It’s my favorite time of year, when local foodies and families alike flock to farm stands that are loaded with just-picked lettuce, greens, berries, beans, and pastured chicken.
Yes, chicken. Because it is, indeed, chicken season! Which, honestly, is not a food I ever thought of being “in-season” before I began buying it locally. After all, it is always available in the grocery store. Pasture-raised, fresh, local chicken does, however, have a season – specifically June through August for Virginia. Meat (or Broiler) chickens typically take only an average of 8-9 weeks to grow to full maturity, so many farmers raise two or three flocks each summer, processing them in batches each month and selling fresh birds to customers who have pre-ordered and can pick up immediately or freezing them to sell throughout the year.
It is hard to describe the difference in taste between a local, grass-fed chicken that spent its two months running around in the sun and one that spent the same two months “free-range” and being fed an unnatural diet of grains and antibiotics. But the first time I tasted a “real,” pastured, chicken I finally realized that chicken really does have a flavor – and not just from whatever we smother it in.
So why buy them fresh, in-season, instead of frozen from the same farmer’s freezer throughout the rest of the year? For one thing, pre-ordering helps the farmers know how many chickens they actually need to raise – and ensures that you get as many as you want. You can arrange to buy just a few per processing batch throughout the summer, or 5, 10, even 20 all at once. Buying them fresh also means that you can choose how many you want to freeze whole for roasting or throwing in the crockpot, and how many you want to break down into individual parts. It takes some practice, but You-Tube and a sharp knife can help you become an expert at turning a whole bird into breasts, thighs, legs, and wings to freeze and use as you need them later – AND means you are only paying $3.50/lb, as opposed to up to $15/lb to buy them pre-cut by the farmer.
And have no fear! Buying a whole chicken does not mean it comes with the head, feet, or feathers attached (unless, of course, you request that). A local, pastured, processed chicken looks much like one you get from the grocery store…but tastes like so much more!
If I’ve managed to convince you to at least try a local chicken or two, you have a plethora of options! We’ve gotten all of our delicious chickens from the Schafer family farm in Spotsylvania for the last two years (http://schaferfamilyfarm.wix.com/grassfed), but you can also get them from Walnut Hill Farm at the Downtown Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, as well as Swallow Hill Farm in Caroline County (www.swallowhill.farm/) or Earth’s Echo Farm right here in Fredericksburg (www.earthsechofarm.com/).