Abra Morawiec, New York’s first organic quail farmer, didn’t grow up with dirt under her nails or farming in her blood.
Instead the 29-year-old, whose family raised chickens while she was growing up, just always had a fondness for birds and livestock. She studied English literature at Baruch College in New York City before serving a stint in the Peace Corps from 2009 to 2011, where she served as an agriculture extension agent in Mali.
“I realized that living day-to-day was sometimes a struggle,” she said. “I liked farming and living a farm lifestyle. In Mali if you didn’t farm, you didn’t eat.”
When she moved from Mali to Brooklyn, she had a hard time finding a job, so she joined Americorps New York City Coalition Against Hunger. They teamed her up with the Brooklyn Rescue Mission, which has an urban farm and food pantry, and at a conference she met Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht of Garden of Eve Farm in Riverhead. Morawiec started working at Garden of Eve as an apprentice three to four days a week. One thing led to another and she met other North Fork farmers: Phil Barbato of Biophila Organic Farm in Jamesport and Chris and Holly Browder of Browder’s Birds in Mattituck. She began an apprenticeship with bth, spending three days per week at each farm.
Now she has joined Barbato and is leasing seven acres of land and part of his barn and pasture space for the first farm on the East Coast to pasture raise organic quail game birds, also known as Coturnix. Quail are a more economical source of protein than chickens, as it takes half as much grain to feed them per pound of protein, Morawiec said.
She is calling the new venture “Feisty Acres Farm.” It is one of only two farms in the country dedicated to raising organic quail, the other being in California.
Morawiec started out with 43 hens and 47 roos (male quails) and after four weeks moved them out of the brooder in the barn to moveable pens out in the farm fields. The males have rusty brown rusty chests and the females have a cream colored chests with black speckling and are plumper.
The roos will be slaughtered Thanksgiving week and when they are dressed, they will weigh between 3/4 lb and one pound each. And as of now, they are all spoken for.
And if they haven’t already, the six-week-old hens should start laying eggs any day. She hopes to get 300 eggs a year to sell at $10 for 15. She will keep seven hens and one roo to build a breeding stock.
Earlier this week she got a new shipment of 255 chicks from Oklahoma. She hopes to have 800 to 1,000 meat birds by next Spring and 200 egg layers on fallow fields to feed on the cover crops that birds love like rye, legumes and oats.
She also hopes to raise a flock of 100 bobwhite quails, which are native to the region. Using her own money, she hopes to raise and release them in state parks and preserves to give back to the ecosystem. She is hoping some local people, activist groups and her customers will help sponsor 400 of them, bringing the flock to 500 a year.
Your North Fork Sunday Scene features weekly snap shots of life on Long Island’s top fork.
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