Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Farm Fresh Eggs and Chicken Coming to the Table in Missouri

Dominique Chickens - photo by Mark A. Fields, Clark, Missouri

What is the best way to promote small farm poultry flocks and save heirloom poultry breeds from extinction? A dedicated group of poultry producers in East Central, Missouri thinks creating a broader market for the birds is the key.

The group, consisting of Kelly and Phyllis Klober, Paul and Kelly Harter, Mark and Michelle Wagstaff, and Nathan and Sarah Price, recently received a grant of almost $6,000 through the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) Program. The goal of the grant is to explore new ways to market their poultry through the River Hills Purebred Poultry Marketing Alliance Project.

The River Hills Alliance growers specialize in raising heirloom poultry -- traditional and beautiful birds such as Orpingtons and Dominiques that used to be common on family farms but which now are rare and endangered. The birds are hardy and well adapted to the traditional and natural production methods these small farmers prefer.

The Alliance growers started out trying to preserve and promote heirloom poultry breeds by marketing the birds and surplus eggs through a local farmers’ market and to friends and neighbors. Now, the number of heirloom birds is increasing and the group hopes to take their poultry breed preservation work into the next era by creating a web site, publishing a directory of breeds and their availability, and creating public interest through outreach at a variety of events such as The Fall Poultry Fest on Sept.13, 2008.

“Our plan is to work through an alliance of small-scale producers of a number of breeds to form a plan of work to guide movement beyond local markets,” says Kelly Klober. In addition to their marketing and promotion efforts, the group will use their grant to explore shipping methods for eggs, chicks, and birds and how to turn their heirloom poultry table eggs into a distinct premium product tied to their region.

The River Hills Growers want their marketing plan to help heirloom poultry breeders nationwide develop markets that will sustain the birds and the farmers who raise them.

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