Meet Calvin Yoder of Echo Dell Farm, raising New Pi’s whole, local, organic chickens since 1988:
“A lot of people have no idea what real chicken tastes like. I just talked to somebody yesterday, who’d bought our chicken,”
Calvin crosses his arms,
“she told me it was the best chicken she’d ever had!”
He shrugs and looks at the ground modestly, but you can tell he’s pleased.
The drive to Calvin's Kalona farm is dotted with bucolic homesteads and happy cows munching grass. He sees “the Amish farms as what America should look like,” and as Iowans, that tugs at us.
Calvin and chickens go back:
“We always raised a couple hundred chickens every year and all the aunts and uncles would get together and butcher them, right under the tree over here,” he points to our right. “So, I’ve always eaten chicken we’ve raised.”
“A lot of people have no idea what real chicken tastes like. I just talked to somebody yesterday, who’d bought our chicken,” he crosses his arms, “she told me it was the best chicken she’d ever had!” He shrugs and looks at the ground modestly, but you can tell he’s pleased.
Why does he farm organically?
“The way I remember, we ate at a restaurant on a Sunday – and we had chicken. I brought some home, and I went to eat it the next day. And I couldn’t eat it!"
"Now, I can eat anything,” he chuckles. It just tasted bad, “and that was a new thing to me. I thought, ‘This doesn’t make sense,’ – we always eat cold chicken for a week after we cook it.”
Striking a nagging chord,
“it made me wonder what was going on with our food production.”
“I’d been thinking, we’re putting poisons on the soil, and then we’re bringing that feed and feeding these animals. It doesn’t make sense that you can put poison on and then get healthy animals.”
He started transitioning to organic in ’77:
“It’s the principle – you reap what you sow. My idea was, do everything you can to enhance this (he cups his hands) – this life, that’s in the soil. There’s another principle: that you overcome evil with good.”
His current challenges don’t have to do with raising his birds – small meat processors have been closing their doors, leaving him searching for a USDA organic meat processor that can handle his (relatively) small number of birds.
“We used to have them butchered in Keota, just 20 miles west, but then it closed. Then we had to take them to Decorah, 3 hours away. Then they closed.” Then up to Staceyville, but he just got a call that they won’t be in business much longer, so Minnesota’s next – though he’s heard they’re closing too. Calvin’s experience is a clear sign we’re lacking policies and infrastructure to support local agriculture.
“That’s the whole shame… these smaller places can’t justify the costs,” he says. New Pi Iowa City Meat & Seafood Lead Ryan chimes in: “They’re USDA regulations that apply to all facilities, regardless of size.” Calvin caps it: “So places like this that do processing on a small scale for small people will just evaporate…” If we can’t support our small farmers, we’ll be left without fork freedom of choice.
So what keeps him going?
“I haven’t gone bankrupt yet; that’s what keeps me doing it!” he laughs. But “I’m willing to work for cheap,” he admits. “I don’t believe making money is the most important thing in the world. I like to grow food and not sell it blindly – and what we’re producing is worth eating.”
“I like to get up early in the morning,” Calvin continues with a laugh, “breathe the air. And see how beautiful and peaceful the world is, as God made it, before everyone gets up and messes it up,” he grins.
In addition to the chickens, Calvin produces milk for Organic Valley, a local dairy co-op (yes, we carry his milk too!).