Since food industrialization and manufacturing have overtaken grocery store isles, many consumers have forgotten where their food actually comes from. In exchange, this generation knows that the internet comes from wireless devices or cables and not how the pulled-pork on the dinner table is produced, but Chappapeela Farms aims to provide the south with high quality ducks and hogs from their small-scale farm and a sense of education about great local food.
Yet, everyday small-scale farming is labeled as an inapproachable dream for many farmers, as it once was for Rebecca Lirette. Lirette is a third generation farmer who grew up on her father’s farm in a farming community where she gained powerful and inspiring insight. She said, “It’s either in you or you discover it.” Her dream was to own the land she tended to, but with the obvious economic challenges she went towards the educational path, working with Louisiana State University’s Agricultural Science program. “It was about serving others and I love teaching others who want to learn,”
said Lirette about her LSU days. There she was an instructor, worked in their research farm, and with the LSU extension.
Even though Lirette did love teaching and giving her students the most hands-on experience possible, she knew the animals and farm were ultimately never going to be hers. Soon enough, in the turmoil of state budget cuts, her precious research farm was shut down and all the hogs went to public auction. Lirette claims this time was, “really painful.” She said, “You put everything into it. I treated them like they were mine…I love pigs. I truly love them; I love the sacrifice they make for us.” So with a heavy heart she began to evaluate other options and the series of unfortunate events luckily led her on a path to Chappapeela Farms. Sandy Sharpe, head and owner of Chappapeela Farms had been in contact with Lirette prior to the budget cuts at LSU. He wanted her to come on board his project of small-scale livestock farming north of Hammond, Louisiana. She finally gave in, after realizing it was the end of the road for her LSU work. Then, Sharpe surprised her with a great gesture of warmth that only one that has watched livestock grow can understand. He bought the pigs from the auction to take to Chappapeela.
At Chappapeela Farms, three families collaborate to raise ducks and pigs for sixty restaurants in New Orleans including all of Dicky Brennan and John Besh’s prestigious establishments. The farm started with hogs and after encouragement from Brennan, ducks came into the picture, giving Chappapeela the title of the only duck farm in the south. Lirette is especially thankful to the farm’s supporting chefs for being so flexible and tolerant of the small-scale farm’s growing pains. She states, “They support the people who are trying to do the things right.” Brennan has even gone as far as to visit the farm and send his staff as well. With small-scale farming it is hard to be consistent with the birds, but the chefs keep coming back for the quality and taste of the birds raised with original methods.
The ducks are feed a diet of fresh milk, corn and soy and are allotted to forage from the ground. Baby birds are kept warm in a breeder house. When they grow, they join the other ducks on pine shavings from local S&S Farm. This means the shavings must be changed daily by hand, on top of all daily repairs that must be done. Every morning eight ducks at a time are herded into a poultry crate; this is much smaller than a typical amount, so the birds are not stressed before arriving to the plant and about 125-400 birds are slaughtered in the morning. The hogs are raised to weight 300 lbs. for New Orleans restaurants and about forty-five go to market. Currently, Chappapeela has 140 hogs and 15,000 ducks on feed. Thus, Lirette has begun to reach out to the academic agricultural community to show that birds can be raised unconventionally without the big brooder house.
As for the future, Chris Meredith, Besh, Brennan, and Blue Moon Fund want to expand with a slaughter house for hogs and cattle, taking specialization for customers to another level. The plant has been slaughtering birds for about five weeks now. Although funding and the start-up process presented a challenge, it has not stopped Meredith. He is working with the department of agriculture and wants to be inspected to ensure he is doing things the right way.
Even amongst progress and growth, Lirette stresses a serious importance in the basics or agriculture and food. She says, “It starts with public funding and teaching kids how to raise animals. You have to patronize it. Put your money where your mouth is, so if you want it done locally, you have to support it.” She acknowledge that there will always be room in the economy for both types of farmers, but for now she remains working sun-up to sun-down raising the animals she loves in a family environment and living the small-scale dream she has now made possible.
Fernanda is an undergraduate at Louisiana State University majoring in Political Communications and International Relations. Her work has been featured in the Times-Picayune, My High School Journalism’s National Edition front page,The Prowler, and operationbeautiful.com. Fernanda has worked as Editor-in-Chief of The Prowler and is the current journalism mentor at Rockbrook Camp for Girls. She enjoys jazz music, yoga, farmers markets, and New Orleans music festivals. Follow her on twitter @FernandaZamudio