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Are you thinking about raising chickens as a business? Or perhaps starting your own organic vegetable farm?
Then you need to know about John Suscovich. But let me tell you, if you get him talking about chickens and farming and such, you’ll quickly see his passion for where our food comes from and how we care for the land rise up and envelop you in his broad smile and friendly manner.
During the last week of January, I visited John, the owner of FoodCyclist Farm in Kent, Connecticut, who has recently joined forces with Camps Road Farm to provide their growing customer base with pasture-raised chicken and eggs as well as vegetables during the normal growing season, of course, but he’s also developing a winter vegetable CSA program. Egg production is year-round. And he’ll have vegetables during the regular growing season as well.
He gave me a quick tour of the farm in his little electric vehicle which is charged by solar panels. We drove up the snowy hillside to get an overview. Completely blanketed in snow, the farm seemed asleep, waiting for spring. Then we checked in on some winter veggies growing in one of the greenhouses on site. We sampled arugula, mache, claytonia, red leaf spinach and more. The pink radishes were so crisp, succulent, and sweet I could hardly believe I was eating a radish.
Here are just a few of the winter crops John is growing:
You’ll notice the raised beds in the greenhouse. Unfortunately, before John arrived as Farm Manager, someone had convinced the owners to put in a gravel base, like you would in a nursery selling bedding plants. Ideally, in a winter greenhouse, you want to grow your greens in the ground to help retain any warmth from the soil that you can. This spring he will build out the rest of the raised beds in the greenhouse. Growing things in pots is not very efficient.
He plans to remove the propane heater (very expensive) and experiment with coils of water under the beds heated by solar tubes. The farm owners are pretty tech savvy and willing to innovate.
How many eggs today?
John collects the eggs twice a day and meticulously keeps track of production. He knows how many eggs came from which coup; there are three with a fourth soon to have hens old enough to lay. We collected 49 eggs the morning I was there. In late afternoon, he would collect again. See the chart with his totals. Some days there are more, some less. There are so many factors, like temperature, age of hens, stress caused by predators, etc, that it’s hard to pinpoint why some days there are more eggs than others.
I must say, these were pretty contented looking chickens. Even on this cold January day, the hens were in and out of their coups pecking the dirt (and occasionally at each other, no surprise there). They are fed certified organic, non-GMO feed. And based on the feedback of satisfied customers, the eggs are the best in the area.
New on the scene
Camps Road Farm is relatively new on the scene in Connecticut and the owners have big plans. There’s a large field of hops planted in the last year or two for their on-site brewery. Also recently planted is an organic apple orchard which will supply their distillery. And there are large banks of solar panels to provide electricity and heat the water for much of these processes.
Across the country, there is a growing demand for organic fruits and vegetables as well as pasture-raised chickens and eggs. Lots of people are raising a few hens in their back yards to put eggs on their own tables. But there’s an increasing number of small farmers who have decided to raise chickens and eggs as well as vegetables for the market place. And some of them are getting pretty innovative in the way they do it. John Suscovich is one of them.
What on earth is a “chicken tractor”?
Before coming to Camps Road Farm he had developed his own “chicken tractor,” a small, portable chicken coup that can be pulled across the pasture to maximize the beneficial effects of chickens eating the grass and bugs in a given spot, aerating the soil and fertilizing it with “nature’s own.” He perfected his design and has published a book with detailed instructions called, “Stress Free Chicken Tractor Plans.” You can check it out here if you want to build a chicken tractor.
The current book provides the how-to of building the chicken tractors. He’s working on another one that explains how to use these tractors in your chicken farming operation. The chicken tractors are used for raising birds for meat during the summer and fall. Check out this video from John’s website to see how they work.
And here’s a shot of all these tractors as I saw them, all waiting patiently for a new season of chickenification.
John got interested in farming back in 2010 when he began a quest to understand where the food he ate came from. He would bicycle to nearby farms from New York City and in 2011 he and his wife Kate rode their bikes from New York to Seattle to San Diego (just a little 5,500 mile bike ride!) staying on farms and getting to know farmers and their life style.
In 2012 he worked on a 200 member organic vegetable and grass fed beef CSA in Connecticut and was hooked. In 2013 he set up his own CSA with pasture-raised chickens for meat and egg production as well as organic veggies and now in 2014, he is working in conjunction with Camps Road Farm doing his thing and theirs as Farm Manager. He is excited and thrilled to have such a great opportunity in his hands.
Especially since he has a wonderful 6-month old baby daughter, Mabel.
Farming is a business
Having kids changes your perspective on life and John is more fired up than ever to make his farming endeavors successful. And that means running things as a business.
Between the initial tour of the farm and gathering of the eggs, we went inside to warm up and sip tea in front of his cozy wood burning stove. Here the conversation went quickly to entrepreneurship and marketing. John is a farmer but he is also a businessman. And he is a student of marketing.
One of John’s goals is to encourage as many farmers as he can to get back to having a right relationship with the land as well as the plants and animals on it. But he also wants them to succeed as a business. He has a weekly “Growing Farms Podcast” that covers a host of topics relevant to running a farm and the business of a farm. In fact, he has started a website, Farm Marketing Solutions, devoted entirely to helping farmers be better at marketing their products and services. If you’d like to connect with John on Facebook, click here: Food Cyclist.
It is amazingly encouraging to see people like John Suscovich get excited about farming, caring for the land, and empowering others to do the same. It gives me hope for the future of our country.
One of the last things John talked about before I left with a dozen fresh eggs in my possession was that he loved farming and he loved his family and was grateful to be able to focus on both. For his family as well as the farm, he has his feet firmly planted in the demands of the present, and an exciting vision for the future.
If you’re thinking about starting a chicken farm and raising chickens to sell or need a chicken tractor design, I hope you’ll make contact with John on one of his websites or through Facebook.
To the potential chicken farmer in you,
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