Good livestock farming is essential to protecting the planet and our health. For the past few months, as part of the Meat the Change campaign, we have been talking about how important it is that farmers—and consumers—think more deeply about meat production and consumption.
We all need to be seeking out a more natural relationship with the land and animals, and eating smaller quantities of higher quality meat, which brings greater pleasure and better health.
Small-scale producers who work with respect for the environment and animal welfare are not hard to find. Today we’re looking to the USA and hearing from a female farmer, Donna Simmons, founder of Pound Ridge Organics Farm, Market and Teaching Kitchen. The farm is in northern Westchester County, New York, with a diverse flock of hens who lay eggs in a beautiful palette of colors, including blue, olive green, pink, dark chocolate, and numerous buff shades.
When and how did your farm start?
In 2009 I returned to college to complete two visual arts degrees. During my studies I attended a residency about food and the environment and a lecture about CAFOs. I was disgusted by what I learned, so much so, that I chose industrial farming as my thesis topic. I researched and collected data for a year, and (since this was a graphic arts degree) expressed my findings in a visual format by creating a 20-piece gallery style narrative exhibition entitled Bon freakin’ Appétit. Following each showing, visitors reached out to me to seek help in finding alternatives to the issues represented in my work. I, too, could no longer eat thoughtlessly, so I began visiting local/regional farms to seek better options. I started picking up a few chickens and pastured meat for myself and some neighbors, then some eggs, vegetables, bread—and unbeknownst to me at the time, Pound Ridge Organics was beginning to take shape and form.
In 2011 I started a flock of chickens, created organic gardens on my land, and then eventually converted my carriage house to a farm market and cooking school. In addition to our social media following there are close to 1,500 subscribers to my weekly newsletter, all of whom are welcome to shop in my market. For those who want more personalized attention, a small membership fee enables them to custom order and have their food ready for pickup each weekend.
How many people work at Pound Ridge Organics?
I’ve run all aspects of Pound Ridge Organics by myself since its inception but owe credit to some wonderful volunteers, interns and students who’ve helped out over the years. Over the past year the workload has increased exponentially, so I’ve been hiring part-time assistance to help clean the coops, sort veggies, help during an event, and assist in the school, including teachers who can share their expertise with the community.
What breeds do you have and why?
I specialize in heritage breed chickens, with lineages that go back 200-plus years. The majority of my flock is identified by both the Livestock Conservancy and Slow Food Ark of Taste One breed that I’m particularly focused on is the Icelandic chicken. They’re a hearty land race breed that are quite small in stature, blend into the landscape, forage, fly and behave like wild chickens. Their eggs are tiny, but truly the best tasting of all the eggs produced here. Icelandics are on the Livestock Conservancy “threatened” list, with only 5,000 remaining in the world. There are many other chickens on my farm, including eight Ark of Taste breeds. We have a few Peking ducks, all of whom were rescues. They’re sweet and comical and their eggs are outstanding.
What products do you produce?
Pound Ridge Organics produces heritage breed hatching chicks for other regional farms, chicken and duck eggs, herbs, alliums, berries, kale, lettuce, maple syrup, honey, jams, preserves, ferments, herb infused cooking oils and baked goods.
How important is animal welfare for you?
High welfare farming is at the top of my priority list and the primary reason for founding Pound Ridge Organics a decade ago. I provide tours and demonstrate how poultry should be cared for. This helps visitors make more informed choices when purchasing eggs and animal products here or elsewhere.
I follow the guidelines developed by Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World for the birds’ housing (indoor and out) as well as their diet and day-to-day care. AWA is the highest certification awarded to small family-owned farms and recognized by The ASPCA Shop With Your Heart Program and California Consumer Group Buying Poultry. Consumer Reports, states that “Animal Welfare Approved is a as a seal worth searching out”
What does organic farming mean to you and what does it mean to raise according to the Slow Food philosophy?
The Slow Food philosophy governs all that we do at Pound Ridge Organics. The produce in our market is geo-local, seasonal and freshly harvested in addition to being organic. The farms that grow for us do so with a deep understanding of soil health and regenerative agricultural practices. They focus on heirloom seeds, many of which are included in the Ark Of Taste, such as the Gilfeather Turnip, Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherries, and my favorite, the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin.
Our seafood is sustainably and wild caught, and our beef, pork, lamb and goat are raised according to the same exemplary welfare standards that we practice with our poultry.
We treat our farmers, bakers and producers with respect and pay them fairly. We run a zero waste teaching kitchen that is ADA accessible; celebrates diverse food cultures, and offers classes for all ages and skill levels. All events and classes include a shared snack or meal to help foster a sense of community.
Do you think customers understand the added value of a farm like yours? Do they ask you questions? Which ones?
Many who shop here and/or attend classes and events understand the value of what our farm offers. I enjoy when they share their recipes, photos and stories of meals they’ve prepared with our beautiful food and love how their enthusiasm rubs off on their children and grandchildren.
When new visitors arrive, I give them a tour of the market, let them know our philosophy and standards, introduce them to the birds and show them around the farm. I respect and appreciate their questions and feel honored to be given their trust.
The most common questions I’m asked, besides Do you know that you left your keys in the door, are: What is the meaning of various food labels? How should particular items should be stored and their shelf life? How various items should be prepared, recipe ideas? Do I slaughter my birds? (The answer is no!) Also, What do I do when the birds stop laying eggs? (This is simple: they get to live out their years in peace!)
CERTIFICATIONS & AWARDS
In addition to several local and regional awards, including the 2018 Bedford 25 Best, which highlights the most ‘dedicated, creative and influential’ in the community, Pound Ridge Organics is a recipient of the Slow Food Snail Of Approval, is certified Animal Welfare Approved by a Greener World, Certified Humane and included in the ASPCA Shop With Your Heart Program. The Pound Ridge Organics eggs are ‘A’ rated by California based consumer marketing group Buying Poultry and the Pound Ridge Organics farm is currently being featured on national television about Understanding Misleading Food Labels produced by Consumer Reports.
If you want to visit Donna’s farm you can organize an Airbnb experience as part of the Meat the Change campaign. Click here!
And how Slow are you when it comes to meat? Discover it now!