Growing the farm, feeding Mississippi

From press reports

STARKVILLE – By all outside measures, young farmers Dustin Pinion and Ali Fratesi are the picture of success. They’ve grown their operation from nothing to 350 laying hens and 800 meat birds. Beaverdam Fresh Farms operates in conjunction with High Hope Farm near Cedar Bluff in Clay County.
Dustin, 27, worked hard to get where he is. He apprenticed for six months under Virginia farmer Joel Salatin, a well-know author and advocate for sustainable farming, to learn the ways of pastured poultry.
Ali, 26, works from before first light to well after dark doing farm chores and tending their buying club – which has more than 700 members – and carrying their products to neighboring towns and as far as 140 miles to sell at the Jackson Farmers Market on High Street. Their customers proclaim them “better than organic!”
With their grass-fed beef partners at High Hope, everyday they monitor or move the netted and open- bottom enclosures (which they built from scrap tin and old cotton trailers) to allow the chickens, turkeys and other fowl to free range over pasture. This greatly improves soil and eventually the nutritional value of all the animals that are rotated across the same pasture. The swine root in nearby scrub woodland contained by movable electric fencing.
This type of farming is 24/7/365, and yes, admits Ali over her farmers market stall of freshly harvested vegetables, it’s a hard life. But it’s one they relish, and one that more young couples than we might think are doing: building a farm business from the ground up, beginning with a few eggs and a lot of hard work.
But now they’ve met a barrier to their dreams. They have reached the “1,000-bird limit” for small direct market poultry farmers and must build an on-site processing facility. The good part: it will allow them to process up to 20,000 birds a year. The hard part: they have to raise $30,000 to build a facility that meets food safety regulations.
Like most young couples, Dustin and Ali don’t have a lot of money, certainly not $30,000, and being young people with few tangible assets, they don’t qualify for much in the way of loans. So, with the help of friends, they have launched an online “kickstarter” campaign to raise funds.
See a video of their operation at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1682257709/growing-the-farm-feeding-mississippi. To attract donors, Kickstarter requires pledge rewards and Beaverdam is offering gifts: a mention on their website ($15), naming a pig ($50), T-shirts ($75), and a 3-day farm stay ($1,200). The deadline for contributions is July 1, 2014. At this writing, they are about $12,000 toward their goal.
“The biggest problem we face is the unknown,” say both Ali and Dustin. “Regulations and recommendations are in place for large scale chicken production, but not for small farms like us.” While the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce and the state Health Department are guiding them in designing an on-site facility, they don’t know what further fees, expenses and regulations they may face with expansion.
Ali, Dustin and their core customers believe that small, direct-market growers can be an important part of the future of Mississippi agriculture. Consumers are the support and drivers of local food all across the country; we hold the futures of these young growers in our hands.