Local Farmer Faces Challenges With Selling Non-USDA Poultry

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A view of Karen Doyle's Georgiatown Farm in White Stone, Va.

A view of Karen Doyle’s Georgiatown Farm in White Stone, Va.

Karen Doyle’s Georgiatown Farm sits on a 10-acre lot in the heart of White Stone, Va. Doyle raises heritage poultry, pork and sheep breeds. While most of her livestock are sent to various slaughterhouses that are inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, her poultry is not USDA-inspected because she processes it herself. Doyle’s farm and slaughterhouse was inspected once, but she said it doesn’t have to be inspected again unless she raises 20,000 chickens or more per year. Doyle keeps about 100 chickens at a time and she only sold about 1,100 to 1,200 last year.

I had VDACS (Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services) tell me I have one of the best processing houses they’ve seen in the state for my poultry,” Doyle said. “I’m not required to be inspected, but they told me it was better than even some industrial-inspected places. It works better, it’s cleaner.

Doyle primarily uses Hoffman’s Quality Meats in Maryland and T&E Meats in Harrisonburg to slaughter her sheep and pigs. However, Doyle said the problem is that because her poultry is not USDA-inspected, she cannot sell her meats to local health food stores.

I don’t have to have it USDA packaged and the rule is, USDA killed and USDA packaged (to be sold to health food stores),” she said. “The problem is this is a business now and a lot of people are doing it and there are not enough slaughterhouses all around.

Doyle and other small livestock farmers can sell to supermarkets or restaurants that have special butchering licenses, but she said she couldn’t resell her poultry to local health food stores because they do not have the proper licensing. Doyle’s livestock is raised on GMO-free and antibiotic-free feed and her Free Ranger chickens are raised in a pine forest, a French method of free-range poultry production, making Doyle’s products attractive to environmentalists, animal welfare advocates and health-conscious food stores.

It costs a lot of money to get our product on the street. I can sell my poultry to a supermarket that has a butchering license, they need to have some kind of license, but I can’t sell it to my local health food store because they don’t have that,” she said. “They can’t just have my frozen chicken in their freezer. I have to physically be there to sell my product.

Doyle stressed that farmers should have the right to grow and sell their products to whoever wants to buy it.

I think people should be able to buy food at their own risk. If you come to my farm and you buy my chickens … I mean my chicken is not inspected and you should be able to buy that if you want to,” Doyle said.

Doyle assures that even though her poultry is not USDA inspected, it is still safe to eat. She said she has never had any issues with anybody getting sick from it, and she eats her own products herself.

I eat my own product always. I don’t buy food in the store, rarely, and I try to buy everything I can from a farmer,” she said.

Doyle believes organic farming is safer than the factory farmed products found on the shelves in supermarkets.

You don’t hear about the local organic farm having their spinach recalled because there’s E. coli all over it,” she said. “You don’t hear that my eggs are recalled because 80,000 of them, like what happened a few years ago in Iowa, were recalled because something was wrong with them.

Doyle has sold approximately 5,000 chickens in addition to turkeys and ducks since opening her operation almost five years ago. She assures that her slaughter process is clean and safe.

I’ve never had a person say they were sick. The way I hand-process mine (it’s) a clean process,” Doyle said. “The evisceration is by hand, I don’t spill the guts, and when it’s done by machine the guts are spilled and that’s why you have problems with E.coli and salmonella. It lives in the gut of every animal and probably humans as well.

Small farmer Karen Doyle slaughters her poultry herself. Although she is not USDA-inspected, she ensures that her process is clean, as she said she does not spill the guts.

Small farmer Karen Doyle slaughters her poultry herself. Although she is not USDA-inspected, she ensures that her process is clean, as she said she does not spill the guts.

Doyle went on to say that industrial agriculture operations then put the carcasses in a vat with highly chlorinated water to kill the germs, but she claims it doesn’t always kill off the germs completely.

They’re soaking in the excrement now, in the chlorinated water with their own guts that are spilled and that is why our meat is so contaminated,” she said.

To ensure safe and sanitary farming practices, Doyle said it’s important for customers to do their research and get to know their local farmers before buying from them.

That’s what the slogan ‘trust your farmer,’(means, you have to) know your farmer, know the practices they do,” Doyle said.

Doyle said that she does occasionally come across a customer who is not willing to buy meat that is not USDA inspected.

There are people like that, that trust everything in the store, and plus the prices (for meat produced by local farmers) are often four times as high,” she said.

She said politicians often cater to the industrial agriculture companies, but she said it’s now starting to change.

There are environmental issues; there are animal rights issues; there are food safety issues and all of those laws are made for big agriculture and they are only beginning to change for the small producer,” Doyle said.

Doyle said small farmers like her are becoming a threat to the big agricultural producers who rule the marketplace.

If I can sell a large number of animals in a year, that’s that much more that’s not being sold in the supermarket,” Doyle said. “That’s a threat; it’s becoming a threat because we are standing up and we are fighting for everything we can and they have to stand up and listen to us.

This article is part of an ongoing series on small farms in Virginia. For more articles on Karen Doyle:

Local Farmer Seeks to Preserve America’s Heritage Livestock Breeds
Virginia Livestock Farmer Abstains from GMOs and Antibiotics
Georgiatown Farm Strives for Sustainability

Shelby Mertens

About Shelby Mertens

Shelby Mertens is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in Mass Communications - Journalism. She was the arts and culture editor of The Commonwealth Times, VCU's independent student press. Shelby was a blogging and social media intern for Gandzee, an online retail startup in Richmond. She covered the General Assembly session last spring for Capital News Service on behalf of over 70 news publications across the state. She has also published work on WTVR-CBS 6's website, a part of the iPadJournos project at VCU.