Ruffled Feathers Farm lives on!

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Dearest friends and supporters:

We are so grateful for your kind words and support since we announced the closing of Ruffled Feathers Farm. The community that the farm built around us has been such a source of encouragement and helped us to feel pride in what we accomplished, rather than dwell on our loss. Thank you for that.

Shortly after announcing our decision, we were approached by a family who have been working to start a farm of their own. Julia and Mitch Wilcox, of Keystone Heights in Clay County, have been keeping chickens, pigs and goats on their property there. Along with their family, they had big dreams of expanding their operations, improving their pastures, and offering quality farm products to our community. When they found out that our chickens needed a new home, it was a perfect fit. We’re so excited to see Ruffled Feathers Farm live on with them! We will work to support Julia and Mitch as they begin to tend their new flock and learn the ropes of running a non-GMO, pasture based small farm. Please join us as we wish them the best in this new endeavor. They’ll be delivering their first batch of eggs to Native Sun Natural Foods next week!

You can continue to reach the farm at ruffledfeathersfarmfl@gmail.com, through the contact page here, and on Facebook at Ruffled Feathers Farm.

Please keep in touch with Nick and Katie at provowthree@gmail.com.

Thanks again for your love and support over the last three years. It has been a joyful and life-changing ride, and we’re so glad for the experience and relationships it gave us. Keep in touch.

With love and gratitude,

Katie and Nick Provow

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Edible Northeast Florida Interview

I am so honored to have been featured in a series of interviews coming out this Spring from Edible Northeast Florida, and so grateful for the time it gave me to stop and reflect on the last few years. Click on the link above to find more great interviews, and the rest of the fantastic work these folks are doing!

 

“Katie Provow on Keeping Up With 300 Hens”

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Empowered by the hands-on experience of turning a live chicken into the evening meal, Katie and her husband Nick shifted course to start their own poultry business. It’s been on-the-job training ever since. While she continues to find satisfaction and joy with this daily connection to the food they produce and eat, life on the farm has its uncertainties – none more challenging than securing a piece of land to call their own.

 

Ruffled Feathers is unique in the area in that it is focused on raising chickens and turkeys. How did you come to open a poultry farm in this area?

In 2010, we bought our first home in west St Augustine, with a big yard and nice neighbors. We planted a big garden in the front yard, and got a few laying hens. I was working with Communities in Schools of St. Johns County on a grant-funded school garden projects, and participated in the Master Gardener program. My husband Nick, having been laid off from a disenchanting environmental consulting job, was working odd jobs. We weren’t sure what we really wanted to do with ourselves. Then our friend Missy raised a few broiler chickens, and invited me to help her harvest the last few. With a repurposed traffic cone and a blood-spattered copy of The Encyclopedia of Country Living, we turned a live chicken, which Missy had raised with care, into the night’s meal. It was an empowering experience. Before long Nick and I were raising broiler chickens for ourselves. We began to seek out volunteer and work opportunities on small farms, and we went on to raise a few pigs with Missy in her neighbor’s backyard (coincidentally, the yard where Dog Day Gardens is now located!). We don’t come from farming, and grew up with pretty typical American diets, but we found joy in this new connection to our food. When the opportunity came to start our own operation raising chickens for KYV Farm’s CSA, we jumped in.

What’s your background? How did you learn about poultry farming?

I grew up in Charlotte, NC, far from my family’s tobacco farming past. I moved to St. Augustine after meeting Nick, and finished my business degree at Flagler College. As I spent my twenties trying to follow a “conventional” career path, I found I felt my best when I was doing something either outside or in my kitchen, and I gobbled up all of the food, gardening and chicken information the internet could offer. The state extension services are such an amazing source of information, as are organizations like the National Young Farmers Coalition and The Greenhorns. I learn a lot from other farmers on Instagram, and from the fantastic Farmer to Farmer podcast. But as with most things, we’ve learned about poultry farming by just doing it. And by watching and asking questions of other farmers. We’ve had great teachers in Francisco and Vivian from KYV Farm, and in Dave and Ginger Shields of Pastured Life Farm.

What has your experience been like as part of local farmers markets and running a CSA?

We were extremely lucky for the opportunity to work with KYV Farm when we started, because they had locked down some of the best CSA members in the area with their beautiful and fresh organic produce. These customers were eager to support us from the start, enabling our transition to Non-GMO feeds by committing to, and paying for, 6 months of eggs up front. They also jumped on board with our broiler chicken CSA. The term CSA gets tossed around a lot, but it was key to our training to work with one that was the real deal. Honesty and transparency in farming is difficult to achieve in a market that offers endless selection and availability – having folks willing to commit to us as beginning farmers gave us the confidence to try. Our members have experienced loss with us…that’s a unique relationship.

