By Helena Schweigert
Hello from the fresh meat corner of the store! I have been working on the goal of visiting as many of the farms as I can that supply LifeSource with fresh meats. Recently Steve Winn and I traveled up I-5 to Mt. Vernon Washington. This is where our Ranger chickens come from, at Draper Valley. Located north of Seattle, the Draper Valley plant is just 50 miles from the Canadian border. It is a beautiful Dutch community, where traditionally the locals were making their living growing and importing tulip bulbs. Snuggled close to Puget Sound, the air is cool and the grasses are lush.
Draper Valley is a family business, started in 1935 by Joseph Koplowitz in Draper, Utah. The demand for chicken grew quite a bit from the 70’s through the 90’s, and in 1998 they bought Acme Poultry Inc. in the northwest. At the time, there were only 5 different chicken growers around the northwest and Draper pursued business with the farms and farmers who shared the values concerning farming, the environment and the treatment of the animals that Joseph had started with in the beginning. (Foster Farms from California bought up the rest.) Today, Draper is still a family business, Richard Koplowitz is CEO, and his brother James is the company’s president. Both are grandsons of Joseph.
We were pleased to see the barns where the chickens are raised were sanitary and spacious for the chickens to wander. They were full of hay for their bedding, and water and feed trays were available for the chicks to use as needed. I thought it was neat how the feed trays are mechanically raised as the chicks grow taller. Also, each barn has doors that open out to the fresh air, where they can wander and chase bugs. I found it comforting that they are never forced through the doors into the outside, but given the option every day. It’s cold up there, and we don’t want frozen chickens!
Speaking of frozen chicken, ours is never frozen, and always fresh. The chickens are harvested five days a week, and we are fortunate to have a wonderful transporter from the Salem area, Charles, who gets us our delivery quicker than most. At Draper Valley, they made it a goal to process the flocks from farm to store in 24-48 hours. So we can guarantee that our chicken is always fresh.
When visiting the headquarters, we asked about the standards that are in place for the processing of the chickens, and we were glad to hear that Draper Valley has been recognized for having a very low bacteria count in their chickens. Consumer reports did a study with 525 whole fresh chickens, from the four major conventional producers, 10 organic, and 12 non-organic/no antibiotic brands (including Draper Valley). They were testing for campylobacter and salmonella bacteria in the chicken. Campylobacter was found in 81% of the chickens tested, and salmonella was found in 15%. Both bacterias were found in 13% of the chickens tested. Only 17% of the chickens had neither of the pathogens present. Of the 10 whole chickens tested from Draper Valley, none of them had salmonella, and only two had traces of campylobacter present. When we asked the folks at Draper Valley about this report they assured us it was true, and they don’t do anything special. They add nothing to the chickens during the processing, and they add nothing to the water used to clean them. They are simply raised in a way that leaves them naturally healthy and therefore resistant to pathogens. Rest assured, our chicken is safe.
Machines do some of the work for gathering the organs, but people inspect each one to determine the health of the chicken. If there are concerns about the chicken, it is flagged so as not to sell it. Another machine cuts the split breast and the drumsticks, but all the rest of the chicken is hand cut, paying lots of attention to the details and further evaluating the condition of the chicken to ensure it is the best quality. The FDA inspects the chickens daily.
The employees in the plant were busy working while we were there, but were friendly and courteous, seeming to be happy and satisfied workers. It was a fast paced environment, maximizing on efficiency. There are 583 employees at Draper. When compared to 10,000 at Foster Farms, Draper is still fairly small.
We also learned that there is a salmon stream near the plant, and Draper Valley has partnered with the city of Mt. Vernon to make sure that the quality of the stream is not compromised, and are working together to keep this in place for the future. They are seeking opportunities to build strong relationships within their community.
Draper Valley has about 25 different farms throughout the area, some are family farms who comply with the set standards of Draper Valley, and some are company farms run directly by Draper.
A great thing that we saw when we went to the farms was that Draper Valley is soon to be raising certified organic chickens. It was exciting to see some of the changes this required. As some of you know, the chickens are fed corn and soy, and the organic flocks are fed certified organic soy and corn. We watched as the chickens ran around flapping and clucking, and these chickens are raised with the same opportunities to play inside or outside, as the free range birds are. They just have all organic feed, hay, and anything else that they are introduced to. Between runs of chickens, they even clean these houses with organic cleaning supplies. We will be seeing these available to us in the new year.
As a whole, we felt that the folks behind the scenes at Draper Valley were great. They seem to have the right kind of respect for the animals and the conditions they live in, as well as respect for the environment, and the impact that they make. They treated us like royalty, and made us feel very welcome. After touring farms and the processing plant, they had made a harvest feast for us to enjoy, and we got to visit over a nice meal, which is what this was all about for me, wanting to ensure that all of us have the opportunity to enjoy good clean meals, from common minded folks. I am happy with the company, and feel that we are quite lucky to be situated right in the main flow of their delivery routes.