A major clucking sound: The great Bay Area chicken shortage of 2007

Marin Sun Farms chickenWhich is harder to find, a pastured chicken or its eggs? In the Bay Area, there's way too much demand for both.

The CUESA newsletter just alerted me to a sad, sad development: As of this week, Hoffman Game Birds will no longer be selling at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza farmers market. Ruth Hoffman, who is "well above retirement age," has decided it's time for her to slow down, and that getting up at 5 a.m. to drive 70 miles every Saturday is too much, even with her son's and grandchildren's help.

According to the description of Hoffman Game Birds on the CUESA website (since deleted), the Hoffmans raise about 100,000 birds yearly on 35 acres in Manteca, CA, including 15 acres of pasture. The birds roam freely inside pens measuring 50-by-300 feet, foraging on native weeds and grasses and also eating locally milled whole grains including corn and soy. Although they have not sought organic certification, the Hoffman family says the birds get no antibiotics, steroids (which are prohibited by the USDA for poultry, by the way), or animal byproducts.

The Hoffmans will continue to sell chickens, quails, wild turkey and pheasants to the Bay Area's top restaurants. (Ruth and her late husband Bud started supplying Chez Panisse with pheasant in 1985, six years after the farm began raising game birds; they added chickens later in response to requests from Alice Waters.)

So, where o where are we Bay Area Ethicureans supposed to get our chickens? Of course, in a pinch there's Petaluma Poultry's Rosie the Organic Chicken, available at Golden Gate Meat Company at the Ferry Building, or various Whole Foods and other outlets.

Given a choice, we prefer birds that get to scratch and peck in pasture. But pickings are slim. David Evans of Marin Sun Farms told me that with the help of his sister, he's about to double his chicken operations to 100 per week — but given that people are willing to line up at 7 a.m. for his current wares and he sells out in less than an hour, that's unlike to be enough. (The chicken photo above is from his laying hens' coop.) Liz Cunninghame of Clark Summit has a waiting list for her few chickens, which you have to pick up from her place in Tomales.

At the Berkeley farmers market — which, by the way, is sadly lacking in meat offerings in general — the only person selling chickens is Arthur Davis, and that only rarely; his are billed as "stewing birds" and are what's known as "spent layers." I confess I haven't tried one of Arthur's, but now that I have a crockpot, I will soon. Ted of Highland Hills said he was going to have chickens, but I have yet to see them for sale at his stall.

Does anyone know who might be able to fill the void Hoffman Game Birds will leave? And if not, shouldn't some enterprising soul start building some movable chicken pens like, yesterday?

2 Responsesto “A major clucking sound: The great Bay Area chicken shortage of 2007”

  1. A.P. says:

    The situation sounds serious...makes me want to move to CA and start a pastured chicken farm! How hard can it be? Would love more info on these current operations and what life is like for the "chickens who run free." Great blogging, as ever, A.P.

  2. Omniwhore says:

    You ask "How hard can it be?" Not to discourage your worthy dream, but speaking as someone who has interned at a pastured chicken farm -- it's really, really hard! Harder than calculus, rocket science, and most other intellectual endeavors -- because with this one, you're working with Nature.

    My first suggestion if you're really interested is to intern at a farm in CA before you start your own. Also, read all of Salatin's books on farming.

    Good luck!