About a month ago, I had a fun opportunity to travel to eastern North Carolina–Greenville, to be specific–with a group of bloggers for #CareToFarm15. Phibro Animal Health sponsored this incredible opportunity to learn more about our food industry! I must admit, initially when I received the email invite I was hesitant.
Taking time off work is a commitment, and going to a large scale chicken hatchery and farm is a LITTLE out of my comfort zone. But I wanted to go, with an open mind, to learn more about large scale poultry production–even though I suspected I might get some hateful/angry animal activist comments on this blog post or other social media posts. I think eating local and organic is a good thing to aspire to, but with meat and poultry, that’s not usually possible for us budget-wise. And because of this trip, I have become convinced that eating all local/organic isn’t what is best for the world food system either. So what did I think? Read on to find out–and to get a recipe for an easy chicken dish that I love… because yes, I can still eat chicken [and feel good about it] after this trip. 🙂 Spoiler alert: despite my hesitancy, this trip was AMAZING. So educational, enjoyable, and eye-opening.
We started out our stay in Greenville with a leisurely drive through the North Carolina countryside–cotton fields galore–to dinner in Kinston at Chef & the Farmer. Yup, you may have heard of this restaurant or its lovely chef, Vivian Howard. She even has her own show on PBS! The food here was incredible. We started off with lots of starters, including this pizza with beef bacon [did you even know that’s a thing??! Mmm!] and fried okra with RANCH ICE CREAM for dipping. Ohhh yeah!
For my meal, I chose a lovely pasta dish made with cabbage and beef sausage… a basil limeade [mmm!]…. and buttermilk pie with a blackberry lime sauce. Every bite was awesome!
If you ever have the chance to visit Chef & the Farmer, do it. But plan ahead–I guess they tend to be booked about three months in advance! It is truly a delicious experience. 🙂
While we ate, we heard from some of our hosts, including Warren Harper [Phibro’s Senior Vice President of Global Marketing], Ray Abner [Director of the US Poultry Business Unit and Global Strategic Accounts], and veterinarian Dr. Leah Dorman about Phibro as a company, animal health, and what to expect the next day.
Bright and early the next morning we headed out to Sanderson Farms and one of their partner farms, Three Sons Poultry to get an education in chickens!
On our drive, we learned a little about the history of Sanderson Farms. Though I had never heard of them before, they are the third largest poultry company in the US, behind Tyson and Pilgrim. Nationally, they produce over 60 million pounds of chicken per week [that’s 9 million birds!]. I know that might sound atrocious, but read on.
We first visited the hatchery and had to get all dolled up [HA] to protect the eggs. Bio-security is a major part of the poultry industry. Before entering the building [even the office portion], we had to disinfect our shoes and wear booties. Before entering the hatchery, we had to gown up in these awesome blue suits, plastic shoe covers, and hairnets. Should this be my new daily attire?! 🙂 The same thing was required later on at the chicken farm–but also included disinfecting our bus’ tires and our shoes with bleach powder. Crazy stuff–but necessary for healthy animals!
I expected the hatchery to be cold, dirty, busy, and impersonal… but truly, it wasn’t. And the baby chicks were adorable. 🙂 Though it was definitely an agricultural facility it was efficient and clean. SO clean in fact that I would be more likely to eat off the floor at the hatchery than off the floor in the kitchen at work. #truestory [Not that I actually would eat off the floor pretty much anywhere but my home but still…]
When the eggs arrive at the hatchery, they’re kept in crates on trays in a cozy [but gigantic] incubator. Think industrial size refrigerators, but larger. Once they hatch, they are moved to another part of the hatchery to receive vaccinations. The reason for these vaccinations, though scary-sounding [and honestly, a little frightening to look at since they are pink in color] is to grow healthy chicks. Something I never thought about before is that even though this is a big company, they have excellent motivation for healthy chickens in the long run. They want to treat their chicks well and they have veterinarians on staff to ensure that happens. Think about it… veterinarians are trained to keep animals healthy, and continue to do so… even when their purpose is something we might not want to think about… becoming our food. Mind=blown!
