Hailing Heritage Poultry in New Hampshire
All this week, during our Food series, we've been using terms like organic, localvore, and sustainability.
But a couple of poultry farmers in Barrington want to add another word to the mix.
They want people to talk about Heritage....specifically heritage fowl.
It's part of their campaign to ween Americans from poultry factories and get them back to eating the eggs and meat our grandparents would recognize.
NHPR's Keith Shields brings you this last story in our series, Eating-In
As you enter the Yellow House Farm in Barrington, you’re greeted by a fowl philharmonic.
Joseph Marquette and his husband Robert Gibson own the farm….and all those chickens and ducks you hear.
But this isn’t your run of the mill chicken factory filled with battery cages.
Marquette and Gibson don’t’ want to raise what they call industrial fowl.
CUT : ……. It has no history .. yeah, they’re producing a lot of meat, but that meat is in your palate and to your eye, ever less a chicken. I raise chicken because I want a chicken and I want it to act like a chicken, to reproduce naturally like a chicken, I want it to have the health of the chicken... Industrial chicken open up all different doorways for difficulties.
Instead, they raise heritage fowl….birds whose bloodlines run deep.
They’ve got white plumed Dorkings, descendants of the first chickens brought from England to the America.
The Ancona, a black chicken with white spots, whose roots trace back to ancient Rome.
And they raise some new-world birds, the Narragansett Turkey and a duck the Aztecs used to eat, the Mescovy.
Cut: When the Spaniards came over they found the turkey and the Mascovy already domesticated. And it’s just a fantastic meat duck and very very good forager and excellent sustainable bird for a setup that’s able to allow them access to green forage and pasture and whatnot. So our customers love them.
Marquette’s parents used to raise heritage poultry.
So when he and Gibson moved to New Hampshrie 5 years ago, they wanted to follow the tradition.
But they never planned it to become a business.
In order to get a solid breed of heritage fowl, you need to find the hens and roosters with the characteristics you want.
To find them, you have to hatch a lot of birds.
All of a sudden, Marquette says, the poultry started piling up.
CUT: So there were only two of us . And one year we were looking at how much chicken we had produced realized that between the 2 of us it was not going to be happening.
And so they started selling live animals as well as their meat and eggs.
They go to farmers markets and have a large email base.
And the market for these animals has grown so quickly that new offerings advertised on email can sell within hours.
But as interest in heritage fowl grew, so did questions from their clients.
Both men are teachers and so another opportunity fell onto their laps... to educate.
So, last year they started the Yellow House Farm School.
There they teach the skills Gibson says have been lost.
CUT: You know this is something that many of our grandparents did just as a day to day routine was they’d go out and process their own chickens from their farm and a lot of people are wanting to know how to raise their own food and process them. So this is a chance for us to teach that.
So far the Yellow house school has graduated over one hundred students.
Some have moved on to start their own heritage businesses.
Marquette and Gibson will boast about the taste of their chickens and eggs or they’ll tell you about what a great business this has been.
But these two are on a mission.
They want to save species they say are very close to extinction.
CUT You have breeds that are down to 50 breeders in the country left or 75 specimens left. .:07
Once again, Joseph Marquette.
CUT There is a gentleman in Texas who has one of the oldest breeds of American geese and he is 85 years old and he’s been asking the organization, how do are we are going to save these animals. If he goes and his stock goes... he is their last leg. So when you buy yellow house farm eggs, you’re doing much more than just getting eggs and dong something nice for the environment... you are saving this breed :25
The couple admits that the Yellow House farm has its limits.
Gibson has a full time job, while Marquette teaches three days a week.
They couple figures that they work at least eighty hours a week and almost never have a day off.
But they say it’s worth it.
They want to get people talking about heritage fowl.
Once again, Joseph Marquette.
CUT: There’s a lot of rage about is it organic or is it pasture based, and we need to start asking the question, is it a heritage animal. Anyone raising animal products can raise heritage animals. We can point our fingers at large industry, but if all we are are mini-factories in our back yard, well then is that really the difference we’re looking for or are we looking to secure that heritage that is traditional food.