A Local Chicken in Every Pot?

When news of the passage of Public Act 10-103, An Act Concerning Farms, Food, and Jobs, began to spread last year, I put in a call to the CT Dept. of Agriculture’s legal expert to get an interpretation. Was it true that farms certified by a CT State Poultry Inspection Program created under the law would now be able to process their own birds and sell them to restaurants? That would mean poultry farmers would be spared the inconvenience and expense of taking their chickens, turkeys and ducks to the only USDA slaughterhouse in the state for processing. Processing their birds themselves, in the farm’s facilities, would indeed be legal I was told, but only after jumping through the necessary hoops to become certified. I wasn’t holding my breath.

I’m thrilled to report that this law is working to strengthen the local food movement in Connecticut. Connecticut Agriculture Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky announced today that two farms have been approved by the state Department of Agriculture through this new Poultry Slaughter Inspection Program, making more Connecticut Grown poultry more available to consumers, restaurants, and hotels. MarWin Farm in New Hartford and Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm in Sterling are the first two Connecticut poultry farms to be inspected and approved through the new state program. MarWin Farm is raising approximately 2,500 chickens, 125 turkeys, and 200 specialty birds such as guinea hens and ducks. Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm, the state’s largest grower of pastured turkeys, has 3,000 turkeys and 1,200 chickens in production this year.

Commissioner Reviczky said the new program “opens a new door for restaurants looking to serve Connecticut Grown turkey, chicken, and duck on their menus because they are no longer limited to using USDA inspected poultry in order to comply with the public health code.” This is music to the ears of chefs who have been frustrated by limited availability of local poultry. “I just served my first Connecticut Grown turkey from Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm last week,” said Wayne Kregling, executive chef at Brownson Country Club in Shelton. “The quality and flavor were superb, and I am excited to now be able to offer this delicious poultry to my customers.”

Shortly after the law passed, Jonathan Hermonot of Ekonk Hill was asked what it would mean to their farm.

Anyone who’s purchased a chicken from a farm in Connecticut knows that the only way to legally obtain one that’s not USDA certified is to order the bird directly from the farmer and ask them to do you the favor of processing it. This custom slaughter exemption does not apply to restaurants, however, significantly impairing the growth of poultry farms. This new state program allows poultry producers who successfully comply with requirements, pass inspection, and become approved to sell their poultry to an expanded customer base. To comply with the state program’s strict sanitation requirements, which are comparable to those of the USDA program, both Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm and MarWin Farm made improvements to their existing facilities and developed written Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) and recall plans. Ekonk Hill applied and was approved for $10,000 in matching funds through the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s Farm Reinvestment Grant to help pay for the facility upgrades.

Note: Ekonk Hill turkeys are available through two sources in Fairfield County. Visit our 2011 Guide to Local & Heritage Turkeys for more information.

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