Island Grown Initiative responded to the community’s need for safe, healthy, affordable, locally grown poultry by establishing a local poultry program in 2007.
Our first investment was in acquiring processing infrastructure, called a Mobile Poultry Processing Trailer (MPPT) that would provide affordable on-farm processing in conformance with the inspection exemptions allowed by the USDA.
The SARE grant enabled Island Grown Initiative to build on the infrastructure investment by developing education, outreach and advocacy initiatives to build a sustainable pasture raised poultry market on Martha’s Vineyard.
Our goal was to increase the numbers of growers and the number of poultry that was produced and processed on island. This was to be achieved through a one-day education seminar, an on-going training program for both growers and processing crews and developing a strong enduring relationship with state officials in the Department of Agricultural Resources and the Department of Public Health.
We established group targets that were focused on the raising of safe, healthy, affordable, locally grown poultry. Specifically, increasing the number of farms/back-yard growers served with our MPPT, increase the number of birds processed with our MPPT, create local jobs as trained processors and increase income for commercial growers.
We also targeted to build on our efforts by holding an annual seminar each year for poultry growers and consumers.
Prior to 2006, production of locally raised, high quality poultry was identified as a potential high growth sector for our agricultural community. Without a fit for purpose infrastructure, farmers had to pay steep ferry-transportation fees, travel long distances over long hours and pay processing fees that made the locally raised poultry business unprofitable. As a result prior to 2006, less than 100 birds were processed and almost all exclusively used for custom slaughter and not for resale.
Island Grown Initiative purchased the MPPT and immediately began to process locally raised birds. However, it was soon identified that the physical infrastructure was only one aspect of our program and that an essential, in fact a critical success factor, was to support this through a well considered education, outreach and advocacy effort.
Our Education effort was built around an all day workshop for producers raising poultry for egg production, meat birds, including heritage turkeys- with regards to predation issues, common poultry diseases, processing protocols and regulations, building chicken coops, Mobile Poultry Processing Trailer protocols, equipment training and renting procedures.
Our Outreach efforts have been successful in building networks of farmers and various consumer groups, including restaurants. At our annual workshop, we held cooking demonstrations for chefs, catering companies, and homemakers connecting the various consumers and producer groups. In addition, the networks we created have developed into several feed and equipment sharing co-operatives and a planning forum for certain growers that plan and schedule the raising of their birds to ensure continuity of supply to the market.
Our third area of focus was to enhance our advocacy program and to educate the various stakeholders with the federal, but more importantly, local and state regulations involved in the regulation of meat processing and marketing. Island Grown Initiative has now established lasting relationships with the responsible partners at the various state departments, specifically Agriculture, Health and Environment. Our focus was to ensure that these various departments considered the local, small scale farmer in the interpretation and development of the relevant regulatory schemes.
The primary methods were implementing the following process changes:
Identified and recruited a dedicated Poultry Program Coordinator that would be ultimately responsible for ensuring the integrity of the program
Organize annual Poultry Workshops
Formalize and document our procedures, pricing policies and work practices
Conduct education and training programs for both the growers and processors on a regular basis
Meet with State and Local officials on an on-going basis
Island Grown Initiative increased pastured poultry production from less than 100 birds, prior to 2006, to over 3,000 birds during the 2009 growing season. An increase of over 3000%. We are currently scheduling the 2010 season and we estimate that we will process and additional 2000 birds for a total of just over 5,000 birds processed per year.
We also increased the number of farmers/growers from less than 3 to over 20 in 2009. This is scheduled to increase in 2010.
Our Poultry Program has added an additional $ 100,000 of increased revenue, $ 40,000 of increased profit for growers, created $ 20,000 of income to our processing crew. We have also successfully marketed our product to local restaurants thereby having a positive affect on their own business revenues.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
We will also establish a year round network and support for producers and consumers offering them two forums in the year, Living Local Harvest Festival and the IGI Annual Farmers dinner.
Through working on this project we have played a role in shaping public policy and shaping new work practices with the state Department of Public Health and state Department of Environmental Protection.
These include innovative ways in establishing work site procedures that include set up and close down of the processing facility. The breakthrough was establishing a processing area that incorporates using wood chips/shavings as temporary bedding that is removed to be composted at the end of the process. This is then incorporated into an approved composting procedure to dispose of eviscerated waste and process water
In addition, we have also been noted for our use of a trained processing crew rather than just farmers or volunteers. Our trained crews provide expertise and consistency regarding both food quality and safety and operational safety and managing the waste generated as a resource on the farm.
This campaign will also lay the foundation for long term slaughter solution for Vineyard farmers. Our objective is to build on our Producers’ Network to establish meat production as a viable revenue stream for our family farmers that will lead to the construction of a facility to handle both poultry and red meat (four legged) animals. Helping our family farmers produce meat will help ensure that farming remains a viable profession for local community
The Poultry Program has now established a sound benchmark to proceed towards a four legged processing facility including:
Importance of working with local Boards of Health, including towns and state, to ensure consistent application of both federal and local regulations.
We have also learned that if local infrastructure is secured and backed up with education, outreach and advocacy programs that local agricultural enterprises will increase and thrive.
Our Mobile Poultry Processing Trailer has created an increased revenue, introduced new farmers or new business models in agriculture, created new jobs, and increased the amount of local poultry production. If we apply these lessons to larger animals, we estimate that we will create more revenues and income in agriculture on Martha’s Vineyard.
We hope to work in the future with SARE in developing better models for marketing our locally raised product. This could be achieved through the branding of Island Grown for our community and for wider regional markets.