Customers demand more than organic certification
By STEVE BROWN
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- The growing popularity of backyard chicken flocks has increased demand for organic feed.
The 4,800-square-foot mill operation that Diana Ambauen-Meade started last year has proved insufficient for her growing business, Scratch and Peck Feeds. She has moved into a space next door for an additional 5,000 square feet of warehouse and office space.
Employment has also grown to include a full-time office assistant and three full-time mill workers. Distribution now extends into Oregon and California.
Scratch and Peck has always turned out certified organic feeds and has been dedicated to ingredients free of genetically modified organisms. Now it's seeking certification of its nonbiotech status.
"This will provide folks with the confidence that they are feeding their animals a wholesome, natural diet free of GMOs because, like we say, 'You are what your animals eat,'" Ambauen-Meade said.
Her customers are concerned about soy and corn products and the possible presence of genetically modified material.
"Just organic certification isn't enough. This is one more step to ensure food is safe," she said.
All grains for Scratch and Peck come from the Northwest. Organic farmers in Eastern Washington are the primary source, but when harvest circumstances demand, Ambauen-Meade also buys from growers in Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
Having feed made from regional products is important to Harley Soltes, who raises chickens and sells feed retail at his farm in Kingston, Wash.
He has carried Scratch and Peck products since the mill opened and has found it popular among his neighbors.
"For whole grain, it's important to use it as quickly as possible," he said. "Once that grain is cracked, it starts losing its freshness."
The product in his storeroom turns over quickly. "I just brought in 1 ton, and it was gone in a week." The feeds are "very fresh, and good-looking," he said. "It smells like fresh bread."
Soltes said the soy-free aspect isn't so important to him, but some people are allergic. Some of his feed buyers are not concerned about organic, but they are about genetic modifications.
Scratch and Peck expects to be fully verified within a few months after passing a review process that focuses on testing, segregation and traceability. The biotech testing is done at independent, third-party laboratories in Vancouver, Wash., and in Portland.
"We'll take samples from each farm to the lab and confirm there has been no cross-contamination," she said. "That way we won't have to test each lot we buy."
Because the government does not require labeling of biotech products, "our customers are really asking for certified non-GMO feed."
Most of her feed is sold in retail feed stores to small poultry producers, but natural food co-ops and nurseries have also started carrying it.
"Backyard farmers come in looking for stuff for their gardens and their chicken coops," she said. "I don't expect a downturn in backyard flocks."
Chicken feed is not her only product, Ambauen-Meade said. She also formulates organic, nonbiotech feeds for turkeys, rabbits, goats, sheep and pigs.