As for farmers’ markets, we’ve had mixed emotions. Our productive capacity has fluctuated in our first three years, and farmers markets can be costly if you don’t have a lot of product to sell. Combined with competition from resellers at our chosen markets, it was a frustrating experience. When we got the opportunity to work with Native Sun Natural Foods, it was easy to prioritize deliveries to their stores instead. This is not to say that I don’t love and appreciate farmers markets – I’ve met so many wonderful people, and I’m excited to see more markets, like RAM, focusing on local producers and helping customers navigate the complicated effort to eat clean fresh foods. Markets will be important to our farm’s future.

What’s the most challenging part of farming small in Northeast Florida?

I think that the challenges to farming small here are the same as they are anywhere. Secure land tenure, weather, access to capital, fatigue…you take a big risk asking a farmer to list their problems! Access to quality chicken feed has probably been our biggest challenge that is somewhat unique to this area. We are committed to using fresh, non-GMO, pesticide-free feeds, and when we started they simply weren’t available here. Florida is not a grain producing state in general, and non-GMO chicken feed was unheard of. We had the great fortune of finding Pastured Life Farm, who were working to fill a truck to bring these feeds down from Pennsylvania each month. They now bring down three trucks each month, making our commitment possible and affordable. The quality of the feed we use is directly linked to the quality of the food we produce, and we’re happy to pay twice the price of conventional every time we open a feed sack.

We talk a lot about seasonal ingredients and consumers, chefs, restaurants, artisans and farms working together as a “food system.” What are some of the hurdles you face in trying to get your product to market?

Without secure land tenure, we chose early on to limit our capital and infrastructure investments to what we can take with us when we move, and that has limited our productive capacity. The regulatory environment is not exactly accommodating to the small poultry farmer…those interested in keeping it that way have deep pockets. So, we’ve had a lot to learn about how to safely and legally market our products within these constraints. That has meant no marketing to restaurants. If we can get to a property of our own, that will be the next big phase for us. The seasonality of poultry farming is another consideration. Managing a productive flock of 300+ laying hens on pasture takes not only the daily upkeep but a great deal of long term planning to have eggs year-round, season after season. And while we could theoretically raise broiler chickens and turkeys year round, we’ve chosen to grow those only seasonally. We’ve had to educate our customers accordingly.

What plans do you have for the future? — and what are your biggest biggest challenges?

Ruffled Feathers Farm has a very uncertain future at the moment. The land we have leased for the last three years will become unavailable to us in a few short months. We’ve been working for over a year to find suitable property nearby, with the hope that once we crossed the three year mark, we would be well qualified enough to secure financing. We’re working on a deal right now, and the next few weeks will decide our fate. If we can get to our own farm, we’re ready to hit the ground running. We’ll continue our poultry operations, with a big push next season to get our broiler chickens into restaurants – we’re really excited to see what a talented chef could do with our slow-grown “label-rouge” style bird. We also dream of diversifying the farm to include other animals and gardens, though the land will determine what we pursue, and when. If we can’t secure financing for this deal, we’ll be closing up shop. We’ll do so with great sadness, but after searching for other lease arrangements, we’ve decided that we can only proceed with the long term security that land ownership will afford us. To continue to sacrifice our bodies and spirits, and to go into debt doing it, is not sustainable. We know that there will be other ways to connect to our local food system, and the education we’ve gotten over the last five years will go a long way in helping us chart a new course.

Finally — what advice would you give to women who are interested in working on, working with, or owning, a small farm?

Start slow, don’t do it alone, and don’t expect to take any time off or make any money for at least the first five years. Learn as much as you can on someone else’s dime, but expect to put in your share of time and money if you want someone to spend their time and resources teaching you. Know that you will experience loss that you both can and cannot control, but that if you are honest and own up to your failings, you’ll learn more and you’ll gain your partners’ and customers’ trust. The challenges facing our food system are huge, and it can feel defeating to work so hard to affect such a tiny bit of change for a tiny number of people. But, our efforts add up, and providing something so elemental as good clean food is more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. Don’t hesitate – America needs farmers.

Put a bird on it!

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Your Christmas dinner table, that is.

We have 8 frozen turkeys available for pickup anytime.  Pasture-raised, non-GMO fed, and harvested with care (in November), these birds weigh between 15-19 and are packaged whole with giblets. $100. Please allow 2 full days for defrosting.

