Pastured Poultry Week: So God Made a Farmer

Brandon Chonko (right) and I (left) with the chickens at Grassroots Farms.

You’ve probably eaten chicken this week. Am I right? In the United States, eight billion chickens are consumed each year. Whether it comes from the grocery store, the drive-thru or the family farm, poultry is most likely a regular part of your diet–but make no mistake. Nutritionally and taste-wise, there’s a big difference in factory farm chicken and pasture-raised chicken. I speak from personal experience, thanks to Brandon Chonko of Grassroots Farms.

It’s Pastured Poultry Week and Sunday, my boyfriend and I took a road trip about 40 miles South of Statesboro through Georgia’s farm country to a one-man pastured bird operation to get a first-hand look at white and red chickens, broad breasted turkeys and Pekin Ducks. I even learned about farmer Brandon’s Great Pyrenees, Lefty, a livestock guard dog named for his lazy left eye.

Lefty is a nocturnal livestock guard dog. He roams the farm throughout the night protecting the pastured birds and alerting Brandon if there’s a disturbance. Lefty woke up just long enough to greet us and slobber-splash us with a shake of his jaws.

In the video below, Brandon talks with me about his passion for healthier food and provides some locations where you can taste his pasture-raised birds on the Georgia Coast and in surrounding areas. Regarding taste, Brandon says, “We’re raising an old school chicken that’s not going to be tough like a stew hen or a yard bird.”

What We Learned:

We learned a great deal about pastured birds on our visit, some fun facts too:

  • A pasture-raised French red bird’s life span from birth to processing is about 70 days.
  • Unlike domestic animals who usually overcome being the “runt of the litter,” chicken runts never hit a growth spurt. They remain little. How funny is that?!
  • The only chicken hatchery with authentic French Label Rouge Birds in the United States is located in Pennsylvania at Freedom Ranger Hatchery, Inc. The chickens in the photos below are born in Pennsylvania and raised in South Georgia. Brandon gets them when they’re one day old.
  • The natural body temperature of a French red bird is about 104 degrees (No wonder they like Georgia)!
  • Broad breasted turkeys become Thanksgiving size in 5 months.

North Beach Grill

After leaving the farm, we went to North Beach Grill on Tybee Island to try their Free-Range Jerk Chicken Entrée, made with the chickens we’d just seen on Grassroots Farms. Unfortunately when we got there and ordered, they were fresh out of the free-range chicken. Disappointment doesn’t describe our emotion!! Like I shared with Brandon though, we were bummed but it’s just a testament to how good his product really tastes! We’ll definitely try again soon.

From the Farm to the Plate:

A true Southern fellow, Brandon didn’t let us leave the farm empty-handed. He sent us back to the Boro with a dozen farm eggs, a whole French red bird and two boneless skinless chicken breasts. You can bet I put them to good use! When I tell you this is the best salad I’ve ever eaten, it’s no lie. I featured the chicken in two ways. Just like Brandon recommended, I seasoned the chicken breast with kosher salt and pepper, then cooked it in the skillet in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Hearty, rich, succulent white meat with a crispy skin was the result. Using the yolk of one of the fresh chicken eggs (laid just the day before), I made a balsamic vinaigrette to dress my local greens. I didn’t even miss the cheese!

So God Made a Farmer:

Eating local, homegrown food just has a way of making you thankful–for Georgia farmers like Brandon, for Farmers’ Markets where you can gain access to healthful ingredients and for the reminder that convenience food can’t compare to the crops that come from Georgia soil or the meat raised on Georgia turf. Supporting local helps you, the farmer and our environment. Paul Harvey says it best:

Related Content:

From the Farm to the Plate: A Day in the Life of a Pasture-Raised Chicken

Crack This: Farm Eggs vs. Store-Bought

I’ve eaten eggs from the grocery store my entire life. I’m sure at some point in my childhood I’ve tasted an egg fresh from the chicken coop because my Grandpa raised chickens, but that was before my palate was experienced enough to appreciate the difference. It’s true that when you’ve never experienced better, you don’t know what you’re missing.

wpid-IMG_20130510_185756.jpgSo, when my good lookin’ boyfriend showed up at my door last week with one dozen, light brown and cream-colored farm eggs in one hand and a beautiful bouquet of flowers in the other (I know…keeper), I set my sights on cooking the eggs just the way a farmer recommended: in a little bacon grease with salt and pepper. I’ve never tasted anything like these eggs…it was pure eggstacy (had to do it!). Seriously, the flavor is out of this world, and sure to make you crack a smile (okay, okay). During cooking I found them to be more fluffy than a store-bought egg. Produced by free-range chickens, farm eggs are more nutritious because the chickens are able to roam freely and eat a natural diet. They contain no added hormones or fillers and are not processed. 


wpid-20130520_195545.jpgOne meal that exemplifies comfort food for me and really lets the farm egg shine, is the tried and true bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. A fancy meal has its time and place, but it’s not always the five-star, fine dining plates that trip my trigger. Sometimes, a good ol’ familiar meal is the only thing I need to feel centered, satisfied and one with my kitchen again. Served with a side of cheese grits, breakfast for dinner has never been better.

Here’s how I make the classic McDonald’s biscuit-turned-sandwich at home:

  • Thick cut, hickory smoked bacon
  • Nature’s Own Honey Wheat Bread
  • 2 Farm Fresh Chicken Eggs
  • Blackberry Jelly (I used homemade jelly from the Amish country that I got from a quaint market, but Smucker’s works great if you don’t have that).
  • Kraft’s Sharp Cheddar Cheese, sliced

Cook three strips of bacon in a skillet on medium heat until just crispy (I like mine slightly underdone). Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Pour off some of the grease, reserving enough to cook the eggs, about 1-2 tablespoons. Whisk the eggs together in a small bowl, season with salt & pepper. Pour the eggs into the pan and let set. Cook for about 2 -3 minutes on each side, flipping once for even browning. Meanwhile, slice or grate the cheddar cheese and toast two slices of bread. Spread toasted bread with blackberry jelly, then build the sandwich. Serve with a side of cheese grits for optimum enjoyment!

wpid-20130520_194926.jpgAnd remember, when building the sandwich, it’s all about good architecture! Somehow, the sandwich tastes better when cut into a triangle shape too. At least, that’s the way mama always sent me to school, with a neatly packed cut-in-half sandwich in my brown paper sack.

Have you ever tasted a farm egg? If so, how would you describe the difference?