hyde raises goats and chickens on 3 acres at Olive Egg Farm in Honeoye Falls, New York. Read on to find out why she says the hardest part of farming is taking the first step.
What do you grow/raise on your farm?
Currently, we raise goats and chickens. Our main products are free-range eggs and pastured poultry (the goats are more for fun right now, but will be used for milk in the future!)
How many acres do you farm?
We own 10 acres, and about 3 of them are used for farming currently. We will be getting pigs next year to help us clear more land (and be able to offer pork!)
What’s a typical day in the life on your farm?
A typical day right now is wake up and freeze! In all seriousness, the one thing about farming that changes you completely is this isn't a job that you can ever "call in" to. The animals depend on you, rain, snow, or sun. I am up with the sun, and my first stop is our 40'X60' main barn. We are lucky that our barn was formerly used as a heated wood working shop, and is always super warm even without heat. Our goats have a large stall inside this barn where they stay during the winter, and my first order of business is always to feed them. Goats are very much into their routines, and they expect food before I do anything else! We have a 4 month old goat who must eat separately because, well, goats are bullies! So little "Tater Tot" comes out and eats in his area, and the other three goats get fed. While they're eating, I water and feed our 3 month old Cream Legbar chicks, who are still too small to be out with the "big kids" in the main chicken coop. I head out to feed and water our main group of 15 layers, and right now, this is the routine throughout the day: goat snacks, watering and feeding chickens! When things warm up a bit, we will be adding the meat bird pens to the mix, and this will entail twice daily moving of their "tractors" to fresh grass!
Describe your local food community in four words.
Growing. Wanted. Friendly. Competitive!
What is your favorite aspect of farming?
Knowing I am responsible for providing food to my customers that will nourish their bodies and souls. We produce food that we want people to feel good about eating, and we have a responsibility to the animals we raise to provide them with a fulfilling, healthy life, humane treatment, and humane processing.
How did you decide to get into growing food/raising animals? What did you do before you got into farming?
I decided to get into raising animals for food because I knew there had to be a better, healthier, more humane way to feed my family. As an avid animal lover my entire life, I never felt comfortable eating grocery store eggs, or buying factory farmed meat.
I knew there had to be a better, healthier, more humane way to feed my family.
I decided to take the first step, and I started with raising 5 hens in my little city back yard in 2011. Just getting those few eggs every day was enough fuel for me to want more. In the summer of 2013, we moved to our dream home in the country and started Olive Egg Farm! My "before" life was filled with jobs in the human services field. I hold a Bachelor's degree in social work, and I have always enjoyed helping people. I still work as a social worker part time and I enjoy helping people in every aspect, but sustainable farming will always be my #1 passion and lifelong career.
How did you get access to your land? Do you own or lease?
We own our 10.5 acres.
What is your philosophy of growing food/raising animals? Are you USDA Certified Organic? If so, what motivated you to join the program?
From our website, our philosophy is: Self-sufficiency is paramount, and too many people depend on outside sources to provide their food. Food production shouldn't include loud machinery, debt to the government or depletion of soil. Animals have a right to sunshine, grass, healthy nourishment, access to fresh water, the ability to raise their young, gentle handling and humane processing. We believe in permaculture, not agriculture. We believe that one small change in your eating habits and a commitment to purchasing local food grown using sustainable methods can largely change your local community and the future. We are NOT USDA Certified Organic, but we do not use any chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, steroids, hormones or GMO's on our farm. We offer the public the opportunity to visit us and see what we do, even on chicken processing day. We feel it is imperative that we have an "open door policy". As a consumer, you have the right to seek out the food you consume, see where it comes from, and feel comfortable eating it, and we feel this openness is more valuable and telling than any label you will find.
How do you market your products? Do you have to travel far?
We are mostly marketing online right now and doing on-site sales. We are joining two local farmers' markets this year and we will not have to travel far. We believe that food should be as local as possible and we are very fortunate to live in an area where people appreciate honest, humane, local food.
What are some of the ongoing challenges you face as a farmer?
We have been fortunate to have the support of our friends, family and the local community. The biggest challenge has been meeting demand for our Spring 2014 egg orders and Summer 2014 chicken orders!
Whether it's leaving your desk job, buying those first chicks, building your first cold frame - your family and friends will look at you like you have 7 eyeballs. Let them stare.
What do you think about the growing new farmer movement? What advice do you have for people who want to become farmers?
I feel like I am part of a revolution. I am. My "colleagues" of late are mostly super helpful folks with a passion that only comes from a desire to change something big. And this is big - this is food! This is farming of the future. I would tell anyone who wants to get into farming: take that first step, and the next steps will follow. That first step is the hardest, I promise. Whether it's leaving your desk job, buying those first chicks, building your first cold frame - your family and friends will look at you like you have 7 eyeballs. Let them stare. Talk with as many local farmers as you can. Make connections. Offer to help out on a poultry processing day, or weed a garden if you've never weeded a garden. Start somewhere!
Can you speak about the slaughtering process? Do you slaughter on site or drive to the nearest facility?
We will be producing 100+ Cornish X meat birds this year on pasture. We have processed birds before, but this will be the first year we will process our own, and we are processing on site. We will be using the "Chicken Wringer" to dispatch our birds before bleeding out. We have done much research on different slaughtering methods, and have found this to be the most humane way to dispatch a chicken. The traditional "chop the head off" method can be messy and unsafe, and the cone + cut method seemed like a fine way to process a bird, but we just felt we had to offer our birds, and our customers a little something else. The "wringer" is simply an L-shaped piece of metal specifically made for chickens, and it immediately breaks a chicken's neck. I have seen this process done and each time, it is peaceful and seems completely stress and pain-free. The last thing I would want is to spend months raising animals, loving them, taking pride in their health and happiness and then have the last day of their life filled with stress and pain. After the bird has bled out, they are rinsed off, scalded in a hot water "bath", and plucked in an automatic chicken plucker. From there they are eviscerated, cleaned up and hit the QA table for a final go-over before being chilled and bagged. The beauty of processing our birds on-site is that we use every piece of the bird. The feathers are composted, the head, feet, liver, heart, lungs and gizzard are saved for our dogs who eat raw food. The intestines/guts are buried, and the blood is composted as well. We do not waste any part of the bird, and our dogs appreciate the yummy, wholesome chow!