Table of Contents
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Join Nicole and Franchesca from Alchemist Farm as they talk about starting a Zero Waste lifestyle!
What You’ll Learn
- Chickens as a positive ecological impact
- What is zero waste?
- How to implement a zero-waste lifestyle
- How to reduce waste and plastic on your home
- Why veganism may not be the answer
Franchesca is the head chicken wrangler at Alchemist Farm in Sebastopol California. Alchemist Farm is a humane hatchery for chickens and Coturnix quail. They work with unique heritage breeds that lay stunning colors of eggs and have fun plumage, bred specifically for temperament.
Alchemist Farm are firm believers in community support, shipping hatching eggs all over the United States for classroom hatching projects and one non-profit each year to donate a portion of their proceeds to.
In 2019 Alchemist Farm supported End48Hours of Hunger. In 2020 they will be supporting the Children’s Eternal Rainforest.
Alchemist Farm runs on 100% clean renewable energy. They are a 100% plastic-free business and as of November 1, 2019, are also zero waste which means they do not create any garbage that goes to the landfill.
Resources & Links Mentioned
- Alchemist Farm Instagram
- Alchemist Farm Facebook
- Alchemist Farm Website
- Find a Trex recycling center
- Email us! Ask@HeritageAcresMarket.com
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Announcer: Welcome to the Backyard Bounty podcast from HeritageAcresMarket.com where we talk about all things, backyard, poultry, beekeeping, gardening, sustainable living, and more. And now here's your host Nicole.
Nicole: Good morning everybody. Thank you for joining us for another episode of Backyard Bounty. I'm your host, Nicole, and today we're joined by Francesca, the head chicken wrangler of Alchemists Farm. And Francesca, thank you so much for joining me today.
Franchesca: Thank you for having me. It's a treat.
Nicole: Yeah, I'm super excited to talk to you. I've been following you on Instagram for a while and I know that we had chatted a little bit before this and you've got some really neat things going on at your farm. So can you tell us a little bit more about your farm?
Franchesca: There are so many different types of farms out there. That word farm is so open. Like what? What does that mean? Are you growing vegetables or you're working with animals? You just working with seeds? We are a hatchery, a hatchery specifically of chickens and quail. So we raised chickens of all different fun breeds and varieties that lay really beautiful colored eggs and have really sweet temperaments. So they're safe for children to be around and we save their eggs, hatch them out into baby chicks and we shipped those baby chicks all over the United States.
Nicole: So you're busy is what you're saying.
Franchesca: All the time. It's like a constant petting zoo over here.
Nicole: And what kind of chickens and quail do you raise?
Franchesca: We have some hybrids that we've created ourselves of chickens that lay green speckled eggs, sometimes green eggs with little purple speckles on them. Chocolate egg laying chickens like the French Black Copper Marans. We choose chickens that either lay a really fun egg color that inspires the imagination of kids and folks to ask where their food comes from and why they don't normally see these kinds of colored eggs in the grocery store. Usually you just see, white and brown colored eggs. And then we also work with chickens that have something unique going on in terms of personality or look. Like a, like a Silkie, which are more of a purse chicken. People raise those in apartments with diapers, are really into them. But I think they have a place on a homestead in the backyard because they're like cordless incubators, they'll turn a rock into a baby chick. So, they're surprisingly hardy.
Nicole: They are. I have some Silkies myself and they are very reliable breeders.
Franchesca: Yes. We work with different breeds that have something unique going on that feel like they can pull their weight for a person's backyard.
Nicole: So roughly how many different breeds of chickens are you raising right now?
Franchesca: About 12 different breeds each year. And sometimes we'll let one group go or we'll put them on the back burner and then work with something new. So it's always fun and fresh as people expand their farms with us each year they can add some different fun Alchemist birds to their flock.
Nicole: That's great. And so when we were talking a little bit before this, one of things that I thought was really interesting is your ecological and sustainable focus of your farm slash hatchery, how you're working on becoming plastic free, zero waste and the contribution of chickens and their positive ecological impact. How do you see chickens as being a positive impact on your ecology?
Franchesca: Such a great question. So chickens are this incredible gateway animal that give us an opportunity to have a whole new lifestyle when we follow the chain of having them in our life. So when we have a chicken, we naturally have waste from the chickens, probably their bedding and their droppings. And so we wonder, Oh well do you have the space for it? Hopefully you can compost it. And then once you have all this composted waste, what do you do with that? Well, it just makes sense to put it into a garden. And then when you have a garden, there's naturally some food scraps from the garden because we can't get to everything. Or maybe the bugs have eaten some of the tomatoes. So you feed that back to the chickens and suddenly you have this really beautiful closed loop system where you're growing more of your own food, having to spend this money in the grocery store, producing food that you know is really clean for your family.
Franchesca: And it's not packaged in different types of plastic like clamshell plastic that lots of eggs are packaged in the grocery store or shrink wrapped plastic that a lot of cabbage or even lettuce can come in. So that's one little piece of it that when a person gets a chicken, suddenly they can see all of these other benefits and possibilities for ways to reduce their waste.
Franchesca: Our family was really made aware of our waste. About two years ago. I was just looking at how much we were putting in the trashcan from our household waste and realizing "Man, this just has to stop. We're creating way too much." And even though we put it in the trashcan and then it's really neatly taken away each week from the curb, where does that go and how long does that take to break down? And my grandparents didn't live with all of this excess creation of waste. How did they do it and how can I get back to that? Because, I'd like to leave my children with a clean planet to live on.