Plus, avian influenza is nothing to joke around about–for the animals OR for people. I now firmly believe that these vaccines are necessary and good, even though the thought of them might make some uncomfortable. The lasting impact on our food system if there is a large outbreak of disease is crippling. For instance, the drought in 2012 still affects beef prices today–and our trip almost didn’t happen due to the bird flu/egg shortage epidemic of this summer. Sanderson Farms’ head veterinarian, Phil Stayer was incredibly patient with us bloggers as we tried to understand the procedures at the hatchery as well as the rationale behind vaccinations and other health protocols. Hearing the perspectives of several veterinarians on this trip was really priceless.
While we were there, I even got to hold a baby chick that was hatched just that day! Their timetable for hatching is super precise and regimented 365 days per year. Did you know that chicks grow in the egg for 21 days, are hatched and vaccinated, and then live at the farm for six weeks before being processed? Pretty quick turnaround, and the great part about all this is that speed results in an improvement to the gene pool–AND early realizations of problems. After hanging out with just hatched chicks, we headed over to Three Sons Poultry, a family-owned chicken farm.
Three Sons Poultry is part of Sanderson Farms’ integrated poultry system. This is basically a contract growing system, beneficial to both parties. The family farm is guaranteed a market for their product and a steady income, along with support for their business from the parent company. Along with that support, they are required to follow certain guidelines and pass inspections to ensure the health of the chickens.
The above photo shows a chicken house. A farm can have up to four houses occupied at once–with roughly 20,000-25,000 chickens inhabiting each house. Though that sounds like a lot, these houses are HUGE and the chickens have plenty of space to grow. They are technically “cage free” but not “free range” meaning they can’t go outside… but that is to keep them healthier and as free from antibiotics as possible. Diseases can spread easily so every possible precaution is taken to keep these animals safe. The chickens only receive antibiotics if they are sick, and even then, there is a waiting period between their last dose and their processing to ensure that all traces of medication are gone.
Here you can see the farmer from Three Sons Poultry [I’ll update when I can get his name… he and his wife were SO nice!] with veterinarian Leah Dorman. Though it’s hard to see, there is so much space in the house but the chickens tend to huddle together along the walls and the feeding mechanisms [which move up throughout the chicken’s life]. He doesn’t have to wear all the bio-security gear [except plastic shoe covers] due to his constant work/presence on the farm.
From beginning to end of these chickens’ lives, they are well cared for and protected. There are some parts of the process that are unsettling to someone from outside the industry but all in all, what the men and women of Phibro, Sanderson Farms, Three Sons Poultry, and all the other players in the game do is for the good of the chickens. I was a little scared I’d come away from this trip wanting to be a vegetarian, but it’s actually been the opposite. Learning about the process makes me appreciate it more, and I learned tons of fun facts… probably the biggest one was that in the US, it is illegal to inject hormones into poultry. Illegal! No poultry is free from all hormones because there are naturally occurring hormones in all living things but no one adds anything… growth is due to feed [and it takes 1.7 pounds of feed for 1 pound of chicken growth]. So you can rest assured that whether or not you buy the fancy local, organic, ____ [insert whatever adjective you prefer here] or the basic grocery store label, your chicken does not have growth hormones and will not affect your family! The labels and whatever they say [or don’t say] are just advertising.
After visiting Three Sons Poultry, we relaxed over lunch at The Peach House. My bacon, cheddar, and tomato quiche was the best! I want to remake it at home! Their desserts were the bomb… and the souvenir glass mugs they generously gave us were so cute too.
