Yesterday I said I'd talk about good things in France and now I will. The farm where I'm doing my masterclass is named Coume Sourde, which roughly translated is Death Valley. It's perched on a mountainside but like most mountainous regions, it has its flat pastures and productive meadows.
Matthieu, my host, came to my masterclass in Bulgaria two years ago and has thrown himself full bore into forest-raised pigs, pastured poultry, pastured rabbits, and grass-finished beef. Yesterday he showed me his government-approved and licensed poultry processing facility.
A simple shipping container sits on a concrete pad with enough room on the outside to place the killing cones, scalder, and feather picker. Then the birds go inside for evisceration and packing. It's an incredibly simple set-up, incredibly cheap. As I marveled at this, I asked Matthieu how it's possible. I thought this was the EU, where regulations kill everything. I thought this was the EU, which is far more socialistic and bureaucratic than the U.S.
As someone who has lain awake many nights wondering how to install a bona-fide government-approved on-farm poultry processing facility, I couldn't believe his set-up. To top it off, no inspector is on site during processing. Matthieu--the farmer-- free to decide if a liver is good or not. He's free to decide if a chicken is acceptable or not. Incredulous I asked him how this could be true.
He replied that in France, a cultural mystique still exists around small farms. From the local to the federal level, the bureaucracy truly embraces the notion that small farms are a national asset and need to be encouraged. All he had to do was put in an extremely minimal facility, get it approved once, and he's free to operate with no apparent bureaucratic oversight in day-to-day operations. He's on his own recognizance to keep things clean, to decide what poultry is healthy or not, to decide when to process and when to take the day off, when he wants to operate.
This is unheard of in the U.S. Being free to develop and operate his own micro-processing facility, which cost less than $10,000 to set up, is a freedom Americans lost decades ago. Our WWII soldiers came over here and bled and died to free a country that is now much more free than we are. Something isn't right. Of course, nobody is dying; nobody is getting sick. If we could do this in the U.S. we would be knocking over factory farming left and right.
The only reason factory farming is still on the ascendancy in the U.S. is because competitive innovation is held in check by draconian and tyrannical government food regulations that make market entry exorbitantly difficult. What a difference it would make if the U.S. had a small-farmer mystique, permeating through its bureaucracy, that would offer breaks to on-farm micro-processing. Innovative entrepreneurs would sprout like flowers in a sidewalk, offering alternatives to factory fare competitively priced and accessible. It would be a game changer.
His birds, through this simple and personally-responsible facility, are legal to sell to supermarkets, restaurants--anywhere. It's simply incredible. In the U.S. no self-respecting bureaucrat would put any responsibility on the farmer--we are all lumped together as untrustworthy greedy cheaters who don't care a lick about sanitation or food safety. But here in France, the food police let him actually decide how clean is clean enough. They let him decide how good a bird is good enough.
Imagine. It takes my breath away.
All I can say is the French have this one right. I think it's time for another American revolution, a chicken uprising. A few thousand pastured poultry producers would put a kink in Tyson, and that would be a good thing. Vive la difference!
Why can't we get the Americans who love the French for climate change rhetoric to love the French for practical small farm viability?