My time with Ron Hamilton of Sunworks Farm left me drowning in fascinating content – making this the most challenging edit to date. Ron and Sheila have been at this game longer than all the others I’ve covered so far, and have achieved a level of success in the organics business that places them as leaders in their industry. Being the biggest also makes you a target for criticism, and it seems like one of the emerging local ethics-of-food debates is whether one can get this big without compromising values. Ron addresses scale, growth, ethics, feed, conventional vs. organic practices both outdoors in the summer and in-barn in the winter, among many, many other topics.
I find feed interesting – and specifically the quest for farmers to achieve high-protein diets required to build meat without the use of soy. Ron says the roasted soy they use has 38-40% protein while the next best protein source, peas, has 20-22% if conventional, and 18-20% if organic. Problem is, much more than 15% peas in the ration doesn’t agree with the chickens’ tummies, and makes them sick. Another feed element that helps is alfalfa meal at 18% protein, also offering a greenness to the flavor of the meats. It currently comprises 12% of the ration. But the challenge remains: how to get birds to put on meat fast, with the use of local feed. I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked that Ron knew all this stuff off the top of his head, you might too if you had to feed 8000 lbs of it a day to your birds.
One of the many new frontiers for Sunworks Farm is a brand new value-add facility where they’ll capture current waste products [chicken livers, wing tips, etc] into patés, stocks, and other prepared foods on a large scale. I love the idea – more locally produced organic products, they can reduce waste from the animals the already produce, and it creates a new revenue stream for them in the value-add game. They also have a new facility with giant drum composters to handle waste they generate, turning it into healthful-for-the-land compost, and continue to build innovative facilities as practicality requires. It’s an exciting time in the world of Sunworks Farm, and they’ll be a key player to watch as the regional, ethical, and artisan food industry moves forward.