Author Archives: Sam Anderson

The New MPPU: It’s Real!

Yeah, yeah, so this blog has been stuck on chickens lately. I promise to move on in the next post, but first, exciting news: our second mobile poultry processing unit is almost done! The final details are being worked out right now. To prove it really does exist, here are some pictures I took when I visited the unit during construction late last year. The unit has come a long way from what you see in these pictures, but this should give you an idea of what we’re working with:

It’s pretty big.

Here’s where the birds are loaded in.

This is the fancy new plucker, complete with a kickout door. This means that when the birds are done, they automatically shoot into the next room. Pretty spiff, right?

Here’s the new scalder. If you’re familiar with the old scalder, you’ll be glad to know that this one heats the water up less than half the time. It also requires less water. And it’s not as small as it looks here.
Stay tuned – before too long it should be arriving in Massachusetts! In the meantime, we’ll take a hiatus from chicken-oriented posts.

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Chicken Processing Is All the Rage

Thanks to CISA for including us in their newsletter! If you have more questions about chicken processing or are interested in renting the MPPU, email Sam (sanderson@comteam.org).
The part about the MPPU is below, and you can read the whole article here: http://www.buylocalfood.org/~buylocal/page.php?id=459
A (local) chicken in every pot
By Molly Sauvain, CISA Intern
Published in the December 2010 CISA Enewsletter
Lots of people want to eat locally grown food—and, luckily for us, more and more skilled people are interested in growing it for us—but sometimes there’s no good road between the farm and the table. Meat is a good example. Most eaters don’t want to receive a live, fully-feathered chicken or turkey, so selling these birds for meat requires slaughter and meat processing facilities. Governed by a complex array of federal and state regulations, these facilities are limited in Massachusetts and throughout the region. Luckily, the number of options is growing. Here, we introduce you to several local poultry farmers and explain the choices they’ve made about poultry slaughter and processing.
Ten years ago, the New England Small Farm Institute in Belchertown began developing a mobile poultry slaughterhouse (known as the MPPU, for Mobile Poultry Processing Unit). NESFI director Judy Gillan and Jennifer Hashley, Director of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project and poultry grower, spent years developing a prototype unit and gaining approval from multiple state, federal, and local agencies (through “home rule,” Massachusetts grants an unusual degree of oversight to local Boards of Health, which adds a layer of complication to mobile facilities). Although still considered a pilot project, the MPPU was used by 3 farmers during 2010, its 3rd year of full operation.
A second option is provided by a new USDA-inspected slaughterhouse, Westminster Meats, which opened in Vermont in late July 2010. USDA inspection allows farmers to sell meat across state lines and to sell it for resale, for example to a retailer. The only other USDA-inspected poultry slaughter facility in New England is privately owned and not open to the public.
Slaughterhouses provide a service needed by farmers. The kind of service the farm needs may vary depending on farm size, farm labor options, market outlets, and more. In the last two years, three new regional options for slaughter and meat processing have been created: the MPPU, Westminster Meats, and Adams Farm in Athol, which provides USDA inspection for livestock but not poultry. All three facilities find it challenging to cover all their costs and turn a profit. Yet farmers point out that these businesses, though valuable, don’t provide all of the services needed by all farm businesses.
Replacing some of the current global trade in food with more food grown closer to home requires creating the services, like slaughterhouses, that allow for local and regional processing and distribution, providing an infrastructure for local food. That infrastructure needs to be diverse, in order to serve the needs of varied farm businesses, but also able to cover its costs and turn a profit. There’s a role for consumers here: as demand rises, farmers can support a wider variety of infrastructure businesses.
“We’re now building a second-generation MPPU,” says Jennifer Hashley of NESFP. “Adding a second unit will alleviate some of the logistical and transportation challenges related to using one unit across the whole state.” As some of the businesses that have gotten started by using the MPPU grow, they may want to consider fixed-location or on-farm slaughter facilities, in order to avoid the scheduling and transportation requirements of the MPPU and to expand operations year-round. “It would be wonderful if the MPPU served the needs of start-up and small-scale businesses, and maturing businesses could move on to another option. But we don’t know if we can use the lessons learned from the MPPU to provide clear blueprints to farmers who want to build their own slaughter facilities. The regulatory agencies aren’t currently providing clear guidance to make this transition cost-effective,” says Hashley.
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 are happy. 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.”
Full article: http://www.buylocalfood.org/~buylocal/page.php?id=459

