Why You Should Buy Your Chicken From Family Farms

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Family farms make up a surprising 98 percent of America’s 2.1 million farms – but they are in crisis. More than half have lost money every year since 2013. Of these family farms, chicken farms makes up a meaty chunk. Yet for a $27 billion industry, family chicken farmers only get a sliver of that tasty pie. That’s because the “Big Four” companies control about 60 percent of the market

If family farmers struggle, it negatively impacts the quality and integrity of the food that ends up on our tables. From nutritional value to animal welfare to environmental practices, family farmers have consistently proven better at all these best practices. Luckily, today’s consumers are demanding more of just that. More and more, we know that when we invest in high quality products, it is better for our bodies and the environment, and it helps family farms to stay afloat.

Sixth generation chicken farmer Corwin Heatwole is the CEO and founder of Farmer Focus – the fastest-growing organic chicken brand in America. Farmer Focus allows consumers to know exactly where their chicken was grown and to support small business family farms. It was named a Fast Company World Changing Idea in 2021. In 2022, President Biden asked Heatwole to advise the government on improving U.S. farming at a White House roundtable.

Heatwole worked with family farmers to design his business model. Farmer Focus ensures fair pay. Their farmers earn 25 to 35 percent more income than with other partners. Every package of Farmer Focus chicken includes a “Farm ID,” so that you can trace your chicken back to the farmer who raised it. Nationally, Farmer Focus products are available on Crowd Cow.

“As a sixth-generation chicken farmer, I knew early on that I wanted to fix my own family’s farm so that it could be passed on to my kids and their kids,” says Heatwole in an exclusive FORBES interview. “But I realized quickly that my true calling was to fix as many family farms as I could, sharing the proven model of our farm with others. That’s how Farmer Focus was born. Our mission is to promote and protect intergenerational family farms, which is what I am most passionate about. I spend every moment ensuring that as a company, we are positioning farmers to be successful for generations.”

The Farmer Focus business model enables farmers to increase profits and improve their quality of life by shifting farm-level decision-making and chicken ownership back to farmers. In the traditional poultry model, payment is made on a sliding scale. Every week, someone wins and someone loses. Since Farmer Focus farmers own their birds and their feed, and the company guarantees a fair market rate, everyone wins. Since the farmers earn more, they are willing to invest in innovations that result in the highest quality and best tasting, humanely raised organic chicken.

A huge part of how Farmer Focus supports farmers is in proactively understanding, researching and discovering how they can lower their carbon footprint and increase operational efficiency. “I spend a lot of time researching and thinking about what technologies exist that we can implement to improve the welfare of our farmers and animals. I test and study regenerative practices that lower our greenhouse gas footprint and share them with our growers after proving the concept to improve farm viability,” says Heatwole.

Because chicken farming is a giant, well-established $27 billion industry, Heatwole struggled early on to convince people to join the team. They doubted whether Farmer Focus could prove successful. However, he stayed the path and things began to come together in the fourth year. Farmer Focus then began to grab the attention of people who understand the industry’s problems and want to disrupt it. Today, with 19 percent growth, the company is significantly outpacing the category as a whole.

Jules Maloney-Smith is one of the top performers with Farmer Focus. A few years ago, she and her wife Keely Maloney-Smith relocated from Europe with their three children in order to run River’s Edge Farm along with Jules’ parents and the farm’s founders, Geri and Kerry Maloney.

“Being able to bring people joy, to help them with a problem and have a resolution that benefits everyone is something I always aim to achieve,” Maloney-Smith says. “Buying the farm where I was born and raised gave me the ability to have a positive impact on other people through something I am passionate about. It has enabled me to have precious time with my young family, to be outside in nature, and to get back to my roots. The flexibility of working with Farmer Focus enables me to farm in a way that works for our family and aligns with our values as well. I can follow organic standards. It’s a win-win for both the grower and the company.”

As a second-generation farmer, Maloney-Smith feels incredibly blessed to have the support of her parents. “With their help, I’ve learned how to fix stoves, repair small engines, take apart a feedline and put it back together and lift very heavy things,” she says. “In a male-dominated profession, learning these skills has empowered me, made me feel more equal and given me the confidence to know that I’ve made the right decision. I’m right where I need to be.”

To those looking to pursue their life purpose, Heatwole has this advice:

1. Take calculated risks. I knew what wasn’t working in the industry and had a vision for where we wanted to go. There was a lot I didn’t understand a lot about the path to get there, but I believed enough in the end result that I was willing to figure it out along the way. You don’t need the entire plan finalized, but you should know where you want to end up.

2. Share with everyone and anyone who will listen. I wish I had done this more. Reach out to people and let them know what’s in your heart and mind, sharing your vision. People who care about you will vet your ideas and also support you.

3. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers. I was repeatedly told, “Farmers don’t start poultry companies.” But I believed in myself and my abilities beyond farming enough to take that with a grain of salt and keep forging ahead.

4. Test on a smaller scale. I built a few smaller businesses before starting this company so I could learn some hard lessons on a smaller scale before trying to enlarge the concepts and ideas. In 2012, I started my own farm with 300 birds. Test theories, and don’t be in a hurry to get to the top.

5. Don’t leave any regrets on the table. Everybody has a different level of risk tolerance. Starting a business is a calculated risk. But for me, I knew I couldn’t leave this idea alone. I knew it could impact so many lives and change the world.

Maloney-Smith adds her own piece of advice to this list. “It’s okay to learn as you go, it’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay to make mistakes. When you love what you do, the long hours, the learning on the job, the frustrations from not getting it right the first time somehow seem to fade away. You get to see the progress you make, the skills you have learned, the challenges you have overcome. It is then that you realize that you really are a badass who can do anything!”



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