Milton Baucom with one of his now abandoned Tyson confinement houses, or CAFO’s, in the background.
When you come up the long driveway onto Milton Baucom’s farm in rural North Carolina one the the first things you notice are 5 gigantic galvanized poultry confinement houses. But if you were to take a moment to peek inside, you’d soon realize that they’re abandoned. If you stopped, turned, and looked a little more closely at the surrounding fields you would start to notice little flocks of pastured chickens pecking around in the grass outside, barely a stone’s throw away from the empty confinement buildings. If you looked a little farther down the field you’d even see that there are now fenced paddocks where the Baucom family’s grass fed cows are out grazing.
For about 20 years Milton Baucom and his family tried to make a living raising conventional poultry for Tyson. By the end, they were raising hundreds of thousands of birds and not even breaking even. Tyson was trying to force them yet again to invest thousands of dollars into the existing massive poultry confinement facilities that would never pay for themselves. The Baucoms knew the time had come to find a better way to feed America and make a living. They soon started experimenting with grass fed beef, pastured chicken, and pastured turkeys.
Since then, they’ve learned a lot. One of the most challenging aspects of grass-based farming is often marketing one’s grass fed meats. The Baucom family tried several different ways of marketing their meats: everything from farmers markets to wholesale accounts and restaurants. They even got a deal with Whole Foods. Some of those marketing methods have been more successful than others. Unfortunately for the Baucoms, Whole Foods required them to spend thousands on dollars of special insurance and farm inspections but didn’t offer them any stable purchasing agreements and paid them much less than what they really needed in order to survive economically in the long run.
Milton and hired hands out tending to chickens grazing not far from an old Tyson confinement house (left).
Grass-based farming is never easy. The Baucom family will no doubt have to continue to be innovative in order to keep their family farm economically sustainable. But this year, for the first time, they know that they will raise about 3,000 chickens that will have a guaranteed market through Tendergrass Farms, representing more than $32,000.00 in sure-fire sales for Milton, his wife Harriet, and their two young children. We’ve worked closely with them in the process of determining what Tendergrass Farms needs to do to ensure the profitability of their family farm, carefully analyzing the costs that are involved in raising each bird. After all, when we say that we’re all about “Sustaining Family Farms,” we really mean it!
For a complete list of the farmers who are supported through Tendergrass Farms click here.