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The Beef Cattle School in Pictures

Our final livestock field school of the year was the Beef Cattle School, and we finished strong, with over 40 participants and a big-name speaker, Dr. Robert Smith, who came all the way from Oklahoma. So, on to the pictures:

Like most of our livestock schools, there was a heavy emphasis on hands-on learning. In the morning, participants split into groups and moved between three stations. Here we see Katlyn Tice, resident cattle whiz at the vet school, showing a group what to look for in a heifer.

At another station, Dr. Smith showed us how to work with a cow in the chute.

And at the third station, Kevin Woolam from Central Connecticut Co-op Feeds talked about nutrition and feed options.

After lunch, the vet school’s Scott Brundage walked us through the joys of calving.

Did I mention it was a hands-on workshop?

That wraps it up for this year’s livestock schools … but we have big plans for next year, so stay tuned! If you have any questions, suggestions, or other thoughts about our livestock events – and especially if you are considering raising some livestock of your own or are just getting started – send me (Sam) an email at sanderson@comteam.org. Also, if you’re one of those hip tech-savvy types, you can watch me flounder about in the Twittersphere at https://twitter.com/LetThemEatGrass. Thanks for checking in, and maybe we’ll see you next year!

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The Sheep School in Pictures

We had our Sheep School last month with solid turnout and excellent speakers – you know, the norm. Here are some of the highlights:

We had something new this year: Betty Levin brought her collies to show us how to use sheepdogs.

The vet school’s sheep weren’t too cooperative at first, which made the dogs’ work that much more impressive.

Back in the barn, Rosario Delgado-Lecaroz (pictured) and Scott Brundage demonstrated FAMACHA (if you own sheep or goats, look it up!), a parasite control practice, and let participants try their hand.

We also passed around the hoof trimmers for some hands-on practice.

New Entry Director Jennifer Hashley got in on the action, too.
Next up: the Beef Cattle School, our final livestock school of the year. It’s on Saturday, Oct. 23, at the vet school in North Grafton (click here for more details and to register). Don’t wait – Tuesday the 19th is your last day to register!

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Beth and Takashi – Living the Dream!

Beth Suedmeyer and Takashi Tada, recent graduates of New Entry’s Farm Business Planning course, get some recognition for their efforts in Ayer, thanks to the Green Ayer News blog:

Many of us have probably daydreamed at one time or another, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a farm of my own? Grow the produce I want to eat. Enjoy the great outdoors and fruits of my own labor?” But where to begin? And how to make sure that dream can be carried out practically?
Ayer residents Beth Suedmeyer and Takashi Tada have made their desire to farm a reality, thanks to the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project (NESFP), a program sponsored by Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and Community Teamwork Inc. of Lowell.
The husband-and-wife team work a quarter-acre that they’ve named Gourd & Plenty Farm at one of NESFP’s plots of land in Dracut. Their produce — several varieties of heirloom tomatoes, a rainbow of peppers, eggplants, French heirloom scalloped squash, and fresh basil, among many others — is now for sale at Ayer’s Farmer’s Market on Saturdays in Depot Square.

