Nestled between the mountains and the red-rock desert in Dolores County, Colo., Songhaven Farm is using 21st century funding sources to support expansion of its heritage egg operation.
With the tagline “Real Food for Real People,” Michelle Martz and Mark Mitteis (and their team of interns) are aligning the power of crowd-funding with their traditional farming methods.
Many people know Songhaven Farm and the natural vegetables that they have sold at the Cortez Farmers Market for seven years. But you may not be aware that they also sell eggs locally.
Currently, Songhaven Farm has about 70 laying hens and sells 30 dozen eggs per week to local retail outlets, including Dolores Food Market and The Farm Bistro. They are looking to grow this operation because local demand for the tasty eggs exceeds their supply. They want to triple their operation to 250 laying hens producing 100 dozen eggs per week.
Their eggs come from the variety of hens that they raise including Rhode Island Red, Delaware, Silver Laced Wyandotte, New Hampshires, Golden Wyandotte, Buff and White Orpington.
Several of the breeds, particularly Hampshires and Orpingtons, are heritage breeds with histories stretching back over 100 years. While Martz and Mitteis selected these breeds because they are extraordinary egg-layers, they are also wellsuited to the local climate and are good “brooders” so that when it is time to increase the flock, they will do it naturally.
Songhaven Farm’s customers describe their eggs as “beautiful – with shells ranging in color from soft green to pink.” Some are even speckled. But the distinguishing attribute of all Songhaven eggs is the bright yellow yolk that stands tall in the fry pan.
They are able “to produce such fresh and beautiful eggs because the chickens are allowed to fully express their chicken- ness,” Martz said.
Their egg-laying operation allows the chickens to graze on fresh greens in a pasture where they can snap up the occasional insect. (Grasshoppers, beware!) The chickens can bask in the sun or take a dust bath. The hens use the “chicken rainbow” to safely cross from the hen house to the pasture areas.
Mitteis and Martz also want to better integrate the chickens into their farm operation by implementing some chicken tractors – a mobile chicken pen.
“The chicken tractors will upcycle luggage carriers that we salvaged from Cortez Airport,” said Mitteis. “The carrier will provide a frame and wheels to support a large chicken-wire pen that we will move every few days with the tractor. This way the chickens can safely graze in the pasture while removing insects and scratching in the manure that they will naturally leave behind.” The chicken tractors will provide a place for the chickens to roost and nest while grazing out on grass pasture.
The ‘art of the ask’
Crowd-funding is a way for entrepreneurs of all types to solicit investors for a project. It taps the power of the Internet to give small, remote operations such as Songhaven the opportunity to reach investors worldwide. “We want to give the community a chance to support our farm with their dollars,” Martz said.
Even small investments of $10 can make it possible for Songhaven to reach its funding goal.
Martz and Mitteis are titling their campaign “Set Your Chickens Free” because they plan to use crowd-sourced funds to experiment with different portable chicken-containment systems. The “Set Your Chickens Free” project has a goal of $9,800 that would be matched by labor and materials supplied by Songhaven Farm to
- Construct three chicken tractors (portable chicken pens) of different designs and sizes.
- Retrofit a grain silo to store non- GMO chicken feed for their expanded flock.
- Construct a refrigerated egg-storage facility to improve product quality.
In return for their contribution to the project nest egg, investors will get perks ranging from a refrigerator magnet or two dozen eggs (for investments as little as $10) to an exclusive on-farm dinner under the chicken rainbow for a $500 investment. For an investment of $1,000, investors can name a chicken tractor, a truly special investment opportunity.
The success of the crowd-funding campaign rests not only in reaching their funding goal, but according to Martz, “in creating food security in the local community by providing a clean healthy, sustainable source of eggs.” The mission of Songhaven Farm centers on the philosophy that “local consumption of local products is one way to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, stimulate the local economy, and bring the community together around good food.”
This philosophy is grounded in the owners’ background and experience. Mitteis grew up on a traditional family farm near Creighton, Neb., collecting eggs from the time he could carry a basket. While Martz didn’t grow up on a farm, she holds fond memories of her grandfather’s tobacco farm in Kentucky where they raised produce, chickens, and rabbits. Her grandmother canned “everything under the sun” and her grandfather made wine from his grapes.
This project is also an important step in diversifying farm income beyond seasonal vegetables and stabilizing farm economics for better year-round support of their chickens by buying feed in bulk for winter supplement feeding.
For more information about Songhaven Farm and their crowd-funding campaign, see songhavenfarm.com, or Indiegogo.com for the Set Your Chickens Free campaign.