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:

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

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

pastured poultry poster 2013 gaPastured Poultry Week kicks off this Monday, and I invite you to come with me as I follow the life of a chicken from the farm to the plate.

Organized by Compassion in World Farming, a global organization working to end factory farming, and Georgians for Pastured Poultry, the event aims to help promote and celebrate humane and sustainable pasture-raised poultry for one week each year.

Local Farmer, Brandon Chonko has invited me to visit his South Georgia farm in Tattnall County–Grassroots Farms, where he raises 1500 chickens, ducks and turkeys and supplies them to more than 15 restaurants in the state and throughout the South. Many of the restaurants he supplies are in the Atlanta area, and some are even on the Georgia Coast, where I’ll be enjoying my pastured poultry dish, at North Beach Bar and Grill on Tybee Island.

Learning about the food we eat, where it comes from and how it’s raised is really fascinating to me. If you’re like me, you may be wondering what exactly a pastured bird is and why there’s a whole week set aside for their awareness. Farmer Brandon explains:

"I love working outdoors with animals. I also love being able to market to such talented chefs." -Brandon Chonko
“I love working outdoors with animals. I also love being able to market to such talented chefs.” -Brandon Chonko [Photo Credit: Andrew Thomas Lee]
“Pasture-raised or pastured birds actually live 24/7 in fresh pasture. They are housed in small batches in portable housing. They get moved frequently to ensure fresh forage. Also, we use a French breed of chicken that are known to be active foragers. They are bred to live outdoors, not in a chicken house. Pastured birds are healthier, need no antibiotics, are active and taste better. They have a long life. They are what chicken dinner Sundays used to consist of prior to the rise of the industrial chicken.”

Learn more about Grassroots Farm’s Humble Roots story.

Pastured Poultry Week is in its second year, and has expanded to include more than 50 Georgia-based chefs and over 25 chefs from New York. If you’d like to experience the taste of a pasture-raised chicken and support Georgia’s farmers while eating cleaner, visit Halyards or Tramici Neighborhood Italian on St. Simons Island. You can also see a complete listing of participating restaurants on the Georgians for Pastured Poultry website.

I’m headed to the farm Sunday, and will venture out to the beach next week to eat that chicken. I’ll keep you posted!

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