You can read the rest of the story here: http://greenayernews.blogspot.com/2010/09/local-couples-season-of-learning-pays.html

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Poultry processing has a new home: on the road

There is a lot of squawking going on lately about local meat production. While access to fresh local produce is now available to many folks in Massachusetts, you will probably find it much more difficult to buy a pound of locally-produced and humanely-raised chicken breast.
The problem is not a lack of animals. People in every part of the state, even urban apartment dwellers, are raising chickens in their backyards and gardens and even porches. But what if you want to sell them? “There are no easy solutions,” says Jennifer Hashley, director of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project and co-owner of Pete and Jen’s Backyard Birds. “At least not legal ones.”
Small-scale meat producers have it rough in most parts of the country, and especially in Massachusetts. In order for a small farmer to properly market their product, he or she needs to be able to establish a strong brand for their product that is closely tied to its taste, quality and the standards of the farmer, such as humane animal treatment. However, in order to be tied to their brand, farmers need to have control over their product. So naturally, they would like to be responsible for the processing of the meat from their animals, but both federal and state regulations prohibit the sale of meat that is not processed in a USDA-approved facility. These facilities exist, but they are very large commercial establishments. Farmers who bring their livestock there to be processed have no say in how they will be treated and hope the controls are in place to receive the meat that came from their own animals.
This leaves many market farmers in a lurch. They would like to sell their meat, but they cannot sell it if they process it themselves, and it loses its intrinsic value if it goes through an anonymous facility. Many simply do their own processing anyway, sell their product to friends and neighbors, and usually do so without consequence. However, this is a perennially risky endeavor, both for the sake of the farmer and for the safety of the consumer, who could be eating a product that was processed without care or sanitation befitting of strict USDA standards. While the regulations can be a major hassle, Hashley comments that “they are there for a reason.”
Fortunately for poultry producers, the Federal USDA FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Service, the agency responsible for regulating meat and poultry sales) has a series of Producer-Processor Exemptions that provide a crucial avenue for the legal slaughter and processing of poultry by small farmers on their property. According to the exemption, you can legally process your own birds that you have raised on your farm provided that the facility and process you use meets all USDA and Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) sanitary guidelines for poultry establishments. This still puts farmers in a tight spot, though, because creating a facility on a small farm that meets those stringent guidelines is economically prohibitive.
And this is where the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project comes in. Teaming up with the New England Small Farm Institute in Belchertown, MA, New Entry has developed, financed, and built a mobile poultry processing unit (MPPU) and associated farmer training programs as part of a statewide pilot poultry program. The MPPU is a state-approved “slaughterhouse on wheels” that can be hitched to a vehicle and moved throughout the state to licensed farms. It contains all the equipment necessary for the processing of chickens while the farmer provides the water, electricity, labor, packing and labeling materials, and cold storage.
However, the MPPU is not an on-demand service. The farmers do the work themselves, and they must also go through an extensive training to be licensed to use the unit, including securing local board of health approvals and applying for a state slaughter license, which can be costly in terms of time and money. Still, short of investing in an on-farm licensed facility, the MPPU remains the only completely legal way for small farmers to process and sell poultry in the state of Massachusetts while retaining their ability to market a high-quality local product. Hashley says that thus far the pilot project has resulted in 8 poultry license-holders and in 2010, the MPPU has three consistent users. New Entry and the New England Small Farm Institute are working hard to bring more farmers on board. It is a matter of time before the state clamps down on small producers who are not in compliance with direct poultry sales. In the mean time, those three users are benefiting substantially from the Mobile Poultry Processing Unit. For a story on Pete Solis of Mockingbird Farm, a new user of the MPPU in 2010, see the feature in the July 31, 2010 edition of the Springfield Republican. http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2010/07/mobile_poultry_processing_unit.html
Also keep an eye out in the coming weeks for a story on Drew Locke’s work with the MPPU and how he successfully launched his poultry business in Truro with New Entry’s help.
-Jeff Hake

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AP Article About New Entry!

