NORTH MANCHESTER, Ind. – Chicken is on the menu at Indiana’s leading farm-to-table restaurants during this legislative session as they feature farm-raised poultry processed under a USDA “grant of exemption” in opposition to a House bill that would prohibit them from serving it.
“It is hard to find high quality chicken in Indiana” said Pete Eshelman, owner of Joseph Decuis restaurant in Roanoke, Ind., a pioneer in the state’s farm-to-table movement. “Most of it is grown in factory farms and processed in industrial facilities, but we prefer chicken raised in small quantities and processed by people we know, which in our case is the farmer. This bill is trying to tell us that we can’t serve the best chicken in Indiana.”
House Bill 1267, filed by District 25 Representative Don Lehe, would prevent small farms exempt from antemortem and postmortem inspection during slaughter from selling poultry to food establishments and institutions. Currently there is only one farm in Indiana operating a “grant of exemption,” Hawkins Family Farm in North Manchester, Ind.
“The federal grant of exemption is an example of regulation that fits the size of a small farm,” said Zach Hawkins, who raises poultry, beef, pork, and vegetables with his father, Jeff, on 99 acres in Wabash County. After working through the application process with the Indiana State Board of Animal Health, which administers the exemption on behalf of the United States Department of Agriculture, the Hawkinses received the grant in April 2015 and began processing their farm-raised poultry for customers, including restaurants.
While the farm is subject to facility inspection at least twice a year, as well as sanitary and labeling requirements, they are permitted to process up to 20,000 of their birds per year for sale within state lines without the presence of an on-site inspector. “For nearly 50 years, this provision has encouraged the viability of small farms serving local markets, where the relationships between producers and consumers augment the role of the government in ensuring safe and wholesome food,” Hawkins said.
Chef Jason Brown, owner of One Ten Craft Meatery in Warsaw, Ind., is raising awareness about the legislation by serving a braised Hawkins Farm half chicken, finished on the grill with lemon and served with sweet winter carrots and grilled leeks, also from Hawkins Farm.
“It is hard to understand why state representatives, especially those involved with agriculture, would fight to send money away from our local economy,” said Brown. “Indiana should pride itself on its locally owned farms, the ability we have to grow our own food, and the demand for these products, which continues to grow. Midwestern states should be leading the fight for small farmers to be able to sell to restaurants in order to give tourists and locals a true taste of Indiana.”
While Hawkins chicken was already a favorite of farm-to-table chefs in northeastern Indiana, the #keepchickenonthemenu campaign has given chefs in other parts of the state, including Indianapolis, an opportunity to cook with their small batch, pasture-raised, farm-processed poultry. See the full list of participating restaurants at http://www.hawkinsfamilyfarm.com/hb1267.html.
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Pete Eshelman, Joseph Decuis