“Raising chickens is a craft.”
One of the inspiring things about my VISTA assignment with Main Street Project is getting to know the new farmers in the program. This is the story of “C.” and “P.” – a couple focused on achieving their farming goals.
They knew it was going to be a challenge.
To begin raising free-range chickens, they would have to split the work and manage their time between their primary jobs and caring for the flock of 2,000 birds. However, P. and C. also shared the love of raising chickens and other animals, and growing their own vegetables – something they grew up with in Puebla, Mexico. Back on their farm, C. and her family had pigs, cows, chickens, and they lived off the harvest of the land growing crops such as peanuts, jicama. “We have always liked raising chickens. That is a great motivation,” she explained.
Besides raising their first flock of chickens using the Main Street Project system, they also grew vegetables and legumes this summer, like beans, varieties of bell peppers and corn. And they have laying hens, which have become their family’s source of eggs. They keep vegetables for their own use, sell them to neighbors, and donate what they can’t sell to the community for families in need.
After graduating from the training program last spring, this couple combined their farming background with their new business knowledge to gain experience in their own small free-range poultry business. Raising chickens on the Main Street Project incubator farm has given them a chance to become their own bosses or ‘agripreneurs’ – agricultural entrepreneurs. With the guidance and structure provided by Main Street Project, they are able to set their own work-times and tasks: “No one tells you to do this or do that. One knows what one has to do.”
As with every endeavor, this family has had some initial hurdles. “There are errors that one has to learn from. It’s easy to listen to the mistakes of others’ but until we experience these mistakes personally, we will not learn from them,” said C.
A Typical Day
C. is in charge of the morning work. P. drives her to the farm at 6 a.m. to feed the chickens and once she is done she heads to catch the shuttle at city hall at around 7:30 a.m. arriving at 9 a.m. in order to get home by 10 a.m. to babysit children. She does this every day.
“It’s challenging,” she says. “Raising a double flock is a lot of work, carrying the feed and the barley from one place to another. The bags are heavy and I do all the heavy lifting in the morning. I wish I could do it faster but it’s difficult. In the evening it is easier because we divide the work.”
P. works the nightshift cleaning at a local business from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. At sunrise, they both go to the farm to take care of the chickens after a long night at work. At the farm while he would sleep for about an hour, she would feed the chickens. When he would awake he would soak the barley that would be sprouted on the field, to provide the chickens with supplementary nutrition. They would then go take care of the laying hens across the field and fix anything that needed maintenance. After that they harvest some produce and finally go home around noon. On some days, they get just a few hours of sleep.
P. described it this way: “Even though it looks easy, it is a challenge managing the work that needs to be done in the field and your own primary job. People cannot slack off. Raising chickens is a craft.”
Efforts Pay Off
Raising their own chickens has provided them with a healthier option for meat consumption for themselves. They don’t plan to purchase conventionally raised chicken in the future. Since they began raising vegetables, they no longer buy squash, green beans, different varieties of lettuce, and cabbage. They used to buy their groceries, spending $300 to $400 every two weeks at a chain discount store since it was cheaper to buy there. Now they have plenty of vegetables and are able to freeze their surplus. They also share and trade with their neighbors. “We have done a 180 degree turn this year,” she says. “This is good for us.”
Despite the daily commutes and sacrifices, this couple plans on raising their second flock next summer. If they had reliable transportation they would be able to start raising their second flock in the winter. “It would be better if we had our own land and were able to buy our own chickens,” P. says. “We want to be fully independent in the coming years.”
They’re also hoping to expand what they’re learning to their community. C. explains, “We have to talk with people. People have to eat healthier. We need to communicate the importance of eating healthier produce, free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.”