Or, pick up a fresh chicken! Our first batch of broiler chickens will be available fresh on Wednesday, December 23. The superior flavor and texture of these slow-grown birds will make your holiday meal extra special. Click here to read more about our broiler chickens.  Whole birds, 3.5-4.5lbs, will be packed with giblets for $5.50 per pound.

Also, we have frozen ground turkey for $12 per pound. This special treat is the result of our keeping two tom turkeys around for a few weeks after Thanksgiving – available only while supplies last.

For more information or to make a reservation, call Katie at 904-315-9252 or email ruffledfeathersfarmfl@gmail.com.

 

Broiler Chicken CSA Starting Soon – Sign Up Now!

We’re thrilled to be offering our second Broiler Chicken CSA season this year! It’s not too late to get in on this goodness.

Red Ranger broiler

We got great response in our first year, and the positive feedback on our chickens has encouraged us to double our production. We are raising Red Rangers again; these birds take almost twice as long to grow out as conventional broiler chickens, and they spend that extra time foraging for grass and bugs: this means healthier birds and better meat. You can see evidence of this in the long, lean muscle fibers, rich yellow fat and delicious organ meats.  Additionally, we will continue using high quality Non-GMO verified feed, this time from Resaca Sun in Georgia. This means, for the first time, we’re getting chicks and feed “locally” – each still 450 miles away, but from the Southeast! We’re excited make this small step towards sustainability.

Broiler Chicken CSA:

Whole chickens, averaging 3.5-4 pounds, will be packaged freezer-ready with organ meats; livers and feet will be sold separately.  

Harvest will take place each month, January – May 2016, with pickup of fresh chickens to take place on the following day. Exact dates will be set at the beginning of each month. Pickups will be arranged at the farm, at our home in St Augustine, at the KYV Farmstand, and at Native Sun Natural Foods on Baymeadows.

Tentative Harvest Schedule:

Weeks of January 4, January 24, February 15, March 21, April 18, and May 16

Full CSA share will include:

4 chickens each month, 24 total. Reserve your share with a deposit of $120, or $5 per chicken. The balance of $50 will be due at each pickup, for a total CSA share cost of $420, or $17.50 per chicken.

Half CSA share will include:

2 chickens each month, 12 total. Reserve your half share with a deposit of $60, or $5 per chicken. The balance of $30 will be due at each pickup, for a total CSA share cost of $240, or $20 per chicken.

Joining our Broiler CSA not only gives us a leg up for the season financially, it is an easy way for you to commit to eating healthier, more sustainable meats. When you receive your fresh birds each month, they’ll be packaged whole with the heart and gizzard. You can stash them in the freezer for easy roasting, or butcher them to suit your monthly meal plans. I typically roast them whole using the Zuni Café method, and once the meat is gone, send everything left to the stock pot for a long slow simmer. The resulting stock is unmatched – mineral rich and full of flavor, it extends the goodness of the chicken into my grains, legumes and soups. A typical 3.5-4 pound chicken will provide at least 2 hearty meals for Nick and I, and a gallon of stock – a lot of nutrition from a humble chicken.

Farm panorama

In a time and marketplace where is can be difficult to know what you’re being sold, you can be confident with our Broiler CSA that your food dollars are going exactly where you think they are.

To sign up, contact Katie at ruffledfeathersfarmfl@gmail.com.

Send deposit payments through the mail or by PayPal. Checks can be mailed to 239 N Whitney Street, St Augustine, FL 32084. We will send invoices for PayPal payments; $5 fee will apply.

 

Tour de Farm is this Sunday! Come see us.

We teamed up with Edible Northeast Florida to raffle off one of our Thanksgiving turkeys! Check them out on Facebook and Instagram for more details. (Did you see that? They PUT US ON THE COVER!) Don’t delay, the raffle winner will be chosen Friday, November 13 at noon.

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Anyways – Tour de Farm is Sunday. 12-5 at 7086 CR-16A, St Augustine, Florida 32092. Visit Slow Food First Coast to reserve a car pass and map out your Tour.

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If you don’t win the free turkey, don’t fret! We’ll have a limited number for sale on Sunday at Tour de Farm. These turkeys are 14-23 lbs, priced $100-125. They are packaged whole and frozen, ready to go in your freezer until you’re ready to thaw for your holiday supper. Email us at ruffledfeathersfarmfl@gmail.com to reserve one!

See you all on Sunday!

2015 Broiler Chicken CSA Shares Available NOW!

The first chicks have just arrived…

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We’re thrilled to be offering our second Broiler Chicken CSA season this year!

