SALISBURY – Ted Wycall is something of a revolutionary. Three years ago, due as much to his lack of confidence in the “big agriculture” business model as in response to both community and personal need, Wycall became one of the youngest organic farmers in the area.
This year he expanded on the sustainable model of agriculture when he transformed his grandfather’s former chicken farm into one of the few places on Delmarva where you can purchase fresh, organically raised poultry from the grower.
The demand in this first year of production has been astounding. Greenbranch Farm has already had people commit to purchase the majority of their turkeys – a $20 deposit will hold one of the few organically raised turkeys in the region – and is already taking orders for next year’s batch, including for heritage turkeys, which are domesticated but pre-date the breading for breast size that dominates the domestic turkey market.
The response was gratifying to Wycall as it demonstrates that there’s a market for real food grown and harvested by people with both a stake in the land and the area’s sustainable future. In his vision, everyone will eventually get most of their food from a farmer who lives within five miles of their home.
Economy of Scale
Continued scrutiny on both meat and vegetable producers’ agricultural practices combined with rising gas prices are beginning to level the playing field, making Wycall’s food prices seem a bit more reasonable given the shrinking price-to-quality differential.
“It doesn’t take much to reach an economy of scale,” Wycall said. “More farmers need to be doing this.”
Wycall’s almost Jeffersonian vision of a sustainable agriculture economy is perfect for Delmarva. And as times get harder on farmers, it’s a project that’s looking increasingly appealing to many.
According to Wycall the agriculture-heavy Eastern Shore imports as much processed food as it exports the ingredients for that food. Further, in order to have any chance at a profit, quality has to be sacrificed. But as a greater number of people begin to realize the health and quality of life cost of cheaper, lower quality food people are more interested in keeping it simple, if a little more expensive.
One day last week a man came into the farm stand and picked up, among other things, two pounds of bacon at $8 per pound. What justified not only the price but also the amount of bacon purchased was that the pigs are raised in the nearby woods and fed primarily on its bounty.
Healthy Animals, Healthy People
Allowing the pigs room to grow healthfully and letting them eat the staples of their natural diet – acorns and roots – produces bacon that’s not only high quality but also significantly lower in saturated fats. Take away the chemicals, the unnecessary extra fat from poor diet and questionable raising conditions and bacon actually can be part of a healthy breakfast.
“They’re healthier for it and so are we,” Wycall said of the method he chose to raise the pigs. Similarly the cows are driven from field to field, fed only on grass which makes the beef superior to any of the steroid-heavy grocery store beef locally available.
This is their first year in the poultry production business and farm manager Jeff Martyn, whose idea it was for the expansion, said the response has justified Wycall’s faith in the notion of selling organic chicken in an area dominated by chicken processing. It’s interesting to think people here don’t know what chicken really tastes like but, to make an analogy between raw and processed milk, he said eating chicken that has only been off the field for a few days is an attitude-changing experience.
The now 30-year-old Wycall began his organic farm three years ago, selling to his neighbors and supplying surplus to some of the local Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) producers. CSAs allow a limited number of people to buy shares of a farmer’s crops in advance. The farmer uses the funds to run the farm and in return provides the participant with a share of the fresh local produce.
While it took longer than he’d have liked to fill his CSA roles this year he said he expects demand to continue to increase as word spreads. He said he’s being careful not to grow too fast but is anxious to demonstrate to other farmers how profitable a small, niche operation can be.