By Annie Young
When I arrive at Life More Abundant Ranch, life certainly seems full and abundant. Matt Hardin offers a gripping handshake as three of his four kids bounce over with fresh faces and full smiles. Later Jessi comes out to greet us with their youngest son, who just turned one. They proudly show me the 450 chicks that have been in their brooder for just three days. The fluffy balls of yellow are eating, toddling, drinking, and sleeping in a warm, small shelter with plenty of sunlight pouring in on them. Hardin is teaching his oldest son to care for the chicks and to read their needs in their behavior. “I couldn’t do it without my family, and I wouldn’t want to,” Hardin firmly states.
The farm is their home and place of work. Now in their third year at their farm in Stephenson, the Hardins raise chickens, turkeys, and quails for eggs and meat. Their pasture-raised poultry has a grass-based diet filled with bugs and seeds. Hardin carefully moves the chicken enclosures so that the birds have the freshest, greenest grass to scratch and eat from. Each section of grass is grazed only once a season. With the chicken structures being moved daily or weekly, depending on whether they are broilers or layers, that is a lot of grass!
Hardin is vigilant about taking care of the grass and soil. “Any decent farmer is healing the land.” He considers himself a steward of land that he farms. A student of Joel Salatin, Hardin works to maintain healthy microbial life in the soil and keep the chickens healthy through foraging naturally with plenty of sunlight. Rotating the grazing area allows the birds to fertilize the soil and eat a variety of food—but not overgraze or weaken the soil structure. The fields on the ranch are lush and green. Hardin says they will be the same in August, with the natural manure and weed seeds eaten out of them by the chickens, turkeys, and quail.
The pasture-raised poultry is never given hormones to increase production of eggs or growth. They are never given appetite stimulants. Synthetic vitamins never touch those bird . . . lips. Kelp is used for trace minerals. Even the feed is GMO-free. These are key elements to raising healthy poultry birds and humanely processing them.
The other difference in Life More Abundant Ranch is how they work to educate their customers on why it is important to choose food that is raised humanely without many of the additives that conventional farms use. From listing the various chemicals and interventions factory farms use to raise their poultry to articles about GMO on their website, the Hardins help consumers understand the difference between the practices of these large industrial farms verses smaller, local steward farmers.
Genetically modified organisms, or GMOS, are something that Hardins are especially cautious of—they avoid eating or putting them into their poultry. Briefly, GMOs are created in laboratories where genes from viruses, bacteria, animals, or insects are inserted into the DNA of plants. This new seed is grown and distributed into the food system—and has been since 1996. The United States requires no labeling of food containing GMOs, but the European Union has banned the use of GMO foods altogether.
Many consumers are wary of the outcome of eating food with these modified organisms in them. People are demanding more accountability and transparency from their food producers. Labeling foods would allow customers to choose foods that may or may not have GMOs in them. Some brands, like Cheerios, have changed their ingredients, claiming to no longer use GMO grain.
Knowing your farmers and their practices helps consumers make choices about how to feed their families in ways they feel is best. Life More Abundant Farm works hard to be accountable to their customers and transparent about how they raise their poultry. They even list sites that encourage customers to educate themselves and to “take action” so that lawmakers are encouraged to promote this same accountability throughout the food industry.
Learning through experience, and being a careful observer of their birds, is critical to success at Life More Abundant Farm. Keeping production at a sustainable level and attending local farmers markets creates relationships with the local community and customer loyalty. Their faith and family values are integral in their daily habits and farming practices. Farming, togetherness, and caring for the land is the life of Matt, Jessi, and their family.
Find them at Clarke County Farmers Market and Freight Station Farmers Market, Winchester or by appointment at their farm. Contact info: www.lifemoreabundantranch.com, 443-845-6145, and on Facebook at Life More Abundant Ranch.