We got great response in our first year, and the positive feedback on our chickens has encouraged us to double our production! We are raising Red Rangers again; these birds take almost twice as long to grow out as conventional broiler chickens, and they spend that extra time foraging for grass and bugs: this means healthier birds and better meat. You can see evidence of this in the long, lean muscle fibers, rich yellow fat and delicious organ meats.  Additionally, we will continue using high quality Non-GMO verified feed, this time from Resaca Sun in Georgia. This means, for the first time, we’re getting chicks and feed “locally” – each still 450 miles away, but from the Southeast! We’re excited make this small step towards sustainability.

Broiler Chicken CSA:

Whole chickens, averaging 3.5-4 pounds, will be packaged freezer-ready with organ meats; livers and feet will be sold separately.  

Harvest will take place at the end of each month, December 2015 – May 2016, with pickup of fresh chickens to take place on the following day. Exact dates will be set at the beginning of each month. Pickups will be arranged at the farm, at our home in St Augustine, at the KYV Farmstand, and at Native Sun Natural Foods on Baymeadows.

Full CSA share will include:

4 chickens each month, 24 total. Reserve your share with a deposit of $120, or $5 per chicken. The balance of $50 will be due at each pickup, for a total CSA share cost of $420, or $17.50 per chicken.

Half CSA share will include:

2 chickens each month, 12 total. Reserve your half share with a deposit of $60, or $5 per chicken. The balance of $30 will be due at each pickup, for a total CSA share cost of $240, or $20 per chicken.

Joining our Broiler CSA not only gives us a leg up for the season financially, it is an easy way for you to commit to eating healthier, more sustainable meats. When you receive your fresh birds each month, they’ll be packaged whole with the heart and gizzard. You can stash them in the freezer for easy roasting, or butcher them to suit your monthly meal plans. I typically roast them whole using the Zuni Café method, and once the meat is gone, send everything left to the stock pot for a long slow simmer. The resulting stock is unmatched – mineral rich and full of flavor, it extends the goodness of the chicken into my grains, legumes and soups. A typical 3.5-4 pound chicken will provide at least 2 hearty meals for Nick and I, and a gallon of stock – a lot of nutrition from a humble chicken.

Red Ranger broiler

In a time and marketplace where is can be difficult to know what your being sold, you can be confident with our Broiler CSA that your food dollars are going exactly where you think they are.

To sign up, contact Katie at ruffledfeathersfarmfl@gmail.com.

Send deposit payments through the mail or by PayPal. Checks can be mailed to 239 N Whitney Street, St Augustine, FL 32084. We will send invoices for PayPal payments; $5 fee will apply.

 

Tour de Farm is November 15!

WebCome see us, the chickens, and our Thanksgiving turkeys!

We will have a small number of Thanksgiving turkeys for sale at Tour de Farm. These birds will be frozen and will need to remain so until you’re ready to prepare your Thanksgiving feast. If you plan to make Tour stops after us, please come prepared to keep your bird frozen solid until you can get it back in the freezer.

Under 20 lbs $100

20-24 lbs: $125

Over 25 lbs. $150

A few reminders for visitors:

Wear pants and sturdy shoes, and a sun hat helps too. Bring water, and a cooler for any farm goodies you collect along the way.

We are a working farm, not a petting zoo. Biosecurity is a big concern for us. Our pasture grass is home to and food for our chickens and turkeys, and we must insist that it stay clean and free of pathogens from off the farm. Please mind the perimeters, clean your shoes between farm visits, and do not try to approach the animals. Thank you for helping us keep our flocks healthy!

 

 

Off-season

InstagramCapture_b1f42a46-e11e-4fef-8f2d-c10141b45bbb“In his view, we were already a success, because we were doing something hard and it was something that mattered to us. You don’t measure things like that with words like success or failure, he said. Satisfaction comes from trying hard things and then going on to the next hard thing, regardless of the outcome. What mattered was whether or not you were moving in a direction you thought was right.” – Kristen Kimball, The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love

We haven’t felt like much of a success lately.

