When Nigel Walker of Eatwell Farm near Dixon, California, discovered that much of his certified organic chicken feed was coming from China, he realized that he wouldn't feel right marketing his eggs as "local," so he started to look for a new supply of feed. It turns out that he didn't need to look far — just over to the next farm.
A neighboring wheat farmer was looking to transition to organic practices — with the goal of eventually gaining certification — and so the farmer and Walker started a collaboration to grow wheat for the Eatwell chickens.
I heard Walker describe his new wheat farming venture and was able to watch part of the wheat harvest (shown in the photo above) when I went on a farm tour organized by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA, the group that runs the San Francisco Ferry Plaza farmers market).
The chickens at Eatwell are housed in mobile coops like the ones shown in the photo below. They can walk around, take dust baths, socialize, chase bugs, and spend their days being chickens. Periodically the chickens and their houses are moved to lush fields of fast-growing alfalfa or to fields that have recently been fully harvested (like the strawberry fields from which we were able to sample juicy sun warmed berries). The chickens help to clean up the fields and provide fertilizer for a future crop.Their supplemental feed includes wheat, seeds and various other vegetarian items to keep them healthy (definitely nothing nasty like arsenic, which is given to industrially-produced chickens to control parasites).
Eatwell farm has a CSA and sells direct at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Market. Some of their herbs appear in chocolates made by Recchiuti Confections (like lemon verbena), others appear in essential oils or body products. To keep up to date with happenings at the farm, check out the Eatwell blog.
Marc lives in Berkeley, California. He writes Mental Masala (an enticing blend of food, history, travel, and nature) and contributes to The Ethicurean. More photos from the above tour and others can be found at Flickr.