If all goes to plan a regenerative agriculture project could be coming home to roost by Spring 2020.
Skeena Energy Solutions (SES), a project started by the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition (SWCC), has begun construction on a poultry farm being built with regenerative agriculture in mind.
The system, referred to as Poultry-Centered Regenerative Agriculture (PCRA) will see 1,500 chickens living in a simple solar-powered coop located near Hazelton on Gitxsan territory.
The chickens — which, although not certified organic will be grown without any additives, antibiotics, herbicides or pesticides — will be given unrestricted access to a series of rotating fenced-in paddock (grazing) areas before the chickens can damage the land by overuse, a common theme of standard, non-regenerative poultry farming.
Another element of the PCRA project is the paddocks are located under a dense canopy of hazelnuts and assorted berries, which protects the chickens from natural predators and sunlight, but also acts as the literal blackberry on top of the potential agriculture sales from the project.
“With this set-up on 1.5 to 2.5 acres, a single farmer can work three hours a day to produce 4,500 four-pound, free-range chickens in nine months, along with thousands of pounds of nuts, berries, and other cash crops … [translating] to over $80,000 (meat) or $250,000 (eggs) gross income per year, per single plot,” a description of the project provided by SES reads.
Energy Coordinator with SWCC Kesia Nagata told The Interior News she got the idea from a similar project being done in Minnesota which worked with Latino farmers, pairing them with small — under two acres — plots of land and helping them farm them in an “economically, ecologically and socially viable and just manner.
“This chicken-rearing system can provide a decent living income for the farmers, can allow lower income or renting or farmers who can only afford a bit of land into the farming market and would regenerate the soil,” Nagata explained, adding Minnesota faces the geographically-unique situation of depleted corn fields which have been farmed industrially for decades.
Nagata was inspired, and thought a similar regenerative agriculture project in the Bulkley Valley — using chickens — would be a great idea.
She said although SES is hoping the PCRA project (which is being built now and slated to begin housing chickens in Spring 2020) is successful, it’s more about showing the practicality of regenerative agriculture in the Bulkley Valley than it is literally restoring the local environment, which Nagata noted is relatively healthy comparatively.
“We have beautiful, nutritious, natural land we want to not degenerate in the first place, so the idea of applying regenerative agriculture as a way to protect and enhance already thriving ecosystems seemed like a really big win.”
Another aspect of the project is that, if successful, it should result in the sequestering of carbon into root matter used by the chickens, as well as building topsoil.
Nagata said the hope is the project could be scaled up to help sustainably source the high demand for livestock and their byproducts in the Bulkley Valley.
For example, in a description of the project the SES hypothesizes it would only need eight to 12 of the units to meet market demands for chicken products in Northern B.C., something which could be outsourced to various rural (and often underemployed) communities.
“These units – run by new or established farmers trained at one original production unit – could be standardized, replicated, and sprinkled throughout the 12 or so Gitxsan and settler communities in the Upper Skeena.”
Beyond meeting demand, Nagata said an important part of the project is it could be used to help provide work for individual owners, house groups or band councils across the north.
She added that, through creating a network of small farms operating as a co-operative, more jobs could be put into employment for the sake of employment, not things like marketing and sales which are inherently based on inter-competition between farms (and thus more perilous forms of employment).
SES is hoping to have the production unit built by the end of this year and ready to house chickens for spring 2020.
In addition to its biological commitment to regenerative practices, the SES has a local procurement policy in place for the project to make sure everything possible that can be bought locally is.
Nagata said provided the pilot project is successful, the plan is to expand and look at ways to help local farmers start their own units.