Small biz: Backyard chicken better than a squirrel, at least

My friend in San Antonio called one recent Saturday while I was in the backyard watering my corn and tomato plants, some of the produce I had set out to subsist on for the month of August. He had seen the video on of me interviewing David Bravdica of Northern Colorado Poultry, and he was alarmed how skinny I was looking.

“Your experiment is failing!” my friend said. “You need to take your bb gun and shoot some squirrels, man. You’re not getting enough protein. ”

Seventeen days into my month-long backyard-only diet, I’ve largely succeeded in my journalistic mission of highlighting the work of some little-known entrepreneurs in the natural-foods field and assessing my dependence on industrialized agriculture. I’ve also lost 17 pounds. My publisher looked at me this morning and said, “I can’t let you go south like that.” I took his advice and bought a protein shake to prop me up for a while.

There are times, like right now with 13 days left in the experiment, when I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into: not sleeping much, hardly exercising so as to conserve calories, living mostly on potatoes and eggs (cooked in olive oil, an allowance along with salt, pepper and beer), and trying to hold off as long as possible on my stockpiled 11 frozen bags of spinach, broccoli and peas.

In a sense, my friend is, right: The experiment is failing as far as being sustainable much beyond the 13 days I’ve got left to go, if even that long. Along with the personal-challenge aspect, I thought this would be a great way to meet and introduce some local small businesses as I sought out their expertise in addressing various challenges. And indeed, that’s been the most gratifying part.

Early in the planning phase, I met with Pat Karns of Colorado Pure Distilling to look into making my own potato vodka. He put the kabosh on that, explaining it would take 30 to 40 pounds of potatoes to make one bottle of vodka, that it could make me go blind if done improperly and that it’s illegal. Still, it was fascinating to learn how he makes custom-label vodka from sugar beets and corn.

I also got some gardening pointers from Joe Frankovitch, owner of The Organic Backyard in Parker, a business in which he helps people get their vegetable gardens up and running; I met Cheryl Longtin, co-owner of Nexus Corp. in Northglenn, one of the country’s largest greenhouse manufacturers; and I met with Ann Cummisky, owner of the Ace Hardware in the Cherry Hills Marketplace, who taught me a little about canning vegetables.

But my most interesting encounter was with Bravdica of Northern Colorado Poultry. He was selling eggs at the Denver Pearl Street Farmers Market the second Sunday of August when I ran into him. I asked if his company could butcher two of my hens that had no hope of producing any eggs this month.  I had called three butchers in the area and was told it’s illegal to butcher livestock in Denver. But Bravdica said his Wellington-based company could do it.

When I dropped the two hens off at Harvest Farm in Wellington, one of five farms Northern Colorado Poultry contracts with, Bravdica explained how he got into the pasture-raised poultry business.

“I had a corporate job for 12 years, and it just wasn’t connecting with me,” he said. “So I went back to my roots. I come from a long line of Italians. Food is our world. So I went to culinary school and then lived in Italy for eight months. That’s where I truly came to understand the terms ‘local’ and ‘seasonal.’ They don’t have a word for organic there because it’s basically all organic. I wanted to bring that back here, how something tastes when it’s been picked that day or the day before.”

I handed over my two hens in a box to Bravdica. It was strange to think these animals I’d raised from the time they were a week old, under a heat lamp until their fuzz turned to feathers, were going to become food.

“To truly get the connection of food if you’re a carnivore, it’s not just picking the carrots,” Bravdica said, gesturing toward some chickens foraging in a pasture. “It’s where these guys come from and how they complete the chain.”

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