Thursday, June 9, 2016

Smith Farm Chicken - a local success story

SLU student and summer intern Amanda Korb will be spending part of her time visiting farmers and profiling them here on the GardenShare blog.  Here's her first entry:

“Fajita spiced Smith Farm Chicken Breast on a crisp house made blue and yellow corn tortilla with queso fresco, shaved lettuce, toasted cumin sour cream and fresh cilantro.” Sounds delicious right? So describes a dish prepared by the 1844 House, an American bistro in Potsdam, made with chicken raised and processed by Massena locals Ron and Cathy Smith.

On Farmers Market days, Ron and Cathy get up at 6am
to prepare their trailer with fresh poultry for customers
Smith raises approximately 800 chickens, a handful of turkeys, beef, and occasionally pigs. Their primary focus is chicken; a USDA inspected and certified processing unit stands within yards of their chicken barns. The chickens have 24/7 access to an outside yard from their clean and spacious coops. Each chicken receives an abundant of food, water, sunlight and socialization.

The Ron and Cathy’s bottom line is the humane treatment of animals. Ron said he knows many farmers who dislike their livestock, or find their daily farm life a chore. He believes if one doesn’t like an animal, then one shouldn’t raise it. Cathy asserted. “It’s not about how long the animals lives, but the quality of life we give them”. Evidence of Ron and Cathy’s words was abundant as I took a tour of their facility. The impeccable cleanliness of the slaughterhouse would impress even my Grandma. What is more, Cathy nurtures any sick animal on the farm personally. They currently have two pet turkeys and four pet laying hens.

This is Ron’s retirement job. Cathy works full time as a dog groomer in a shop right next to the slaughterhouse. When I asked Ron if he could have the same quality of life if poultry farming was his lifetime occupation, his answer was clear a “no.” Sustainability, Ron believes, is the capability to break even on expenditures while still making some sort of income.

Ron sits next to his daughter and granddaughter
at the Canton Farmers Market
That income can be found in the freezers clustered around the farm. Ron said he had intentions of installing a walk-in freezer, but the cost did not outweigh the benefits. Instead, a horse trailer filled with freezers of chicken processed the night before is one of the first to make an appearance at the Canton and Potsdam farmers markets. Aside from the markets, the Ron and Cathy also profit from the aforementioned 1844 House as well as Jake’s on the Water. The couple both survives and relies on local business alone. When I asked which subsidized them more- markets or restaurants- Ron replied it is a balance of both. One challenge they face is competing against the cheap chicken prices Wal-Mart and Aldi’s offer, which is a quick 15-minute drive down the road from their farm. For families receiving SNAP, a $1.65/lb chicken breast is the more affordable option than Smith Farm $3.00/lb. Ron even admitted he would shop at WalMart if the roles were reversed.

The question of cheap food v. the added cost local food then comes into play. At GardenShare, we focus on raising the region’s economy by encouraging families to buy local food. For every $10 spent at Wal-Mart or Aldis, a farmer only receives $1.58 in return. Contrasting, a farmer collects $8-9 for every $10 spent at a local farmers market. GardenShare recognizes buying local as a point of paramount significance; therefore, we try to promote programs such as CSA Bonus Bucks and SNAP Double Up, which make choosing local the more promising option. EBT machines are available both the Potsdam and Canton Farmers Market, where Ron and Cathy can be found selling their fresh poultry. Taking the same $10 spent at the farmers market, about $7.80 is re-spent into the region. Paying a few more cents for local food supports the farmers who raise the product, the community surrounding the farmers and in turn the next generation.