CSA 2015: Chicken Share

Have you ever thought about where your meat comes from?

If you’re picturing a farm with happy animals frolicking through meadows, chances are you’re wrong. Unless of course you’re raising your own meat and you allow your animals to frolic. In which case, go you! Let’s be friends.

Americans have become extremely disconnected from the actual source of their food. It was not until college that this became strikingly apparent to me. You see, I come from a very close-knit family. My mom grew up on a dairy farm and I was lucky enough to spend my childhood following my grandpa and uncles around said farm gardening, chasing chickens, being chased by turkeys and experiencing as much nature as my little heart desired. My best friends were my cousins, six of the nine lived within yelling distance, and we were highly discouraged from playing inside. Summer meant making forts, digging for crystals, wandering through the woods, playing manhunt across a 9+ acre expanse and keeping campfires burning for as many consecutive days as possible. I think our record was nearly a week, in case you’re wondering. We always had a garden, everyone hunted, and it was not uncommon to get a call from a friend asking if we’d like to split a pig they were about to… harvest. I was lucky, I realize that now.

By my junior year of college I had come to terms with the fact that my childhood was not the norm by any means. I had friends who hadn’t met some of their cousins and didn’t even know their names (honestly, this still baffles me), and I had learned that explaining my childhood was most easily done by describing where I grew up as a “family compound, but not in a cult kind of way.” But the difference in our views on food did not come to light until one day when I brought fresh bacon back to my apartment after being home on break. It was vacuum-packed in a plain package. One of my roommates asked me why there wasn’t a label on the package, this was unheard of to her. Where the hell did I acquire this random bacon? I explained that my parents were currently overwhelmed with pork because they had split a pig with a family friend. Again, unheard of. Most people don’t think past the meat department at the grocery store. There is no correlation between the meat they’re consuming and the life that came before it. But, fortunately, I think this is changing.

Many folks have switched from “conventionally” farmed [I’m putting that in quotes because I feel that using the word conventional to describe modern farming practices is extremely misleading and unrepresentative of the history of farming, but I don’t know that this is the place to rant about that. If anyone cares I can rant about that at a later point in time] meats and eggs to organic, free-range, grass-fed/finished, hippie-approved products in recent years. People are starting to think about how the food they’re eating actually ended up on their plate and they’re making an effort to source food from more reputable sources. At this point there are various documentaries discussing the food chain and the problems with, and lack of sustainability in, our current system. The momentum is building, people are educating themselves.

The first time I watched Food, Inc. I went a month without eating meat. I was just as guilty as my roommate who didn’t understand how meat could come from anywhere aside from the grocery store. I knew about factory farms but I had never seen one in action, I had idealized what it would be like, I was equally out of touch. But I’m not a vegetarian and I can’t pretend to be. I love a well cooked medium-rare steak with a side of bacon. So what’s an omnivore to do when confronted with the reality of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) which over use hormones and antibiotics, use meat glue to turn smaller, less desirable cuts into pricier pieces of meat, and participate in blatant animal cruelty (to name a few)? I love animals – way more than I love most people – but what if I want to enjoy a steak every now and again? How can I ethically eat that meat knowing where it’s from? Pasture raised organic meats are a better, safer option. But realistically the best way to ensure your meat was ethically raised is to source it from a farm that you can go visit. This year I will be taking part in my first meat CSA!

Brian never rarely joins me in my vegetable eating adventures – because he’s gross – so I was fairly ecstatic when he agreed to split a chicken share with me. His main concern was cost. Realistically, sourcing meat this way can be pretty pricey, especially if you’re used to buying non-organic CAFO meat. Many farms still only offer whole, half or quarter animals and this is usually distributed to the consumer at one pick up. With this system there’s the added factor of “Where the hell am I going to put half a pig/cow?” This is precisely why hunters have freezers dedicated to meat.  Unfortunately I do not have the space or resources to handle that much food at once. So, after hours of research we decided to go with a share from Jodar Farms out of Fort Collins, CO which offers monthly distributions of chicken (mostly) for a five month period, starting in June and ending in October. At the beginning of the season you pick out which items you would like to get each month and this will be your monthly distribution. It’s set up this way so the farmer can plan how many chickens to raise each season, it avoids unnecessary waste. But there’s always the option to purchase extras on pick up day!

Party wings (2), two dozen eggs, 2lbs sausage, whole chicken, chicken thighs.
Party wings (2), two dozen eggs, 2lbs sausage, whole chicken, chicken thighs.

 There is a monthly minimum purchase of $70 per share, our monthly total was just over $70 but I don’t recall the specific amount. We decided to go with the following; two dozen eggs, two packages of party wings (20 ct. each), one whole chicken, one package of thighs (4 thighs), and two lbs of pork sausage. You get to pick your sausage flavors each month and there are other pork, and sometimes beef and lamb, products available at the pick up site. Their prices are very comparable to organic grocery prices and while I haven’t weighed anything I’m fairly certain that these birds are a bit larger than what I’ve found in the grocery store. The thighs were HUGE.

So far we love it. We’ve used all but one pack of party wings and one pack of sausage from June’s distribution. I dated all of the packages because we will inevitably get backed up at some point this season and we’ll have multiple packages of the same thing stowed in our freezer. Which isn’t really a problem because this will feed us for more than the 5 months that it’s being distributed. Overall this has gotten me excited for when I have the space for a giant freezer in which I can hoard all the locally sourced meat I could possibly want. For now, I take solace in knowing that the chickens lived a better life than most and were loved while they were with us.

I do plan to head up to the farm at some point this summer and I will most certainly share pictures when I do. But right now I’m going to pick up distribution number two before all the chorizo is gone.



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