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Chicken part 4: The Ancient Chinese Secret to finding real food

Posted Aug 23 2008 3:03pm

photo of a Paris alleyway This is part 4 in the Almost Fit series on pasture-raised chicken. Part 1 is How to buy chicken without getting punched , part 2 is How to save money on chicken at the grocery store , part 3 is Demystifying chicken labels: From Organic to All Natural , and this is part 4. If you enjoy these articles, please consider sharing it via StumbleUpon . Thanks.

“Research is the act of going up alleys to see if they are blind” - Unknown

Finding locally grown and raised products can be a challenging proposition to say the least, particularly in metropolitan areas where going directly to a farmer may be more difficult. On the other hand, people looking for high quality food at an affordable price are also to be found in increasing concentrations in cities these days, so with demand, there may likely come supply.

What is your experience?

For us, though we live 20 minutes outside of downtown Portland, we’ve found nearly all of our local resources with a little persistence, a listening ear, and being willing to speak up a little when the subject arises, even among (oh, the horror!) strangers .

I do think that it is becoming easier to find real food as the group of people interested in eating well grows, but the resources don’t generally come to you - you’ve got to go after it a bit. Many of the readers of Almost Fit are very clearly doing this; hopefully the following list will be of use to both experienced hunter-gatherers of farm raised products and those of us just getting started.

15 ways to find pasture-raised chicken

  • Farmer’s Markets: There is a good chance that these days you may find a poultry vendor or two at a local farmer’s market. In my experience the prices are a little higher (particularly at markets that are frequented by wealthier customers (Lake Oswego Farmer’s Market here in Oregon being a prime example)), but you can make invaluable connections with like-minded folks at Farmer’s Markets. We have found our wonderful CSA there, resources for locally made chutneys and jams, organic fruits and vegetables, meat and eggs, and incredible cooking tips. Not to mention, in our experience there are an awful lot of decent people hanging out at Farmer’s Markets - including us. :)

    Farmer’s Market Hack : Eavesdrop on fellow shoppers talking to vendors. It sounds trite, but listening to the conversations of other shoppers often reveals answers to questions on local resources that you may never have thought to ask. And don’t be afraid to speak up! If you hear something that interests you, express your interest!

  • Local health food stores: We are fortunate to have a small health food store here in our town: The Green Grocer. The owner also happens to have been the founder of our local Farmer’s Market years ago (she has since passed the torch). When we started shopping more there, we eventually connected with her, and she is truly a wealth of information. Not all health food stores are created equal, but for the most part we’ve found that people who either own or gather in health food stores are often more than happy to share their resources for better eating.
  • Food cooperatives (Co-ops): Co-ops are often hubs of a community, with patrons from every economic stratum. In Southeast Portland for example, one co-op has one of the only year-round Farmer’s Markets, as well as a place in the store where folks between homes can clean up. If you want to find out what’s going on in a community, a co-op is often a good place to start. Better yet? If you can make time to do so, volunteer to work at the co-op, and listen to customers and co-workers for tips. For a list of co-ops in your area, try (note the “dot coop”, rather than dot com).
  • Talk to your neighbors: As obvious as it might sound, talking to your neighbors is one of the best ways of finding local resources. This is especially true of course, if you have neighbors who have been in the area for a long time. You may find that your neighbors are seeking the same resources that you are hunting for, and may have a different set of leads than you’ve encountered.

    Reminder : Remember that if you don’t know your neighbors well, starting a conversation about food is a really easy way to break the ice (everybody eats). Bring over a batch of cookies or some produce from your garden, and strive to get to know your neighbors. A couple of tips on talking to the neighbors: To be a good conversationalist, remember to spend more time listening than talking. Remember too that if you want to get to know someone, focus on drawing them out - it is almost universally true that we are our own favorite subject, and people in general are much more willing to converse if you’re asking about their thoughts rather than always expressing your own.

    (Sorry to get off topic there…But many of us have forgotten how to talk to each other without typing pseudo-words into our iPhones.)

  • Classified ads (Print versions): While with each passing day the Internet is invading more and more households, we have found that many people who live further out are still without a reasonable connection to the Web. Not only that, but the old, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule applies: classified ads in print have been working for many years for farmers, and many farmers still find all of the customers they need through traditional methods of advertising. We are preparing to buy a large quantity of beef, for example, and we found the farmer the old-fashioned way: straight out of the classified ads in the local paper.
  • Ad boards at grocery stores: In most communities I’ve lived in, the grocery stores still have ad boards where locals can advertise services and items. Spend a couple of minutes checking out the ads that have been posted on the board, and you may come across what you’re looking for. We’ve noticed that several of our local small farms do this, presumably because their margins are slim and the ad board is free.

    Ad board hack: Instead of just reading the ads, why not try filling out a card stating what you’re looking for, put your phone number on the little tear-off strips, and see if anyone responds.

