Young farmers’ plight: State regulations hinder sustainable chicken farm’s sales

Two Clay County farmers are changing the way people think about livestock farming and in the process, they hope, changing the state’s regulations for the way small farmers sell their meat.

Ali Fratesi, 27, and Dustin Pinion, 28, raise chickens and pigs at Beaverdam Fresh Farms a few miles west of downtown West Point in Cedar Bluff. They also work with other small farmers to create buying clubs, an easy way to bring fresh and locally produced food to people around the region.

This year, agents from the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce brought to their attention a regulation that keeps them from selling their poultry in markets which has cut their sales almost in half.

Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s federal poultry standards, farmers can raise and slaughter up to 1,000 birds on their land and sell them in their state without mandatory inspections as long as they follow the safety guidelines.

Similarly, farmers can raise and slaughter up to 20,000 birds on their land and sell them in their state without mandatory inspections if they have a state-certified on-site processing facility.

The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce has an additional regulation requiring an inspector to be present during the slaughter of meat before the meat can be sold in a market (or anywhere that is not the farm the meat was raised and slaughtered on).

The demand for Beaverdam Fresh Farms chicken became so great that the two have had to begin raising money to build a state-approved slaughtering facility on their farm. The farm’s customers raised over $35,000 through Kickstarter to help with the facility, which will cost significantly more.

Now the customers have petitioned the Department of Agriculture and Commerce to rethink its poultry regulations so Pinon and Fratesi can continue to deliver their poultry and expand their buying clubs.

The customers collected more than 2,000 signatures in a week, and with the help of their attorney and the Farm to Consumer Defense Fund, a petition has been placed before the MDAC.

“Our biggest product was meat chickens, but now it’s pork,” Fratesi said. “Our chicken was half of our sales. It’s hurt us pretty bad.”

The farm is now selling about 10 percent of the amount of chicken they would normally sell in a season. The drop is because of their inability to deliver the chicken through their buying clubs.

“We’re 30 minutes from our closest market and two-and-a-half hours from our largest,” Pinion said. “And it’s not easy to get out here to the farm.”

A few customers still drive to the farm for their chicken but the paddocks that used to house meat chickens are now empty. The two are now relying on their eggs and pork to keep the buying club going until they get some resolution from the Department of Agriculture.

Read more of this Daily Journal article by JB Clark by clicking here.

Photo: Thomas Wells