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Foster Farms- The Conventionally Raised Bird and Felton Acres- The Free-Range Farm Raised Bird

Be honest, which chicken would you rather eat?

Finally, the chicken comparison event in Sebastopol hosted by Slow Food Russian River alongside with Hillside Supper Club of San Francisco. An event to teach people about raising chickens (backyard chickens as we like to say), and the difference between the farm raised bird and a conventionally raised bird. When I say conventional bird, I am saying that this bird is mass-produced, doesn’t see daylight, eats a very strict diet to make them grow faster, injected with hormones, steroids, and most of the time only given a space the size of A4 bond paper per bird. Doesn’t seem like a nice way to treat an animal to me. And in the end result the meat that the bird will feed you is totally different from the meat of a free and natural bird.

Now I can see why over 50% of todays population likes to follow a vegetarian diet. I guess I would too, if I was fed this disgusting bird! But, as for me, I fortunately caught up in my learning, and found out that I could find a chicken that was raised on pasture and could walk over twenty feet, on their own. Actually lucky to find one that could even stand on those two feet of theirs, unlike some of the birds used in today’s market.

Slow food also wanted to demonstrate proper cooking of the bird when they reach the age to be slaughtered. That is where Tony Ferrari and Jonathon Sutton from Hillside Supper Club stepped in. They were here to lay down some of their skills: butchering, cooking and teaching a handful of hungry people how to do it proper. Not only did the chefs cook the beautiful meat these animals carry, but also gave a demonstration on cooking the precious yolky orange eggs that they lay.

After watching the chickens be delivered from a local duck farmer by the name of Jim Reichardt of Sonoma County Liberty Duck, and a few cups of coffee to open my eyes, guests were arriving; anxious to see these birds in action. Let me not forget the granola I was sneakily snacking on during all of this. I mean, when I am surrounded by so much great food, it’s hard to wait for a meal to be served before I begin snacking on something in the wide open. And the granola wasn’t just any granola, it was house granola made from Della Fattoria. Thank you Della, for feeding my anxiousness!

Anyways, back to the topic!

The first demonstration was the eggs. Their were two different types: one egg that came from a chicken raised at Foster Farms- which in our case is the conventional farm today. The other egg is coming from Soul Food Farm– a very small ran, local farm, raising pastured chickens that are free-range and somewhat as organic as it can get. Looking at the eggs, I was able to distinct different colors for all of them. The reason for that comes from the chickens genetics and breed. The eggs that have the shell color of white are the conventional egg (it was the only color we could find in the store) and the other colors ranging in color from brown, blue and even green are coming from the farm raised chicken, picked up about two hours prior to cooking. Now that is fresh folks! I asked the chefs how the eggs would be prepared for todays demonstration/ breakfast. Hold on! Breakfast?

Need me not remind you, I am starving as we are talking about this. So when they told me what was going to accompany my luscious eggs, I almost had to throw down my camera and pick up a fork before the rest of the guests arrived. But I held it in, and I was patient as my mother once taught me to be… Thanks Mom!

Chef Tony proceeded in our conversation telling me the eggs would be cooked in a style that’s called Sous Vide.

Now for me I happen to already know what this term means, but if they would’ve said that to anybody else that is relatively new to the inspiring modern food world, I’m sure they would’ve been a little confused (which is okay to be). Sous Vide simply means that the eggs are going to be cooked for a certain amount of time in a water bath that is set to a certain temperature. For anybody that would love to learn more behind this modern cooking technique go here, and you can indulge in some education. As for myself, I am going to keep along, so I can make my way to my plate.

So the end result of the egg will basically look like it has been poached, except this egg (that’s been sous vide) is perfect! It comes out with a perfectly sensitive egg white and glowing egg yolk that is runny, yet in the most creamiest manner.

Chef Jonathon delicately picking each egg to be cracked over some morning toast.

My Sous Vide egg laying over Della Fattorias rustic bread next to crispy bacon from the Black Pig Meat Co.

Unfortunately, I was only able to get a picture of the egg coming from Soul Food Farms. I have no clue why I didn’t get a photo of the other egg, but I guess it didn’t cross my mind when I saw this bright orange yolk.

