Jared Jeanotte drives up an icy driveway in Southold, parks his family’s red Dodge station wagon in the snow and pops open the trunk. He goes around back, reaches in and removes a cardboard box containing three hens who have huddled together to keep warm during the ride.
“We brought some chickens,” he says, cradling one of the birds.
Mr. Jeanotte and his wife, Nicole, both 29, and their 11-month-old son, Elijah, exit the car and pose for a photo outside a barn at Peconic Land Trust Agricultural Center at Charnews Farms. It’s here that the family soon hopes to make a living with their organic poultry operation, From Scratch Farm, on land leased through the land trust’s “Farms for the Future” initiative.
“I’ve always been interested in agriculture,” said Mr. Jeanotte, who currently works as a repairman for food-related equipment and has no professional experience as a farmer. “We wanted to go live in the woods and be homesteaders, but we needed to merge that with reality. This is a way to live a more country lifestyle but still be in close proximity to our family.”
If all goes according to plan, the couple will lease a barn and seven wild acres, where they will raise 4,000 Cornish Cross broiler chickens — fed an organic and soy-free diet — in mobile pasture pens.
“They will be out in the grass, getting sunlight and eating bugs,” Mr. Jeanotte said as he stood next to his wife. “They will all be processed by these four hands.”
With no formal training, the couple is largely self-taught and inspired by the writings of farmer and author Joel Salatin, who advocates holistic and eco-friendly farming methods.
“We started reading everything he wrote,” Ms. Jeanotte said.
To save money, Mr. Jeanotte is building most of the farm’s equipment himself. The couple has taken on no debt to finance the project, instead relying on Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions to raise capital. It’s a business model that has worked for many start-up farmers, Mr. Jeanotte said.
“Our parents weren’t farmers,” he said. “We don’t have 400 acres in Iowa.”
The couple, who own a home in Huntington Station, met 10 years ago through their church. Mr. Jeanotte, who moved to Long Island from Georgia when he was 14, has long been interested in self-sufficiency, raising backyard chickens and even crafting a machine to help him pluck their feathers.
It’s a lifestyle philosophy the couple shares.
“He thought he was going to have to go to Georgia to find a wife,” Ms. Jeanotte said.
Although the farm has yet to start operating, customers have already expressed interest in shares. A $700 subscription nets patrons one bird per week for 26 weeks.
“The quality of food really matters to me. I like to know where my food comes from,” said Natallia Lambrecht, a mother of three boys fromSouthampton who plans to purchase a subscription. “Me and my family eat organic. It’s a big issue teaching our kids where food comes from. And they won’t be feeding the chickens soy; that’s important to me.”
Start-up farmers can lease land at the ag center for the market rate of $150 per acre per year, according to data provided by Peconic Land Trust.
Of the 25 farmers renting land through the program, 10 are start-up farmers like the Jeanottes (the organization considers anyone with less than five years of experience as a start-up farmer) while the others are established farmers.
“The popularity of farming has definitely come back here. I started in 2007 and this whole local food movement has changed the business of farming for sure,” said Dan Heston, the land trust’s North Fork stewardship manager. “Fifteen years ago, everyone was bailing. Now they want back in again.”
Although the land where they will raise their chickens has long been untended, making it unsuitable for row crops, Ms. Jeanotte noted that the chickens will peck the dirt, aerating the soil, and their droppings will fertilize the land.
“In a couple of years, they can get a farmer in there and a crop will thrive,” she said.
Mr. Jeanotte soon plans to resign from his full-time job. He and his wife hope to sign a five-year lease and begin producing chickens in April.
“We’re all in,” Ms. Jeanotte said.
Visit them on the web at FromScratchFarmNY.com.