It didn’t take long. Within 5 minutes of arriving on Marvin Hershberger’s Middlefield farm I had lost my shoe in calf-deep mud (I hope it was mud) forcing me to step into the same mud with my pristine white sock in an attempt to fish out my Adidas Shell-toe. After an eventful search, I found my very dirty shoe while covering my arm and camera with mud.
A few minutes later I met Marvin, an Amish farmer with hands rougher than concrete, looked me up and down with mud up to my knees, globs of mud stuck to my shoes and a filthy arm, he said simply, “Muddy out here.” I have to imagine that’s Amish for “city boy”.
I came out to the farm with Ariella Rebak owner of Green Pastures Poultry, a company selling local pasture raised poultry to the general public. A mom of 3 and a former lawyer, Ariella got started on her mission a few years back after reading Michael Pollan’s “An Omnivore’s Dilemma” when she started up a CSA with fruits and vegetables from local farmers.
It wasn’t long before CSA members were asking for chicken as well and Ariella saw a business opportunity. She worked with the same local farmers who provided vegetables for her CSA to add naturally raised poultry to their farms. A few years later, it turns out to be a boon for both parties:
Ariella and her customers get fresh, local poultry that was pasture raised. The animals are treated well throughout their lives and while they do eat some grain, their diets can include anything they find to eat in the fields: bugs, weeds, clover, worms, all kinds of deliciousness. When eating these things, it takes the birds a little bit longer to grow, but this causes the birds to be more nutritious and, many argue, better tasting.
Another important benefit for Green Pasture’s customers is that they have a clear line to where their poultry comes. When they pick-up their birds from Ariella at a farmers market, they can rest assured knowing that she picked up the bird they were buying from the farmer, witnessed it’s slaughter and is now selling it to them. That’s one person between them and the farmer. How many people are between you and the chicken you purchase from the grocery store?
The farmers raising the poultry win too in this scenario. By adding pasture raised poultry to their farms they have another profitable resource they can sell for income. In many cases, it provides enough extra income to prevent them from having to earn money off the farm, and considering these are almost exclusively family farms, that means they can spend more time with their families.
Having pastured birds on the farm has ecological benefits as well. As the birds roam the fields they are continually fertilizing the field and their constant scratching provides for a kind of aeration that helps for future plant growth. On the day I was on Marvin’s farm, he had his turkeys in the garden where he grows vegetables for local CSAs. They were picking his dying tomato plants clean of green tomatoes and had finished off any straggling peppers that hadn’t ripened enough for Marvin to use.
And I must say, the turkeys looked pretty damn happy too. I mean, one did seem a bit upset about all this quantative easing business, but other than that, it seemed like a pretty sweet turkey life. Granted their all gonna be toast in about 3 weeks, in the meantime they can go pretty much wherever they’d like, eat a lot of great bugs and generally live it up until that time comes. So I’m thinking they like this arrangement as well.
I think one of the best parts about Ariella’s whole mission is that she’s selling these amazing birds to the public. If you’d like to get in on that sweet happy turkey action, especially for Thanksgiving, now is the time to order from Ariella. You can place an order for a turkey on her website or you can give her a call at 216-255-1343. She’s a super nice lady doing some really great things for local food in Northeastern Ohio and that is someone I’m happy to support.