I will say however, that the difference in the two eggs were massive. The egg in front of me (Soul Food Farms) was sun-bright orange, had the taste of the farm fields, was thick and overall reminded me of a traditional egg. I am not saying that in a diminishing way, I only mean that it tasted like a true egg, the way it should be. The other egg (Conventional) was pale yellow, didn’t seem to hold up as strong when it was cracked onto the toast, and the egg white was even off. It looked pale and not so appetizing to swallow, but on my behalf I had to taste it. Let’s say after the first bite it was hard to go back and eat the rest. The egg wasnt horrible, but it just wasn’t anything I wanted to ingest.

Hearing comments on the two eggs from others were pretty much the same that I had to share. My favorite was seeing the kids at the event, patiently waiting for the eggs to be served and once everything was ready they told the chefs, “Can we only have the farm raised chicken egg, we would rather not eat the other one. We already know they are not good for us. Oh, can we have some extra bacon too! Please chef!”  Amazing that these youngsters already knew the difference on the two eggs. I guess growing up around it your whole life, you’re just born to know it. Then, five minutes later they came back for seconds yelling, “It’s better than my mother’s cooking, and she’s the best chef I know! Can we just have one more, please?” Ha! Silly Kids!

After filling our stomachs and discussing about the eggs around the picnic table, everyone packed up and prepared for a tour of some of Sebastopols finest back-yard raised chickens. We went to look at different layouts, designs and techniques at how anyone living anywhere could raise a backyard chicken themself.

We also made our way through some of the local farms in the area that raise chickens on a much larger scale. One just so happened to be Felton Acres Farm. Their farm looked like the real deal! They had a technique of raising their chickens so they are brought up on a strict diet of pasture. Everyday the chicken coops are lifted onto the back two wheels that come attached, and pulled to a different patch of pasture. Not only is this excellent for the chickens to always have plentiful supply of food, but it also seeds the grass so it grows back fast and fertilizes it from the chickens waste. Ahh, the circle of life! Amazing how small-scale farming is so much different from commercial farming nowadays, it blows my mind. If only every farmer could do the same!

Chickens around their mobile coop, grazing

Chickens grazing around their mobile coop at Felton Acres.

Now as the group was on the tour, Hillside Supper Club was back at the kitchen preparing the chicken that would be used for the days lunch. Now as I said earlier we had two types, the conventional chicken from Foster Farms and the farm raised bird from Felton Acres. Luckily, I was able to get a sneak of the chicken farming tour and see the chefs prepare the lunch. Doing it all from scratch, breaking down one chicken at a time, seasoned, and onto the grill.

Chef Tony Ferrari breaking down the Felton Acres bird.

As soon as the group returned everything was already prepared. The salad, chicken breasts, thighs and wings and some fruit to finish off the meal. The chickens were served on two platters, both differentiated by written signs. To my knowledge I don’t really think the signs were necessary since it wasn’t hard to tell which chicken was which.

The farm raised bird was beautiful! It had a nice color to it, a nice browning from the grill and seasoning and overall presented itself in a thicker, juicier manner. As for the conventional chicken it was really pale and dull looking. It almost looked as if it was old, like it was cooked two days prior then reheated in the microwave.

Now as for tasting, I have to say the conventional chicken was very juicy and tender. But the flavor from the farm raised chicken won me over, plus it also had juiciness and tenderness. The reason why the conventional chicken may have been much more tender and juicier is because the chickens didn’t move much, so that helped them cover with fat, which in end result is good to have when the chicken is being cooked so it doesn’t come out dry. The farm raised chicken wasn’t tough at all nor did it have problems being tender or juicy.

The winner for the crowd and myself was the bird from Felton Acres. Not only could I tell from the show of hands that we called for, but also when I went for seconds finding no more chicken left except for the platter serving the ‘conventional’ chicken. It’s a shame that such an animal has to be raised in such condition. It’s almost like it makes no sense! Why can’t people stick to traditional farming methods. Keeping not only the animal from harm as it’s being raised, but also the consumer when they buy the bird to eat. Instead of having the hormone injected, steroid induced, mass-produced, constrained bird, why can’t people choose the naturally raised, free-range, pasture fed chicken? In the end, it will not only help the body of the consumer, but also help small farmers and businesses that raised them. Which then will help them with profit, so they will be able to grow larger and sell their beautiful product to more suppliers to feed more people more beautiful food.

Young chicks under a heat lamp, eating and being free.

So, just think about all of that before you reach you hand ten feet in the freezer at your local market for some Tyson chicken. Or better yet, before you order that McChicken sandwich for a whopping .99$. Or those surprising McNuggets! Amazing!

So, to wrap up the long day, I say from the words of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, “You are what you eat;” so why wouldn’t people just choose to eat the best!?