Talk about a waste of time on top of a waste of money. Three senators recently sent a letter to the USDA leadership to protest that a paltry $65 million from an agribusiness support fund of $307 billion (i.e., the 2008-2012 U.S. Farm Bill) went to groups trying to supply tax-paying customers the healthy, safe, nutritious food they demanded from local American farmers. Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), John McCain (R-AZ) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack expressing their “serious misgivings” regarding the new USDA initiative, “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” (KYF2). They charged that the program’s measures were “completely detached from the realities of production agriculture” and accused it of prioritizing locovore markets “at the expense of rural communities with documented rural development needs.” Am I missing something here? According to the 2000 census, nearly 80% of the U.S. population (i.e., eaters) live in urban areas - wouldn’t it make sense to focus our resources there? Though farms may be located in rural areas, their markets are by and large where the people are - in cities. The major beneficiaries of government funding to date have not been farmers but big business and shareholders. Government payments that facilitate production below the market value help the company, not the producer.
Wendy and Dan Babcock raise Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World (AGW) laying hens, meat chickens and pigs outdoors on pasture at Serendipity Farms in Wolverine, Michigan.
The Babcocks own 40 acres of beautiful, gently rolling open pasture, along with woodland. Wendy and Dan started farming in 2013: “We began raising food for our own consumption,” Wendy explains. “But as word spread through farm visits, videos, pictures and posts about the connection we have with our animals and the passion we have for doing what we do, it grew into the business we have today.”
The Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW flock of laying hens and meat chickens at Serendipity Farms consists of about 100 layers of different breeds. Wendy and Dan hatch their own eggs or allow hens to hatch and raise their chicks. “We rotate all our animals in different pastures to stave off parasites and to give the land a resting period. It is very important to us that our land stay sustainable for our animals,” Wendy explains. “Our birds are busy out in our fields scratching, pecking and getting wonderful bugs and a variety of grasses, seeds and minerals from our earth.”
Since laying hens are monogastrics, not ruminants, they do not have the digestive microorganisms necessary to obtain all their nutrients from pasture alone. From a welfare and productivity perspective, it is vital for poultry farmers to supply a well-balanced ration as the main source of the animal’s nutritional requirements—even when they are out on pasture. Wendy and Dan decided on a feed ration that would not only satisfy the nutritional needs of their hens, but also address the demands of those looking for a healthier alternative to conventional eggs. Research shows that pasture-raised eggs contain three times as much vitamin E, seven times more beta-carotene, and twice the amount of omega 3 fatty acids as industrially produced eggs.
The most important animal husbandry practices at Serendipity Farms is providing their animals with access to pasture, fresh food and water, and clean, dry housing. The Babcocks’ commitment to pasture-based management, which they believe benefits both the pasture and the animals, made them a great fit for the AWA program. “When I was asked once to name one word to describe our farm, the word ‘choice’ came to mind,” Wendy explains. “Our animals always have a choice to be in their shelter or out on the open pastures year round. Even if there is a foot or more of snow, our chickens have a choice to be out on our pasture if they want to.”
Wendy and Dan decided to pursue Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW certification because of the integrity and transparency offered by the label in an increasingly misleading and confusing labeling landscape. “Words like ‘organic,’ ‘cage free’ and others have zero meaning,” Wendy says. “The Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW program is true to the animals and to farmers, and we hope the label continues to assure folks that it is truly about the welfare of the animal.” Wendy and Dan are also excited about additional certification benefits like labeling and marketing assistance: “Why wouldn’t folks want to be part of this program?” asks Wendy.
Long term, the Babcocks hope to earn a sustainable income from the farm, so that they can work together on the farm full time. They are also invested in continuing to learn and to educate others about sustainable, high-welfare livestock production.
Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW pasture-raised pork, chicken and eggs from Serendipity Farms are available at Jo Jo’s Natural Food Market, as well as direct from the Serendipity Farms store. Please call ahead on 231-357-4001 before visiting the farm store to ensure it is open! For more information, visit serendipity-farms.com or follow the farm on Facebook.