Dreaming Big, But Starting Small
I wanted to start with a little background info on what has been a dream of mine for a few years now.
Below is a write up I did a couple of years ago explaining a large non-profit farm idea....much of what you can see in practice at a much smaller scale at Helping Hens Farm, some of which we can't do because of a lack of land and funds.
I wanted to start the blog here not as a negative, but actually as a positive. The below is a big, expensive dream to do a lot of good. It would likely take a long time to make it happen, and very likely never come to fruition.
After a couple of years of thinking big, I started to realize that while I was thinking big, I wasn't actually DOING much good yet. I decided to work with what I had within my reach and try to start doing some good!
Anyway, here's what Helping Hens Farm would look like if someone gave me $5 million dollars and said "go do a lot of good!"*
* - I figure $5 million would cover setup and operating expenses for a 10-20 acre setup for close to a decade.
Many of the issues that face our state, our nation, and our world are interconnected. Food insecurity is an issue for a large number of people, with access to healthy foods a particular concern. Diversion of waste, especially food waste, is also a large issue as concerns about climate change and diminishing landfill space are every increasing.
But what if it was possible to reduce waste and feed hungry people while improving the soil, reducing harmful climate effects, and building community?
The transformation of food waste into healthy, locally produced food for those in need is a lofty goal. The solution, we believe, features the humble chicken as its centerpiece.
A chicken can consume food waste and convert it to eggs, a healthy and versatile fresh food. The chicken also produced manure, an all-natural source of nutrients and organic materials that help grow fruits and vegetables.
If managed holistically, we believe a not-for-profit farm can take in a large quality of waste, including food waste, and produce fresh, healthy food for those in need.
Food waste would be diverted from the landfill and fed to chickens as their primary feed source. The chickens would eat the bulk of the food waste, composting the remainder along with their droppings into the pasture where they spend their days. These happy chickens lay plenty of eggs that are healthier than most mass-produced eggs thanks to the chickens varied diet, pleasant pasture-based life, and plenty of fresh air and sunshine. These eggs are collected, washed, and packaged daily and donated to a variety of food pantries, kitchens, and other organizations that can distribute food to those in need.
Yard and leaf waste and other carbon sources would be added to the process to add additional organic materials to the soil, control odors, and give the chickens plenty of materials in which to scratch and peck.
Crops are grown in an adjoining field grow in the rich soil without chemical fertilizers or herbicides. These crops are harvested and donated to the same organizations as the eggs, again providing healthy, locally grown, fresh food for those in need.
At the end of each growing season, we rotate…the “chicken field” becomes the following season’s crop field, with the composted remains of the food waste and chicken manure offering nutrients and organic matter for a great growing season. The crop field becomes the home for the chickens, who are eager to clean up the garden waste along with any bugs and weeds that remain.
Our goal is to involve the community in what we do…diverting waste from local residents and companies, leveraging volunteers to help produce and deliver the food to those in need, and hopefully helping to make the community in which we operate a more open, friendly, and ecologically sound place.
Upfront costs for the proposed operation would not be small, with acquisition of land, equipment, infrastructure to get started, plus labor and materials once operations are underway. The proposed is not something that can be “bootstrapped”, and a substantial funding source will need to be identified before operations can commence.
Food produced on the farm will be donated to organizations that can distribute it to those in need at no cost, with priorities given to organizations within Rhode Island.
While no income will be received for the food produced, the organization would change market rates for “tipping fees” for food and other organic waste received on site. As a nonprofit looking to help grow the fledgling local composting and waste diversion market, we feel it would be important not to undercut other organizations with the same goals, whether they are either for or not for profit.
The organization would ideally have 2-3 full time employees and a similar number of part-time employees to handle key on-farm tasks in addition to organizational and logistics management. Volunteers would heavily leveraged to assist with many tasks with low barriers of entry, such as planting and harvesting produce, collecting, washing, packaging eggs, and delivering food to organizations.
Anyway, thank you for reading. If you happen to be a very rich environmentalist who likes what they just read...we should talk!