An afternoon to recharge at the hotel and it was time to eat again! This time, dinner was at the Plum Tree Bistro. The husband-and-wife team running the restaurant were sooo sweet, and our group had a great family meal together. And of course, since LOBSTER was an option I had to partake. I think this was the first time I have ever had lobster without my dad [normally he works for the lobster and I just get to enjoy] but this time, we were just given lobster tail so it wasn’t too challenging. 🙂
Over our meal [and my awesomely melty strawberry rhubarb cobbler], we heard more from the Phibro and Sanderson Farms folks I already mentioned and Sanderson Farms’ Marketing Product Specialist LaDonna Byrd about their work and their passion for chickens. And guys… it’s about wayyy more than the money. For many of these individuals, their travels to poverty-stricken areas of the world [and for some, their faith] motivates them to work to improve food sustainability, access, and efficiency. As they have seen people struggling to get their next meal, they want to make our food system better–through animal health and food efficiency.
This doesn’t just affect them at work, but in their personal lives. Several talked about their work with nonprofits and/or missions organizations through church [and we even discovered some personal church-related connections… fun!]. Others talked about their own food purchases. They buy the Sanderson Farms chicken to serve to their families [psst: Publix grocery stores sells Sanderson Farms under their private label. Just look for the codes P-32182 or P-18557. These numbers are pre-printed in the USDA inspection seal on all Publix film and bags.] They also do not buy the most expensive, fanciest eggs because they aren’t sustainable for our planet. Demand and supply are so interlinked that if we cause more demand for things like fancy brown eggs, that’s what will be created… at the expense of everything else. And the average person around the world [and in America!] cannot afford that. Then what will they eat? How can we buy the best when many struggle to survive on $1 per day? Efficiency, like it or not, is key to helping end hunger–in America and across the globe. And companies like Phibro and Sanderson Farms are the ones working towards that end.
And now… like I promised… a chicken dish to celebrate all things chicken! I wish I could share this meal with my new chicken friends but sharing it on the internet will have to do. This simple teriyaki chicken meal is made in your crockpot for maximum ease, maximum tenderness, and maximum deliciousness!
I freak out about leaving my crockpot on during the workday because of the potential for fire or a short circuit, so I use it regularly on the weekends for an easy [but tasty] meal that provides lots of leftovers for a busy week ahead. This meal is no exception! Though this crockpot recipe is a wee bit more labor intensive than “dump ‘n go,” it’s not too bad at all and the taste of that homemade sauce is well worth it! Hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading this monster of a post. 🙂 I’m a librarian… what can I say? I’m thorough and wanted to share what I learned with others!
FYI… If you have ANY questions, please comment or email me [pajamachef AT gmail dot com] and I’ll try to answer them or get the answers for you from the wonderful folks I met. Any errors in this blog post are my own. For my blog, all first-time commenters go to moderation so please don’t think I am blocking comments on this possibly controversial subject… I want to have good dialogue but I am not going to argue with anyone. Hateful, profane, or mean-spirited comments may be deleted. Thank you for understanding!
one year ago: Cranberry Mint Relish
two years ago: Butternut Squash Quinoa Salad
three years ago: Carnitas
four years ago: Thai Seared Shrimp with Tomato, Basil, and Coconut
five years ago: Balsamic Roasted Chickpeas
Simple Teriyaki Chicken
from The Comfort of Cooking
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons water
- cooked rice, for serving
- sesame seeds, for serving
- green onions, for serving
Place chicken in the bottom of a crockpot. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, garlic, and pepper. Pour over chicken, turning chicken to coat. Cook on low for 3-4 hours.
When chicken is cooked, gently remove to a cutting board. Pour sauce into a saucepan and bring to a boil. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water then pour into sauce, reducing heat to low. Cook for 2-3 minutes until sauce thickens. Remove from heat.
While sauce is thickening, chop chicken into chunks. When sauce is thick, stir in chicken. Allow to heat thoroughly, then serve over hot cooked rice, adding sesame seeds and green onions as desired. Enjoy!
As I hope you can tell, this trip was a wonderful experience–fun AND educational. It was great to meet all these lovely ladies as well as everyone from Phibro and Sanderson Farms.
Disclosure: My travel and accommodations were paid for by Phibro Animal Health. I was not required to write about my experience but chose to so that others could learn too. I was not compensated in any other way for this post or the trip itself. As always, all opinions [and errors!] are my own.