Meredith Bell is a beginning farmer in Bakersfield who raises turkeys and chickens for local and regional markets. She started Autonomy Farms in 2014 as a small mixed vegetable operation, but pivoted to poultry after intense flooding in early 2018 left her field under water. She now raises about 30,000 chickens and turkeys per year on 20 acres, starting the birds in her barn and moving them to pasture at 3 weeks old.
Dedicated to building soil health and healthy, humane conditions for her animals, Meredith moves her mobile chicken coops once per day to avoid nitrogen build up in the grass and to ensure new food for the birds. She runs twelve mobile units with about 375 birds each and lets the ground rest for 60 days before returning the coops to the same plot. By utilizing pasture as feed, she minimizes the supplemental feed required, input costs and her carbon footprint. Over time, she has noticed the benefits of her approach in the form of more worms in the soil, insects for the chickens to feed on, pasture growth and reduced irrigation.
To further reduce her footprint, Meredith recently successfully applied to a Rural Development Energy grant to install solar on her barn which will offset electricity expenses and emissions associated with running heaters for the chicks. She expects to break even in about 4 years.
Now that she’s found a rhythm nine years into farming, she is able to think longer term and bigger picture. One idea she hopes to pursue is contracting her chickens in the abundant, regional tree nut orchards in a fertilizer-food exchange between the animals and the orchard soils.
Meredith also thinks about scaling up modestly given that she has more demand for her regeneratively raised meat than she can supply. However, her processing and packing options are expensive and the closest facility is 220 miles away. Rather than growing significantly to fit the demands of the current large-scale processing landscape, she’d like to build her own brick and mortar or mobile processing unit on site, if she can find sufficient funding and technical assistance.
You can find Meredith and her products on her website and a schedule of her farmers markets locations in Bakersfield and LA on her website.