Eaters of white meat can feast on avian “field workers” as part of an ongoing livestock program at the Organic Farm School.
The educational organization located near Clinton is offering its stock of broilers for people to purchase for a chicken dinner. The birds are pasture-raised, moved daily and have been following a diet free of any soy or corn.
The chickens, which are of the Freedom Ranger breed, have also been essential in helping to maintain the farm school. They earn their keep by providing fertilizer and pest control, and are lovingly referred to as “field workers.”
In addition, the fowl bring an educational component to the table for students of the farm school.
“It’s a way for us to be really intentional with them and their lives,” said Shannon Waller, a student. “We nurture them from when they’re babies and have special houses for them at each stage and monitor their food intake.”
And when the birds have reached maturity, they get eaten by the students.
As part of their education, the student farmers learn how to dress chickens. Judith Feldman, the executive director of the Organic Farm School, said it’s crucial all farmers learn this skill. Even if they plan to strictly have egg-laying chickens, in the event that one dies, it’s a good idea to have a back-up plan.
“It’s an important part of becoming a farmer — just knowing if you’re going to use these animals to benefit your soil and your crops, you should know how to treat their death with dignity, and use it,” she said.
The students harvest the chickens on the day they are scheduled to be picked up by customers.
“They have a whole lot of really wonderful days and one really bad one,” Feldman said of the chickens. “But it’s done as quickly and as ethically and as painlessly, for both them and for the students.”
Ethan Zierke, another student, agreed.
“It’s really an enlightening and awakening moment for a lot of us who eat meat on a regular basis,” he said.
The next batch of birds will be ready for the dinner plate in about five to six weeks. Customers can make reservations online at organicfarmschool.org/chicken. A $16.50 deposit on the chicken must be made in advance. The price is $5.50 per pound, and the birds range in size from five to seven pounds. The full price will be paid upon pick-up.
Additionally, customers can buy hearts, gizzards, livers or feet from the chickens.
Feldman estimated that there will be about 140 birds available for purchase. Since the students do all the harvesting, the customer just has to take the meat home.
When cooking, Zierke said simpler recipes are best, especially for this breed of bird.
“With chicken, people tend to want to add tons of spices and fat,” he said. “These chickens come with so much flavor on their own that a simple roast chicken is super good.”
The Organic Farm School is following regenerative practices.
“This farm still needs a lot of work to become truly regenerative and resilient in the way we want it to be,” Feldman said. “It gets better every year and a big part of that is having livestock on the farm because they do all of that nutrient cycling for us.”
She added that theirs is not the only livestock program on Whidbey. Kevin Dunham raises turkeys for Thanksgiving dinners. Cory Fakkema butchers and sells cattle, lambs and pigs. Mark and Melissa Stewart also sell chickens and turkeys.