Why our chicken is no longer certified organic - History of Wild Harmony Chicken

Navigating food labels is a lot. 

We are often asked why our chicken is no longer certified organic, but our pork still is.  

It’s a great question, and it makes me so happy to have customers who are concerned enough about their food to ask questions like these!

The answer is a little complicated. Follow along as I share our story… ** spoiler alert ** it’s not because we think organic is bogus or that it costs too much. 

It began in 2012. When two love-struck young farmers started a homestead. The first year we raised 50 meat chickens.  We processed them ourselves in the backyard, and that was our chicken for the year (we didn’t sell any).

The next year some family and friends wanted in, so we raised 150 chickens and started the CSA.  At this point, we were not certified organic. We didn’t even know where to source organic feed! 

When we started looking, we realized that sourcing organic feed is harder than it seems. No other farm in our area was sourcing organic grain, so we had to get creative. It took us a few years to get it dialed in. 

In 2016 we found an organic feed supplier in Vermont and decided to make the leap to organic certification.  By this time, we were up to 800 chickens in a year.

The complication with this is that the chickens had to be processed in a certified organic processing facility.  The obvious next question is “What’s different about a certified organic processing facility?”

I’ve asked the same question to several facilities that we’ve worked with, and the answer I get every time is “PAPERWORK.”  The process is the same.  Some cleaning agents are not allowed, but every facility we have worked with doesn’t use those even for their conventional processing.  

So we had to find a USDA inspected, organically certified, poultry-capable processing facility.  

Guess how many of those there are in the northeast.


TWO!!!! One just outside of Burlington, VT (5 hours away), and one on the Canadian border in down east Maine (8 hours away).

So, for the next 5 years we drove all of our chickens to Burlington, VT.  

Because we were typically the only certified organic producer at that facility, our birds had to be done first in the morning, to prevent cross-contamination.

So picture this, in the late afternoon as the temperature started to cool off, we would load 500 chickens by hand into our trailer, and then I would drive to Burlington that evening.  I’d set up my tent in the parking lot of the processing facility, and wake up in the morning to help unload our chickens.

I would drive home with an empty trailer that evening, get up the next morning, and drive back with our refrigerated truck to pick up the packaged chicken, turn around, and drive home the same evening.

It was crazy and not without stress and mishaps! 

Our pick up truck broke down once, and I had to get towed at night, with the trailer full of chickens to the processing facility. The next day I took the train home, wearing my farm boots and carrying my toolbox, only to take the bus back up the next week to pick our truck up from the mechanic. 

Our refrigerated truck broke down once on the way home, and Rachael and our infant son, Milo,  picked me up in the middle of the night.  We loaded 3000 pounds of chicken into coolers in the back of our pickup truck, and drove through the night to get it into our freezers as fast as possible.

Let’s just say… IT WASN’T EASY! But we were committed to keeping the organic stamp on the package. 

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the processing facility in Burlington got so busy that they couldn’t accommodate our schedule and our growth.

So after much deliberation, we decided in 2021 that it was more sustainable for us, and less stressful for the chickens if we switched to a processing facility 30 minutes away (but not certified organic).  The only way we could live with that decision was if our production practices stayed exactly the same.

We continued to follow all of the organic standards and have our birds in the field certified organic.  But at the moment the chickens were brought into the new facility, they could no longer be labeled as “USDA Certified Organic.”

By the end of 2022, we realized that we had reached the capacity of our chicken infrastructure and the capacity of our fields for meat chicken production.  So we again put our heads together to decide the best path forward.

We considered finding a new property to raise our chickens and building new infrastructure, but this would spread our team, equipment, and investment across two properties.  We also watched another farmer do this and then lose their new lease, and all of their new infrastructure was sunk costs.

Then we started down the path of finding a partner farm that could produce chicken for us with exactly the same standards that we had always held - still certifiable as USDA Organic, but not certified because of the processor.

We even went down the road of trying to find a certified organic chicken producer to produce for us, but the only one we could find in the entire northeast was raising them in a huge barn, year-round, with outdoor access.  It’s better than never seeing the light of day, but it wasn’t what we were looking for.  We want our chickens to be eating grass and bugs, as they would instinctively in the wild.

We have been so happy to develop new relationships with other farmers that have better field layouts that facilitate pastured-chicken production!

This year Tyler Justice and his team at the Justice Homestead are raising our chicken on his green pastures in West Charleston, VT.  They are moved to fresh pasture every day, and supplemented with certified organic grain, just the same as we were doing 12 years ago when we first started.

We have outgrown the capacity of the organic processing facility in Vermont, so we still are not able to label our chicken as organic, even though we follow all of the organic program standards.

Thank you for these wonderful questions and your thoughtfulness about your food choices.  Keep the questions coming.  Consumer concern will ultimately change our food system for the better.  We just need enough consumers concerned enough.

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