A little something different today. Some of the most common questions I get from readers, friends, and family center around our local shopping habits. Consuming a real, whole foods diet that’s largely locally sourced can feel like an intimidating prospect in the very beginning. If you’re just starting this journey, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. There are so many questions! Do I really need to buy all organic? What’s a pastured chicken? Where do I find this stuff? How may kidneys will I need to sell to afford these changes? It’s a daunting task that can feel time-consuming and expensive.
So I present you with The Local Notebook – a series about all things related to finding, buying, eating, preserving, and loving on locally sourced, sustainable foods – and hopefully demystifying the concept along the way. Cameron and I will be documenting local makers, growers, and farmers throughout Frederick, MD and talking food, sustainability, and life in general with the people who feed us. We’re about to get really real when it comes to real food!
Spoiler alert – there’s no one way to do it right, you don’t have to do it all at once, and each step on the journey is a unique, deeply personal choice. Progress, not perfection. The reality is that you just need to take it one bite at a time – literally. Hopefully the resources I’ll be presenting in The Local Notebook will give you the knowledge and enthusiasm to take a small step, or a giant leap, into the wild world of sourcing local.
Pastured Chicken at Open Book Farm
Today we’re talkin’ about birds. Chicken, y’all, it’s what’s for dinner on American plates 50% of the time (that’s not a real statistic, but let’s just roll with it people). Like most of our omnivorous friends and family, we eat a fair bit of chicken as well as a ton of eggs. Switching from conventional to organic and then finally to locally sourced, pastured chicken and eggs was our first step on the long road to consuming a local, sustainable diet. And it was a delicious one.
Making the switch to pastured eggs and/or chicken is often the first suggestion I make to friends inquiring about where to start on their journey to a locally sourced, sustainable diet. Practically speaking, pastured eggs and whole chickens are pretty widely available these days, especially if you have access to Whole Foods or a farmer’s market. But a far better option is sourcing these items directly from a farmer you know and trust.
Last week we had the opportunity to spend some face time with one of our local sources for pastured chicken, Open Book Farm. They’re located in Middletown, MD just 20 minutes from our home in Frederick. I was first introduced to Open Book when I picked up some of their pastured chicken at our local co-op. I dropped them a note and asked if we could take a peek behind the scenes, and owners MK and Andrew responded with an enthusiastic “come on over!”. Their name says it all.
MK and Andrew own and manage a 70-acre diversified livestock and vegetable farm. Upon arrival we were enthusiastically greeted at the gate by a few stray chickens and the farm’s beautiful herd dog and flock protector Patou. Andrew was off on a feed run, so MK led us around with their adorable son, who educated us on the differences between cows and turkeys (cows have bigger poop) and introduced us to some caterpillars and flowers in the fields.
While they are the quintessential small operation jack-of-all-trades family farmers, MK and Andrew’s biggest operations are their pastured broiler chickens and laying hens to the tune of 6,000 chickens per year.
Wait, What’s a “Pastured” Chicken?
So let’s take a step back. What does pastured even mean?
“Pastured” is a farming method that refers to how the chickens are raised. Chickens raised on pasture aren’t caged, and they don’t spend the majority of their lives in barns with “access” to the outside – they are outside.
Open Book’s pastured chickens are raised in large mobile coops, where they have considerable space to roam the great outdoors, soak up sunshine, and consume fresh grass, worms, and bugs. They’re rotated to fresh grass daily, and kept safely in their coops at night (to protect them from predators). In addition to grass and other natural edibles, their pastured chickens are also offered grains. Open Book utilizes fresh ground, non-GMO grain amended with minerals and fish meal for a bit of extra protein.
Why is Pastured Chicken Better?
First of all, chickens are omnivores. Raising them on pasture ensures they consume the diversified diet of grains, grasses, and protein (worms and bugs!) that best suits their nutritional needs. Well fed chickens = tastier chickens. Research also suggests that pasture raised chickens and their eggs are more nutrient dense, with increased levels of Vitamin A and E, and a higher concentration of Omega-3s. If you crack open a pastured egg, you’ll get a vibrant, orange yolk that’s loaded with nutrients. Conventional eggs literally pale in comparison.
Pastured raised animals are also better for the environment. Rotating pasture means that the animals’ waste (manure) is spread over many acres, allowing it to naturally decompose (reducing run off waste pollution) and fertilize the land. Diversified farms in particular, like Open Book, employ a symbiotic relationship between the animals, the land, and the vegetables that further reduces their environmental impact.
