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Rebuilding Local Markets

Cooperative creates choices for farmers, consumers

January 30, 2003 | By Patty Cantrell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Brian Confer
  Cindy Dutcher and pastured poultry

Some Upper Peninsula farmers are finding it doesn’t require putting Meijer out of business to generate the kind of cash flow that can keep a family farming or get a young couple started.

Rus and Amy Goetz, for example, recently moved back home to their Goetzville roots near the U.P.’s Lake Huron shoreline with their two young daughters after trying — and not liking — the commuter life in Omaha, Nebraska. They now are part of the Big North Farmers Cooperative, a group of about a dozen farms in the eastern U.P. that are marketing and delivering free-range beef, pork, lamb, poultry, bison, and eggs to more than 300 customers across the region.

The Goetz’ started their new farm life by pasturing poultry outdoors in movable pens for local consumers who want all-natural meat. “This is totally different farming than what I grew up with, but it’s starting to pay the bills,” Rus says.

Rus and Amy learned about pastured poultry from Cindy and John Dutcher, who live up the road and who helped launch the Big North Farmers Cooperative, as well as a small-scale poultry processing facility for its members.

Cindy Dutcher says the idea is to re-create local markets for quality local products and protect farmers and farmland in the process.
“They sell a lot of turkeys in Chippewa and Mackinac counties during the holidays,” Cindy says as she moves an open-air pen of turkeys to a new spot of rich, organic pasture. “Why shouldn’t some of them come from us?”

The Dutchers are well aware that turkeys in the grocery store cost less per pound because of factory-scale production and that the brand names come with major corporate advertising dollars behind them. But they have found there’s plenty of room for entrepreneurs in the poultry business.

“We found half of our customers are young people concerned about their health and the environment and the other half are old people who know what real chicken tastes like,” Cindy says.

The Big North Farmers Cooperative’s aim is to create more choices for both farmers and consumers, says John Dutcher. “We’re not trying to make a killing. We’re just trying to make a living and to restore a food system that existed here at one time.”

Contacts: Big North Farmers Cooperative, 906-297-2120, dutchfarm@sault.com; American Pastured Poultry Producers Association, 715-723-2293, www.apppa.org; Michigan Alliance of Cooperatives, 517-561-5037; Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance, www.moffa.org

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