Island Grown Initiative Poultry Program on Martha's Vineyard

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2008: $9,397.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Alice Berlow
Island Grown Initiative
Richard Andre
Island Grown Initiative


  • Animals: poultry


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, housing, grazing - continuous, feed formulation, free-range, grazing management, manure management, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, probiotics, grazing - rotational, watering systems
  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, workshop, youth education, technical assistance
  • Energy: bioenergy and biofuels, wind power
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, farm-to-institution
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: biological control
  • Soil Management: green manures, composting, organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, infrastructure analysis, leadership development, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, urban agriculture, urban/rural integration, analysis of personal/family life, community services, social capital, social networks

    Proposal abstract:

    Meat production in America has become a fearsome thing. With the rise of deadly food-borne diseases like Mad Cow and E. coli, American consumers have become increasingly aware of the broader problems surrounding the massive animal factory farms that dominate the meat and poultry industries in this country. Centralized feed operations, as these factory farms are called, produce staggering amounts of concentrated waste, polluting the air and groundwater and threatening drinking water supplies in surrounding communities. The treatment of animals in these facilities is inhumane: their feed is unhealthy, they have little or no access to land or fresh air, and they are confined to small spaces polluted with their own waste. As a result, animals in factory farms become dependent on antibiotics to live, and are fed growth hormones to speed their development and shorten their life span before slaughter. Rather than being raised as living creatures, these animals are viewed in the industrial agricultural framework as protein to be produced in the greatest quantities in the least possible amount of time, without consideration of human health or the environment. Growing awareness of these devastating problems has led to a dramatic increase in the demand for meat that is raised in humane conditions, without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics, and preferably raised by local farmers consumers know and trust. Unfortunately, the centralization of meat operations and the federal laws that protect vast industrial feedlots have led to a sharp decline in smaller, locally-based slaughter facilities. Here on Martha’s Vineyard, we face a situation similar to almost every small rural community in America: access to local, humane, clean, USDA-certified slaughter houses is nonexistent. Our farmers face a particular challenge, in that our island community is separated from any existing slaughterhouses not only by miles but also by water. The only way for Vineyard farmers to slaughter and process their animals in a USDA-certified facility is to take them off island, pay steep ferry fees, and transport their animals up to 300 miles from home. This makes meat production in our community cost prohibitive to the point of being completely unfeasible for most of the growers on our island. However, the demand for healthy local meat is sky-high here, and the market has shown that both summer visitors and year round residents are willing to pay a premium price for it. This makes increasing meat production an important option to help our local family farmers ensure the economic viability of their farming operations, which is increasingly difficult as property values, property taxes, and development pressures continue to mount. Island Grown Initiative has done extensive outreach to our farmers through organized discussion sessions and surveys, and we have learned that many growers are interested in raising more meat and poultry. Consumers have proven their desire to buy it. All that’s missing now is the local infrastructure to make this possible, and the Island Grown Initiative is the community group ready and committed to making it happen.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    We launched our effort to provide a humane, accessible local slaughter solution for our community in early 2007 by researching regulations surrounding traditional “brick and mortar” slaughterhouses. We soon expanded our research to include mobile processing units, which were new to us but were beginning to be used by more communities across the country. These mobile units come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and operating protocols, but the basic idea behind them is to bring safe, clean, humane slaughter directly to growers’ farms. We connected with another island community that was already using a mobile processing unit, Lopez Island in Washington State, and learned that their MPU had helped them expand local meat production by 800% in a matter of only a few years. Because meat production is currently limited on the Vineyard, these mobile units sounded like the most sensible way for us to begin offering a local slaughter solution.

    Our initial research also taught us that, for a number of reasons, poultry would be a good place to begin, rather than with four-legged animals. We identified a “chicken crew” of experienced poultry growers from the Brazilian community here on the Vineyard and trained them in humane slaughter at the FARM Institute, a teaching farm in Edgartown. We identified a local donor willing to provide the funds we needed to purchase a trailer and equipment for a mobile poultry processing unit, and hired a consultant, Jim McLaughlin of Cornerstone Farm in New York, to consult on appropriate equipment and the training of our chicken crew.

    With our equipment on the island and our crew trained, we held trial runs on three local farms, and successfully provided these farm families with 175 pounds of their own chicken meat. Next, we went to the farm of one of the largest poultry growers on the Vineyard and processed 200 birds in one day. The demand and interest was so great that consumers came to the farm and bought the dressed birds directly out of the chill tanks.

    To solidify the Mobile Poultry Processing Trailer's (MPPT) standards of practice and to garner community support, IGI hosted a private demonstration for all six of our island Boards of Health and for the State Department of Public Health in October. It was a great success. IGI is now poised to move the MPPT forward in providing safe, humane, clean, size-appropriate slaughter and processing of poultry for the island's backyard growers and family farms. However, there is much work to be done to keep pace with the growing interest in the MPPT.

    Now that the MPPT is available, more farmers and backyard producers want to grow chickens and turkeys. There is limited expertise on the island in growing meat birds. We learned that we must provide more extensive training and consulting for new growers so they can raise more birds in a healthy and productive way. Some of our new growers this season lost birds to illness and predation and need more support for their operations to succeed. IGI also realized we need to expand our equipment to meet the demand for the MPPT to be able to process other kinds of poultry.

    We see our poultry processing as a first step towards providing comprehensive slaughter and processing for local farmers. Looking ahead, we envision a mobile unit for 4-legged animals, and an USDA certified facility for value-added processing of meat, a vision of an agricultural future where farmers can thrive and locally-grown foods can be available year-round.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.