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Jan Lee headshot

Organic Farm Uses Crowdfunding to Reach Out to Free Range Customers

Words by Jan Lee

Organic egg producer Vital Farms has big plans for the future. And judging from the response on the crowdfunding site, When You Wish, the hens are probably clucking with excitement.

In September, we gave readers a virtual tour of the Aurora, Texas-based enterprise, which has become known for its promotion of pastured-raised hens and its use of humane egg production. With 15 farms in its network and almost $5 million in annual sales, Vital Farms has had no problem in garnering a share of Whole Foods' organic customer base.

According to Aurora Porter, director of marketing and communications for the network, the $80,000 that it hopes to raise from crowdfunding will go toward the costs of adding a new organic farm to the network.

“We are expecting to save 4,000 chickens from a life spent indoors, and provide them with the nicest lives possible on this new farm,” says Porter, who explained that there are a number of physical challenges that need to be met in order to bring the new member aboard.

“We will use any money raised to purchase organic hens, mobile fencing, mobile watering systems and improvements to existing barns on the farm premises.” Porter says that they are currently looking at a farm that is based in northern California, although “there are a handful of other farmers in a few southern states that are interested in working with us as well.”

Vital Farms has produced a YouTube video explaining their endeavors in pastured poultry farming and how it differs from conventional poultry farming.

Since most of the farms in its network are based in southern United States, she says some research will be necessary if they do take on a farm in the Northwest.

“We have not yet worked with a farmer on the West Coast, so we'll need to become acquainted with new weather patterns and predators.”

And there’s a learning curve for the farmer who has been used to raising chicks in conventional settings as well.

“Farming on pasture after having birds in a barn is a big change,” says Porter, but the rewards can be worth it.

So far the campaign on When You Wish has raised about $13,000 of the $80,000 needed. It still has more than a month left before the funding deadline. Porter says that although they still have a way to go to raise the capital they need, the signs are optimistic.

As to how long it will take to complete the conversion to a fully pastured operation, she says can depend upon the weather.  But, if everything goes smoothly, it could be completed within a couple of months.

“Putting young birds out on pasture in the winter months has to be done carefully, so I would anticipate that the birds might be producing in the spring of 2013.”

For organic pasture advocates that want to see continued improvement in the way hens are raised and eggs are produced for human consumption, the network’s growth is a step in the right direction. Vital Farms, which opened its doors in 2007, has already begun to change how U.S. consumers look at what they want from the organic and free-range egg industry, as is reflected in a recent online review of Vital Farms by The Cornucopia Institute.

Vital Farms scored a “5 egg” (out of 5) rating for its compliance with federal regulations pertaining to organic egg and poultry production and a total score of 2095. Its standing reflects high marks for the outdoor rotational procedures it uses and the hens’ nutrition and living conditions in general.

A detailed financial breakdown of how Vital Farms would allocate the money it raises wasn’t available to donors on the When You Wish website. Such information would help to educate potential backers in the kinds of costs and challenges that a transition to pastured farming can face. But with almost $14,000 raised in the first few months of the campaign, it is clear that its customers support the endeavors that Vital Farms is making to improve the standards applied to organic and conventional poultry industries.

Photos courtesy of Jody Horton.

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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