An AP reporter and photographer came by the farms recently to do a story on New Entry. Well, the story came out this morning, and it has already been picked up by almost 250 news outlets!
Here it is (with a link to the original press release):

(AP photo … of our own Mr. Kim!)
Massachusetts program turns refugees into farmers
By RUSSELL CONTRERAS (AP)
DRACUT, Mass. — The bullet wounds show on Rechhat Proum’s back when he bends down to pull lemon grass or water spinach on his farm in peaceful northern Massachusetts. When the 56-year-old Cambodian refugee lifts a pumpkin, the movement of his shirt reveals deep stab wounds on his stomach.
Nearby, Bessie and Samuel Tsimba tend African maize. The Zimbabwean immigrants deflect questions about the country’s violence and instead direct attention to the freshness of their cucumbers. “They’ll taste better than what you’ll get at most supermarkets,” promises Bessie, 43.
Proum and the Tsimbas got their start through a program that has quietly trained about 150 refugees of war, famine and genocide in modern farming to help them integrate into American life. On farms along the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border, the refugees have slowly replaced aging farmers and put back into use land that has been idle for years, the program’s organizers said.
They supply the region’s farmers markets and ethnic stores with beets, cabbage, egg plant, Asian spices and other produce.
“Some were farmers. Some come from a family of farmers,” said Jennifer Hashley, project director of the 12-year-old New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. “What we do is provide them with the means to return to agriculture by figuring out financial resources and developing a production plan.”
The program was launched in 1998 largely with the help of John Ogonowski, the pilot on American Airlines flight 11 to Los Angeles that crashed into the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Ogonowski served as the program’s first mentor farmer and let Cambodian and Hmong refugees use his land to get started.
Proum credited Ogonowski for introducing him to modern irrigation techniques and said Ogonowski wouldn’t accept money from him, only fresh vegetables.
After Sept. 11, Ogonowski’s widow, Peggy, helped create a farm trust as a memorial to her husband. Meanwhile, Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science’s Center for Agriculture, Food and Environment secured $500,000 in grants to expand the program and train more farmers, Hashley said.
Under the program, refugees take a six-week course at Tufts on agriculture and commercial farming. Would-be farmers then enter a three-year transition program in which they farm small plots, typically earning $5,000 to $10,000 a year to help supplement their non-farm incomes.
Bessie Tsimba, of Tyngsboro, a second-year trainee with her husband, said working her plot has introduced her to the basics of farming and allowed her to pick up techniques from other refugees. “You hear all sorts of languages when you’re out here,” said Tsimba, while cutting weeds with a machete. “We pick up new ideas from each other.”
The apprentice farmers also work to find steady, new markets to sell their produce.
“People call me up for orders and I can barely keep up,” said Tsimba, who sells to African churches in northern Massachusetts.
After three years, graduates lease a new plot from the trust set up by Peggy Ogonowski or New Entry helps them find other land.
Visoth Kim, 64, of Lawrence, one of the program’s original farmers, has built a steady business on a couple of acres he leases. A former teacher and survivor of the Khmer Rouge, a regime that slaughtered more 20 percent of the Cambodian population in the 1970s, Kim sells sweet potatoes, redroot pigweed and tomatoes to Boston-based Tropical Foods and stores in Maine.
“I wake up at 4 every morning and pay close attention to everything I grow,” Kim said. “They like what I give them.”
Lori Deliso, marketing manager for the Lexington Farmers Market in Lexington, Mass., said refugee farmers have introduced new foods to her market that proved popular, even if customers were a little apprehensive at first about buying “exotic” vegetables.
“They’ve been great to work with and they always bring different kinds of ethnic foods,” Deliso said. “They offer wonderful suggestions on recipes and are quick to show us how good everything tastes.”
The program has developed a reputation for teaching about locally grown food and is now attracting American-born would-be farmers, Hashley said. In three years, it has grown from 15 trainees a year to 30 — with more than half American-born.
Amanda Munsie, 34, of Wilmington, said she came from a family of Ohio farmers and wanted to get involved in the locally grown food movement. African and Asian refugees in the New Entry program introduced her to new foods.
“They farm so differently than the way we did back in Ohio,” said Munsie, a trainee who farms next to the Tsimbas. “Now, I want to grow some of (their) vegetables because they looked so colorful and tasty to eat.”
Proum, who recently lost his full-time job at a technology company, said farming his 3-acre lot gives him solace and keeps him busy. If he is idle, his mind drifts to painful memories of the Cambodian-Vietnamese war or losing his friend Ogonowski on Sept. 11, he said.
“I don’t like to think about all of that,” Proum said while looking over his Chinese long beans. “I want to think about these.”
link: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5j1AFsMy63kVQU_Hs135w16PeMtiAD9H4K8SO2
Here’s a link to NPR’s copy, including another great picture of Ly and Mr. Kim: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128711242

