(I’ve written about Dustin and Ali several times before in this blog. They are truly role models for young people entering farming. I wrote this piece to highlight their plight as they face regulatory barriers to achieving the American dream of being successful, sustainable small farmers in a world of agri-giants. Please feel free to repost it, share it, retweet it, whatever. They could use a little help. Thanks, Jim)
STARKVILLE, Miss. — By all outside measures, young farmers Dustin Pinion and Ali Fratesi are the picture of success. They’ve grown their Beaverdam Farm operation from nothing to now having about 350 laying hens and 800 meat birds a few miles from here in Clay County.
Dustin Pinion (center) and Ali Fratesi (left) explain the basics of their pastured poultry/cattle operation at High Hope Farm in Clay County, MS. The couple has been hit by regulations aimed at larger industrial agricultural operations threatening to shut them down and have turned to crowd funding to build a processing center that meets state and federal approval. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)
But the couple, in their 20s, are now what some might say are “victims of their own success.”
Dustin, 27, worked hard to get where he is, apprenticing under now-famous author, speaker and Virginia farmer Joel Salatin, to learn the ways of pastured poultry.
He has been a managing partner of High Hope Farm, a combined pastured poultry, swine and grass-fed beef farm, to try to save enough money to someday buy his own farm.
Fratesi, 26, his partner, works from before first light to well after dark, doing farm chores and tending to their buying club – which has more than 700 members – and carrying their dressed, all natural, chemical-free chickens 140 miles to sell at the Jackson Farmers Market on High Street. These are “better than organic!” they proclaim.
Every day, they monitor or move the netted and open bottom enclosures they have built from scrap tin and old cotton trailers so that the chickens are allowed to free range over the pasture. They follow the cattle that are constantly herded using temporary electric fencing so they might intensively feed on lush, green grass. They follow the swine that have been turned loose into scrub wood land that they are rooting and clearing for food, again herded by temporary electric wire to do the job a bulldozer would otherwise do, but is now done in a natural and sustainable way.
It’s a 7-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day job. And, yes, Ali admitted recently over her farmers market stall with fresh grown vegetables from their garden, it’s a hard life. But it’s one they relish – as countless other young couples have done in building a farm business from a few eggs and a lot of hard work.
Now, though, they’ve met a barrier to their dreams. They have reached the “1,000-bird limit” for small direct market poultry farmers and must build an on-site processing facility.The good part: it will allow them to process up to 20,000 birds a year. They hard part: they have to raise $30,000 to help them meet that goal.
Like a lot of young couples, Dustin and Ali don’t have a lot of money, certainly not $30,000 – and being young people with few tangible assets, they don’t qualify for much in the way of loans. So, they have turned to the public in trying to reach their goal. Called “crowdfunding,” they have turned to friends to help them launch a “kickstarter” campaign to raise the funds. (See: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1682257709/growing-the-farm-feeding-mississippi)
At this writing, they are about halfway toward their goal — a testament to the support they have from the community and their customers. But the goal is still elusive.
To lure donors, they are offering a lot of gifts that people might find enticing: from a mention on their website ($15) to naming a pig after you ($50) to really cool-looking T-shirts ($75), all the way up to $1,200 for a three-day farm stay weekend.
“The biggest problem we are facing is we are charting unknown waters,” they say. “Regulations and recommendations are in place for large scale chicken processing plants in Mississippi, but not for small farms like us.”
While the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce and the state Health Department are helping guide them in designing an on-site facility that should pass inspection, they don’t know what further fees and expenses they may face.
They believe that small, direct market growers like themselves are the future of agriculture in Mississippi and the nation.
It would be a shame if the ability to help make that dream a reality fell short because of state and federal regulations.
Take a look at their kickstarter page, buy a t-shirt, or a day on the farm! Helping young people achieve their dreams is a lasting gift in itself.
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.