By Molly Sauvain, CISA Intern
Published in CISA’s December 2010 Enewsletter.
Click here for more content regarding Mockingbird Farm.
What Pete Solis describes as “personality traits” translate nicely into the perks of the farming profession. He loves to work with good people, eat good food, and see progress at the end of the day. Mockingbird Farm may only be two years old, but it has a reputation for producing meat that tastes like the sweet grass and sunshine the animal grew up on. Pete raises chickens – Kosher Kings and Freedom Rangers, “because nobody else was doing it,” Hampshire pigs because, “they’re delicious. It’s hard to get good quality pork and I wanted to raise them the right way,” and a few Belted Galloway cows, “because I had pasture, and I like cows!” Walking around the farm it is abundantly clear that these animals arehappy. You can see it in the way the pigs snuff around in the mud, trotting up to say hello as we approach their pen. You can hear it in the contented chirps and gobbles of turkeys roaming around together in the meadow. The chickens are pecking about in pasture pens, which allow them to graze under protection from hawks and other predators.
Since he started his farm, Pete has seen a tremendous surge in the interest and demand for local meat. His customers want to be consumers in a new way, which includes forming relationships with those who grow their food. Pete is at the Northampton Tuesday Farmers’ Market each week, and is excited to see meat CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture farms) popping up in the Valley.
Pete knows that it can be difficult not just financially but psychologically to pay $6 a pound for chicken when it costs much less at the grocery store. “The big poultry companies do a really good job of cutting every conceivable cost.” Despite this, Pete has no lack of customers for his free-range birds. His customers are concerned about how meat animals in this country are treated and want to support an alternative. If not for that, he concludes, “none of this would be possible.” After all, the price he charges isn’t arbitrary or meant to take advantage of well-off customers. Instead, it reflects exactly the amount of money that goes into raising the birds. Pete tells me that his main expense is organic feed.
Mockingbird Farm is currently the only farm in Western Mass that uses the MPPU. A farmer must be licensed to use the MPPU to slaughter their birds, a process that involves several days of trainings on the rules and regulations and site visits from multiple department and boards of health. Renting the unit costs $200. Pete relies on an enthusiastic bunch of friends, interested strangers and customers, who volunteer their time on processing day. “It’s cool – a neat experience. The volunteers have a good time and we have the hands we need to process the birds,” he says. Pete chooses to use the MPPU because it allows him to process on-site, avoiding the stress of travel for the birds. “It’s better for the animal and results in better tasting meat,” he explains. He has enough birds that it makes financial sense as well. “You need to process at least 150 birds to make it worthwhile. It averages about $2 per bird using the MPPU, which is a better price even with the licensing fees for me because it costs $5 a bird at the Vermont facilities, plus transportation.”
The bottom line? The MPPU allows Pete to provide his customers with locally-grown meat that has not been stressed by travel before slaughter. As we walk around the farm, Pete with his toddler son on his back and me with my camera out in an attempt to capture the charm of the place, it’s hard not to wish all animals were raised this way. So despite the challenges, there is excitement. Local meat, says Pete, predicting what’s to come, “has a great and necessary future here in the Valley.”