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Beef Workshop Videos Online


Thanks to the efforts of video producer extraordinaire John Dorman and the camera work of Ronit Ridberg, last fall’s Beef Workshop is online in its entirety!
Part 1
http://www.dogooder.tv/Orgs/NESFP/default.aspx?MovieID=3814
Part 2
http://www.dogooder.tv/Orgs/NESFP/default.aspx?MovieID=3813
Part 3
http://www.dogooder.tv/Orgs/NESFP/default.aspx?MovieID=3811
Part 4
http://www.dogooder.tv/Orgs/NESFP/default.aspx?MovieID=3810
Part 5
http://www.dogooder.tv/Orgs/NESFP/default.aspx?MovieID=3809
Part 6
http://www.dogooder.tv/Orgs/NESFP/default.aspx?MovieID=3808
Part 7
http://www.dogooder.tv/Orgs/NESFP/default.aspx?MovieID=3807
Part 8
http://www.dogooder.tv/Orgs/NESFP/default.aspx?MovieID=3801
Part 9
http://www.dogooder.tv/Orgs/NESFP/default.aspx?MovieID=3793
This year’s Beef Cattle School will be held on October 23. You can learn more and register for the workshop here: http://nesfp.nutrition.tufts.edu/resources/beefschool.html

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Backyard Poultry Workshop Day

About 40 people showed at Pete & Jen’s Backyard Birds in Concord as our own Jennifer Hashley played host to a poultry field school as part of the NOFA/Mass Statewide Backyard Poultry Workshop Day. Participants saw firsthand what a successful pasture-raised poultry business looks like in New England, checking out the broiler and layer operations while Pete and Jen revealed their tricks of the trade. The mobile poultry processing unit was there, too, and participants even got to witness some (unplanned) on-site MPPU repairs!

Here we are, just moments before our Livestock Field School weather karma finally caught up with us. Luckily, the rain didn’t last long, and we were able to all fit under a roof to learn about feed and equipment selection.

These chicks were old enough to get out into the fresh air – and lucky enough to be born on a farm where they will be raised on pasture.

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New farmer Deena Sao

Deena Sao is a student of nursing and education, a Born-Again Christian, and a homeschooler of her four kids. And now, she’s a farmer with the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. She discovered the NESFP through a simple internet search and “realized how lucky [she] was” when she discovered that the NESFP office was mere blocks from her Lowell home.
Deena enrolled in and completed the Farm Business Course last fall (“a great experience”) due to “several pieces of the puzzle…all coming together.” Because she is passionate about public health and the health and education of her kids, but was also feeling the financial squeeze, she decided to give farming a try.
She considers it a good way to provide for her family in a number of ways. “I fantasize about being wealthy someday” she says, and not having to go out to the farm “even when I’m feeling under the weather.” But still, she is confident that “it will always be part of my life as a passion and as a skill I can pass on to my kids”.
In addition to all the rest of Deena’s busy life, she has managed to post regularly on her blog (first-time-farmer.blogspot.com/2010/07/war-on-weeds.html) since 2005. Recently, it has become her “farm journal”, which documents the peace and the mayhem of her new farming life. She discusses the joy of getting her kids outside with their hands in the dirt, the trials and errors of weeding beets and growing tomatoes from seed, and the recent turkey invasion at Smith Farm, which her quarter-acre has so far managed to escape aside from a few nibbles. The blog is entertaining and honest, and also a clear window into the life of one of our newest New Entry farmers. Check it out when you get a chance, and look forward to Deena’s hard-won produce in your upcoming CSA shares!
-Jeff Hake

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