  • Keep a notebook with you in the car: If you drive through rural areas at all, it is common to drive past a sign or two advertising a home-based service or product. How many times have you driven by a sign that intrigued you, only to forget about it by the time you got home? Keep a notebook and a pen in the car, and write it down when you see it. If you have to write it down while driving, pull over and write it down immediately. Don’t procrastinate - you’ll likely forget.
  • Food feature section in the newspaper: Almost all newspapers have at least a weekly section that focuses on food. If they don’t, send a letter to the editor because they are missing a gigantic opportunity. We have found several of our most influential leads just by reading the food section of the paper.
  • Craigslist: I spent a couple of years as a Craigslist junkie, particularly when we lived in Los Angeles. I’ve purchased everything from a trailer to Radiohead tickets from people advertising there. I’ve given away for free a 6-foot satellite dish to an artist who was creating a solar smelter for Burning Man, and milk crates full of mosaic tiles. You of course have to be careful, as with anything, but you would be surprised at how many folks advertise eggs, chicken, produce, and all kinds of locally grown food on CL.

For online resources, try these:

  • : Probably the most extensive source on the Web for farms in the States, has a vast library of farmers who provide pasture-raised meats. Their focus on grass-fed and pastured animals. The only downside from my experience so far is the links are sometimes out of date. We’ve tried to email several local resources listed, with mixed results. 2 out of the 3 email addresses weren’t valid. So, it may take a few tries, or better yet - look the farmer up and call them directly. Where email addresses may come and go, a phone number (cell phones notwithstanding) are often a more longstanding commitment.
  • : focuses on organic foods, but they are a wealth of information as well on CSAs and local, pasture-raised animals.
  • : claims to be the “World’s largest directory of eco-friendly and holistic health products”, and it definitely appears to be a well-traveled site. With 15,000 visits per day, they certainly see a lot of activity (which is a good indicator of the relevance and hopefully, accuracy, of their information). They don’t appear to have a section that is specifically identified for poultry, but a search on their site using their search feature yielded a large number of results. Give it a shot.
  • : This resource links to , which although seems to be newer than some of the other sites, returns interesting results when you perform a search. I say interesting because it returned 3 farms right in my own zip code that I had not heard of before, which is unusual. My sense of this site is it is growing rapidly, and may not have the volume of data that the other sites have, but it is certainly not just another copy. Not to mention, if site presentation means anything to you, and are easy on the eyes, and intuitive.
  • Google and Yahoo groups : We were recently pointed to an outstanding local resource via a highly recommended seminar here in Portland led by Monique Dupre of Sustainable Living on a Budget . The Sustainable Living on a Budget Google group is primarily focused on the greater Portland/Vancouver area, but I am certain that other groups like this exist around the country. The great thing about these kinds of groups is you get to have a conversation with hundreds of people all with similar goals in mind, sharing their knowledge with the community. And if there isn’t one in your area, why not start one? There are certainly other folks in your area with similar interests. You may be surprised at the level of participation and community involvement that evolves.
  • : I came across this resource today through Robin Plan at Whole Foods and More . Her recommendation for the Wisconsin area of looks great (Thanks Robin!), and they are apparently connected to the larger Healthy Buyers Club, which offers a wide range of products including pasture-raised chicken. One personal note: I have not ordered from them so I cannot vouch for their quality, but from all appearances they seem to be the real thing. Their slogan is “Organic and Natural Products at Bulk and Discount Rates.” If you’ve used them, I’d love to hear about your results.

The ancient Chinese secret to finding local resources

In the digital age, the biggest temptation for many of us is to hide in our little insular digital worlds, researching a subject for days and weeks online without ever having to speak directly to another human being. Unfortunately, while this works for some things like reading about the history of Uruguay or watching a video on how to change the heating element on a dryer (I just did this - Thanks, YouTube!), in many cases it won’t get you very far if you’re trying to find out what’s going on right now in the world of local farming.

In other words, the most important trick to finding good resources for pasture-raised chicken? You need to rise from your seat, get out, and talk to people . Building connections with people in your community is probably the quickest way to find what you’re looking for, whether it is pasture-raised chickens or a good auto mechanic.

I am not sure, but I think my generation was among other things the “don’t talk to strangers” generation (a tradition that has been passed down since). While there is certainly some wisdom in that concept, I think we may have taken it a little too far by carrying the principle into adulthood. Get to know your neighbors, particularly those of the older-than-you generations. Despite how it feels at times, you are likely not the first person in the history of humanity to have asked these questions - but you may never know until you start striking up a conversation or two with people outside of your circle.

Thanks for reading Almost Fit . If you enjoy this article, please share it using your favorite social media tool. I prefer Digg and StumbleUpon . Thanks.

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