Lastly, there’s an intangible third element here that I’m just going to call the “feel good factor”. Purchasing local is multi-faceted, and several elements come into play. I know that I’m buying and consuming high-quality, ethically produced food, and that I’m getting it from a farmer that I know and trust.
As a consumer, I feel good seeing happy, healthy, animals raised and slaughtered in humane conditions (most of Open Book’s chickens are slaughtered and processed on site at the farm). I know that my body will feel good consuming animals and vegetables that are as clean and nutrient dense as possible. As a small business owner, I feel good purchasing our food from another small business owner. And I feel good knowing that my purchase will directly benefit the farmers and their families.
Is Pastured Chicken More Expensive?
Yes…Open Book’s whole pastured chicken goes for $4.40/pound when sourced directly from the farm, and that’s about average (actually a bit cheaper) for most pastured whole chicken offerings. More than conventional grocery store offerings? Usually (I’ve seen some pricey “organic” offerings at our local stores!). Worth every penny? Abso-freaking-lutely.
But…We know that pastured birds are pricey, so we almost exclusively buy whole birds, and are mindful to use every last bit. About twice a month I roast a whole chicken for Sunday dinner. Our family of four typically eats about a third of the bird in one meal. The other two-thirds either go into the freezer for our protein stash, or get split between a soup or stew and a veggie-packed chicken salad. Finally, the carcass gets slow cooked with vegetable scraps into a mineral-rich, nutritious bone broth (I typically get about 4 quarts). Now that’s not bad for a $20 purchase.
MK kindly shared some tips on how to eat locally on a budget, and I’ve got a few of my own, so keep your eyes open for an article in a few weeks on locavoring without blowing the bank.
Open Book’s Pastured Turkeys
Open Book also raises pastured turkeys in conditions similar to those of the chickens. They spend their days in portable shelters with electric netting, hunting for bugs and enjoying the incomparable natural salad bar the pasture offers.
We walked right into the shelter on our farm visit and the turkeys greeted us with happy pecks and the occasional mass gobble. This guy above kept showing off his plumage – I think he was flirting a bit.
Open Book turkeys are offered seasonally, slaughtered humanely on site, and sold fresh. Turkeys need to be reserved in advance, and can be picked up directly at the farm or at several pick-up locations in the DC metro area. Click here to reserve your turkey!
Open Book’s Winter CSA
In addition to chickens, eggs, and turkeys (and beef and pork!), Open Book offers a Winter CSA (we signed up and you should too!), which includes a variety of seasonal produce, storage vegetables, eggs, and pastured meat.
We took a walk through MK’s winter high tunnels, where she’s currently growing an enviable collection of winter produce. We tasted the rainbow right from the ground, and I’m now eagerly awaiting my first share pick up next weekend.
Open Book’s produce is certified organic and grown using sustainable farming methods – AKA, it’s done the old fashioned way with hoeing, mulching, hand weeding, beneficial insects, compost, and natural soil amendments. I’m not a hardcore organic consumer (the label is shady at best and expensive at worst, for both consumer and farmer), but I am a huge fan of non-toxic, sustainable growing methods, and Open Book is the real deal.
More About Open Book Farm
Open Book offers on-farm purchase of their meat, eggs, and seasonal vegetables every Saturday from mid-May through November. They can also be found at the Petworth Community Market during the same months. Fresh (seasonally available) and frozen chickens can be purchased at The Common Market in Frederick, MD. You can view more purchasing options here.
How to Find a Source for Local Pastured Chicken and Eggs
The very best place to start is with your local farmer’s market. Chances are, at least one or more vendors will be offering locally raised, pastured chickens, eggs, and other products. Chat with the farmers, get a feel for their practices, and inquire about on farm pick-up if you’re close enough (on farm pick-ups are generally significantly cheaper than farmer’s market prices). Many farmers will also do a bulk delivery to certain areas if they’re further away from a city center.
Eat Wild. Mostly for economic reasons, many farmers don’t attend farmers markets. Another option is to search the directory on Eat Wild. It’s a treasure trove of information on pastured animals and locally sourced food in general and includes a state-by-state index of sources for pastured poultry, eggs, and pork, and grassfed beef and dairy.
Local Harvest. Similar to Eat Wild, Local Harvest is a directory site indexing sources for local farms, CSA’s, farmer’s markets, farm stands, pick-your-own-produce, coops, and much more. It’s an amazingly comprehensive resource!