So you’ve heard about health benefits and the ecological benefits of pasture raised poultry, and now you want to put some on your plate. The big question is: where can I find pasture raised chicken near me?
How to Find Pasture Raised Poultry Near Me?
Of course, I’d like to recommend our own Certified Organic, 100% pasture raised chicken and turkey to anyone in the Northeastern United States. But we aren’t the only farm, and we aren’t trying to corner the chicken market.
So if I were not here but living somewhere outside Wrong Direction Farm’s delivery area, how would I find pastured poultry near me? Here’s how I’d recommend searching.
Start By Knowing What Is Pastured Poultry
Pasture raised as a concept stands on two pillars:
- Birds raised outdoors on green grass.
- Birds moved to fresh grass often to give them new grazing and to allow the grass to regrow.
Anyone producing pasture raised poultry will be able to talk convincingly about these two aspects. It sounds straightforward, and it should be.
But there are a lot of fakers out there as some of the bigger players in the chicken world have tried to “up market” their chicken. So the next task is more complicated: learning how to detect trickery.
Detect Obvious Fakers
Farmers created the concept of pasture raised chicken. Marketing executives work hard at passing off conventional chicken as something consumers think must be the same or similar. Knowing some of the wiggle words is a good starting point.
Free Range – Whenever you see this, you’ve found a product with a labeling problem. “Free Range” in the poultry industry means that chickens live in the typical high density confinement barns, but with the mostly-fictional possibility of going outside. I’ve seen these supposedly Free Range chicken houses. There are over 30,000 chickens inside and a tiny covered porch at the end of the building with enough room for twenty chickens to stand outside on bare concrete. Further reading: pasture raised vs free range.
Cage Free – This is a strange claim, because meat chickens have never been raised in cages in the United States (although egg laying chickens sadly have been). If you see an ad for Cage Free chicken breasts, know that it is an empty product claim.
All Natural – If there were an award for the most deceptive phrase in all of food marketing, this would win. A chicken could be raised with antibiotics and synthetic feed additives, be washed in bleach after slaughter, and still be labeled as “all natural” because there are no other “unnatural” ingredients added in the final packaging process.
Knowing these three hollow phrases will help weed out the obvious fakers. But then you should probably ask a few more questions.
Ask the Important Questions
If you’ve found local pasture raised chicken or turkey (I’ll get to the finding part next), ask a few key questions. This doesn’t need to be a series of trick questions. You don’t need to go into cross-examination mode. These questions will help you know more about what you are buying.
A real pasture raised chicken farmer loves to answer these questions, so they won’t be offended. Here are some suggestions:
- How Often Do You Move the Birds to Fresh Grass? The answer may vary a bit depending on setup and local conditions, but ideally the birds move every day or two. If the answer is longer than one week, it probably means the birds aren’t getting enough pasture. Frequent movement is important for their health and for the quality of their meat.
- What Happens in the Off Season? – In most places pastured poultry follows seasonal patterns. In the cold climates, farmers typically only raise chickens and turkeys during the warmer months. For extremely hot climates, farmers often skip the summer months. Many farmers freeze extra product during the pasture season to maintain a year-round supply. Find out what your farmer does.
- May I See Some Pictures? As a farmer, I have a zillion pictures of my chickens and turkeys, and the other pasture raised producers I know are the same way. Look at the pictures, look carefully. If the birds are standing on bare dirt, that’s a red flag. Now, we know that pictures aren’t perfect. Someone could take chickens out of a barn and pose them on grass, and that certainly happens. But if you look at pictures in the context of a discussion, it provides some good backup.
- May I Visit Your Farm? This won’t work for everyone, but the best guarantee is seeing a farm firsthand. This allows you know see exactly what’s going on, to get to know the farmer, and to develop a relationship. So much of the food marketing industry depends on deception and confusion, so as a wise consumer there is no substitute for direct knowledge.
Now, on to the search for a farmer providing pasture raised chicken in the area…
Finding Pasture Raised Poultry
Now with the background knowledge and the investigatory skills, let’s go about searching for pasture raised chicken in the nearby area.
In my opinion, the best starting point for a search of local pasture raised poultry farms is Get Real Chicken. Well-vetted and frequently updated, this is the best online directory specifically for pasture farms. I use the website from time to time and it has been encouraging to see the listings fill up. You can do a search for pasture raised chicken or turkey finders in the local zip code. You might be surprised at how many choices there are.
The second choice would be Eat Wild. Eat Wild started way back, always serving as a great resource for local listings of farmers committed to responsible farming practices. The only drawback is that due to the age of some of the listings, some of the farms listed there have gone out of business, so you might need to do some extra calling or emailing.
If you live somewhere with a vibrant farmers’ market, another option is going over to the market and meeting the farmers. If nobody there is selling pasture raised poultry, ask if they know a farmer who does. Most farmers have a good idea of what’s going on in the area, so they will probably be able to steer you to a local pasture raised chicken option.
A Worthy Quest
If this search seems like an ordeal, I suppose it is. The good news is that there are a lot of small farms raising chickens on pasture, a growing number. Chances are, there’s a farmer near you. And unlike buying a chicken from Costco or Whole Foods, your purchase makes a difference for that farmer.
Happy hunting. You’ll know you’ve found the genuine item when you’ve tasted it.
Dave Perozzi, Farmer at Wrong Direction Farm