Where does the food we put on our family tables come from? Who grows, harvests and prepares it for us?
More of today’s consumers want to know the story behind our food. Beginning at the farm and emerging as a culinary creation on our tables, there’s a journey to maintaining a robust and sustainable food system. To dive deeper into the story, we sat down with poultry farmer Stoni Jo, whose family-owned farm contracts with Tyson Foods, to hear how her role as a poultry breeder contributes to the food system–and how she plays a fundamental role in preparing good food for family tables.
Q: Tell me a little bit about life on your farm.
Being a breeder is really hard work, but I’m so proud of what we do on our farm and the animals we’re raising. My farm collects eggs from our hens, and when the chicks hatch, they go to another farm to be raised. My husband, my children, my in-laws–we’re all in it together and we each play an important role in the day-to-day work. The best part is that because we own our own business, it allows for flexibility. While the hours are longer than most day jobs, and nights and weekends will always be included, I can carve out time to see my daughter off to school in the morning or we can run errands knowing that other members of the family are watching over things back at the farm.
We start our day with our morning chores, making sure our birds are well taken care of. We clean our chicken houses, feed our birds, check their water levels, collect the eggs, watch our feed levels – and ensure everything is off to a smooth start. Most days, we meet or talk to our partners at Tyson Foods who check in on our farm in case we need help or guidance with anything to ensure continued success. The pride that comes along with having our own farm means that we’re really working for ourselves. It’s the same kind of pride I’d imagine comes with owning any family business!
Q: What would surprise people most about your role as a breeder?
Well for me, it actually comes back to a story. I do a lot of tours of our farm and chicken houses because we want people to know how we’re caring for these birds and explain where their food truly comes from. I give tours to prospective poultry farmers, educational tours for those down at the local university and others interested in where their food comes from.
One time, I had a student who was really early on in his education come and ask why roosters were needed to get the eggs from the hen–he didn’t know that the eggs you buy in the grocery store are different from the ones that grow to become chickens. At first, I was kind of surprised, but it just showed me how important it is to educate people on the reality behind our food.
Something a lot of people might not know: hens will lay eggs with or without a rooster. The eggs in the grocery store are produced by hens alone so they won’t ever hatch, but the eggs on our farm are fertilized by a rooster so they will hatch and the chicks can grow up on a farm.
Q: What’s the most common misconception about chickens that you wish you were able to help people understand better?
The real story behind the care that goes into raising these chickens and collecting healthy eggs would probably be what I would want more people to understand.
People think that chickens are dirty, or pumped up with hormones to keep them healthy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Our chicken houses are cleaned at least three times a day, we wear special shoes to go in there to keep our birds healthy, we monitor their water levels and nutrient levels. The houses are equipped with top-quality ventilation and climate control–whether that is cooling in the summer or heating in the winter.
Q: What does being part of the global food system mean to you?
Honestly, it’s that the “big picture” of the food system is, in reality, very local and very personal. I like the idea that we’re in this circle of life with Tyson Foods. We often run into people from our community who raise the chickens that hatch from our eggs. We know our family and our community are being fed by our farm or one like ours–and in many cases, their food is grown, raised and processed locally. Being part of this ecosystem, while it appears large, is made up of farmers just like me—just like my family. And every day I go to work knowing that I’d be just as proud to serve my neighbor the food I raise and serve to my own family. It doesn’t get more personal than that.