It’s been a tough couple of months on the ground. The heat this summer was especially oppressive, and the mighty rains of August and September made the farm a swampy mess. The birds and Nick alike were worn ragged by the heat exhaustion, the constant standing water, the bugs. Our pickup truck tried to give up the ghost. My off-farm job needed a little more of me than normal. Egg counts dropped as the laying hens started their first molt. A herd of rowdy pigs from the farm next door rooted up a fresh patch of pasture every night, so the demanding job of moving chicken coops became harder. The new laying hens we ordered to reinforce the flock came in the mail, 100% dead. Egg numbers continued to drop, and we began finding the pasture a puffball of feathers nearly every morning, birds decapitated and left dead in their coops. Our first batch of the broilers for the new season arrived, this time two-thirds dead. It seems that all of our hatchery’s shipments into northeast Florida that day were doomed, somehow affected by heat or cold in shipment, maybe mishandled. With “hatching our own birds” on the “maybe in ten years” list of plans, we added the scary proposition of not being able to get the season’s worth of live chicks through the Jacksonville airport to our list of worries. Hard thing after hard thing after hard thing. Having just passed the two year point, it was defeating to assess our situation, to look at these setbacks, to consider that this was our off-season. Ha! “Off-season.”

As we turned the corner into fall, we focused our attention to planning for the new season ahead. The turkeys continued to grow nicely. The hatchery replaced the lost flock of layers, and they made it through brooder stage and survived their first few weeks out on pasture. The lost broilers were refunded, and we’ve been able to talk with some of other north Florida farmers about other options for getting our birds here safely. We’ve been setting traps and working with our fellow farmers at KYV Farm to pin down the predator issue and find a solution before too many more birds are lost. Whether it’s birds of prey, wild critters, or the neighborhood pigs, we’re figuring out how to protect the chickens and adjusting our budgets for the loss. Reservations for turkeys and broiler chickens are rolling in, welcome cash flow after the lean summer months. We finally bought a truck that can haul all of our feed. We finished a draft lease for the piece of property we’d like to move to, and got it sent off to the land owners for their review. My parents came for a visit, and we got to take them there and share our vision. The plans are starting to flesh out on paper too, making it all seem a little more realistic. We’re bolstered by a community of farmers who, rather than judging our failures, lift us up and offer solutions. New people take interest in our work and our story, who don’t see us as the mad chicken farmers we sometimes feel, but instead tell us that we seem to have our priorities straight. Friends make us dinner and bring us local, small batch gin. All reminders that we are, indeed, moving in the right direction.

We talk a lot about what will mean success or failure for this farm, for us. We wonder whether we’re making the best decisions for the animals, for the business, for our own bodies and minds. Should we have ordered more birds? Why haven’t we started other enterprises yet? Can we manage this harvest schedule? Are we nuts?  The answers to questions like these are elusive and always changing. What doesn’t change is how much it matters to us, and that we find real satisfaction in the hard work. Now, to keep it up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

EGG WASHER!!!

Introducing, our new egg washer:

For two years, we have washed every single egg by hand. At our peak, that was something like 150 dozen in a week. Nick does almost all of the washing – I did at the beginning, but when carpal tunnel syndrome set in and prevented me from sleeping through the night, Nick took over. It’s as tedious and as time consuming as you can imagine. Egg after egg, episode after episode of whatever Netflix show, for 10-15 hours a week.

I’m often asked why we bother wash them at all. It is true that fresh eggs will keep unwashed and unrefrigerated for a couple of weeks. And, some say, if the chickens are kept the way they should be, on a small farm with caring farmers, the eggs will be clean already, with the intact cuticle protecting the precious goods inside. Why, that’s how the Europeans do it…

My response to this: poop. Anyone who keeps chickens will tell you that there is a lot of poop involved. And chickens are not particularly concerned with it. They leave it wherever they go – in the pasture, thankfully, but also in the coops, in the nest boxes, even in their waterers and feeders. There are practices and equipment to help us deal with it – we move the coops and fences around the pasture, and have ways to prevent them from roosting on the waterers, and as we work towards getting our own farm and making more capital investments, we’ll make it so the birds can’t sleep in the nests, and get roll-away nests so the eggs stay clean. Until then, we know that our eggs are exposed to chicken poop, and we know that chicken poop carries salmonella. So, we wash all of our eggs to ensure that we don’t send any of it into anyone’s home. Even though all of our eggs are distributed within the week they were laid, we are confident that they will last at least a month in the fridge. We’re proud of the high quality eggs our farm is producing – it’s important to us to consistently present and preserve that quality for our customers.

Thus, the long awaited egg washer. We’ve been anticipating this purchase for a while – we researched all the options, considering what would be the best machine not just now, but as the farm grows. We landed on the Gibson Ridge Farm Egg Washer, made by a small farm in Ohio who designed it after a simple egg washer from the 1950′s . It’s a relatively small machine that we can use now and in the certified egg-washing facility we hope to build. Using just a small amount of hot water and big soft brush, it is gentle and effective. Time will tell whether it was worth the price, but this week’s eggs took about a third of the time to wash…that works for us.

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