Franchesca: So we have been really focusing on the amount of waste that we as a business have been generating. And one of the main places that we were generating a lot of trash that was being sent to other people was from our packaging process, with our chicks and our hatching eggs, because people can purchase fertile hatching eggs from us. And so the eggs were wrapped in bubble wrap with tape and then packaged with these little air bubble mailers that you get from Amazon boxes. And it was just a whole bunch of plastic that we were shipping to people. And it's the industry standard. And I thought, "Okay, if I'm going to continue to have a business, I want it to be positively contributing to the world by getting people these chickens so they can have this great lifestyle of raising their own eggs, having their own garden from that waste. And we have to do it in a way that's an integrity so we're not creating more trash."
Franchesca: And so we've retooled all of our packaging now so that when people get chicks or hatching eggs from us, it's all in completely biodegradable, compostable packaging. Even the tape is just a special type of gum backed tape that could be put into a person's compost or used for sheet mulch in their garden in between their garden beds and we give a little instruction sheet with each one of our shipments to let people know how they can dispose of this, in a way that doesn't send it into the trashcan and the landfill. And the hope is that from receiving a package like this, because we get to ship all over the United States, you name it, every state chickens go there, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine from here in Northern California. The hope is that when people receive a package like this, it gets the gears turning a little bit and they might look into their trashcan too and say, "Gosh, how can I eliminate some of this excess waste that I'm creating too?"
Nicole: I think that's a really great mission. What waste did you find that you were generating the most of?
Franchesca: For our family, a lot of it was wast in our household because we work on it with our household and also our farm business. I was amazed at a lot of the things that I just was really blind to because I was on autopilot of purchasing these things because I was busy and have children. So a lot of things, like yogurt in hard, thick plastic containers that when we put it through a cycling curb, none of it, a lot of it actually gets recycled anymore. It's not valuable enough. And so it just goes into the landfill. So things like that. And I would look at it and say, okay, what can I do to create these products and make them at home so that I'm not generating more of trash?
Franchesca: And so slowly making those shifts, sustainable shifts so it doesn't feel like it's overwhelming to, say, make your own yogurt, which is actually a really easy process and fun. You spend less money, there's time with the kids, you get to teach them something new, a little bit more self sufficiency. And when you're buying milk in glass bottles from the local farmer, you're supporting someone who's really nice. And it always ends up being an adventure to get these products yourself, which ended up being fresher, cleaner, a lot of times less, less pesticides associated with them. So healthier. So it's like a big ball of yarn and you just pull on one little part of the string and suddenly it's a very long, so my answers are very long, long string. I was like, okay, what was your biggest waste? I just cite yogurt as one. It leads you down this big path.
Nicole: I know that I've been, working on making some changes. I found it's not something that happens overnight, but if you can do a little bit here and there, eventually it adds up. And I know, for me one of the biggest surprises was how many paper towels we go through. So, I went down to Sams and bought a big package of bar towels that I can just use those for cleaning and for napkins and everything and then wash them and I can reuse them instead of going through a case of paper towels a couple times a year.
Franchesca: Exactly. Something like that. You're helping save trees from being cut down and then also the plastic that those paper rolls are inevitably individually packaged and you're saving that. A really big win that I had recently, was finding a place to responsibly recycle, that kind of plastic that goes around the big packets, toilet paper or paper towels. A lot of things, like a case of bottled water. If people are still buying bottled water, that kind of stretchy plastic that goes around it. There's all of these recycling points all over the United States that a company called Trex puts up. And you could look up Trex recycling, T, R, E X, and they have collection points all over the United States, usually in front of the local grocery store. And so, you can collect that kind of plastic from your household and then they turn it into hard decking for people's houses, so it's actually getting turned into something. And that feels really good, to keep that kind of plastic out of the landfill.
Nicole: I actually didn't know about that here in Southern Colorado. I'm familiar with the Trex product, but I've never seen a collection point, so that must be more popular elsewhere, which is great. I'll have to look to see if I can find one in my area.
Franchesca: It's a resource that I can give you and then maybe you could throw it up for all the listeners to see. You just put in your zip code and you can see where the nearest collection point is and if you don't have one, you could just write to your local grocery store, whatever it is and say, "Hey, could you throw a bin out front? We'd like to be doing this and it helps bring more business to your location too, so everybody wins."
Nicole: Yeah, that's a great tip.
Franchesca: Another aspect of raising chickens, that I think is the biggest benefit ecologically for folks, is to keep food scraps out of the landfill. A lot of people don't realize how much waste they generate until at the end of the week. Maybe you look in the trashcan and say, "There's a lot of X, Y, or Z." We all have different types of consumption patterns depending on what we do, if we have kids or not. But food waste is something that's really big for so many folks. And when you have chickens, you can feed them virtually everything aside from avocado pits, citrus and bone, they'll eat everything else. And then that's kept out of the landfill. And they're a lot more efficient than a compost pile. Compost is great. Having worms is great too. But chickens will turn any food scrap item from your kitchen into an egg in a couple of days, and that's great, to turn a waste product that you have into an edible protein.
Nicole: Absolutely. And then you get to save a little bit on your food costs on feeding the chickens.
Nicole: Because they don't eat for free, unfortunately.
Franchesca: No they don't. But there's a lot of people at least around in my area that will hook up with local breweries and they'll get spent grain from them and feed the chickens that way. So it's costing a person time but saves them money. Time and money, we always either have a lot of time or more money depending on how we spend our time. That's a lifestyle question, right? Like canning, everything that you have from the garden, it takes a lot of time. But you're saving money because you're not having to buy these groceries and you're saving, hopefully, really good quality food. So what's more valuable? It's a good question for all of us to ask as we decide how we want to live our lives.
Nicole: Absolutely. So if somebody is wanting to start making a transition into reducing plastic and waste in their house, what are some tips or, or guidance or lessons that you've learned along the way that would help make that transition a little bit easier?
Franchesca: It all depends on the family dynamic. If you can get everybody on board and say, "Hey, we're going to try and reduce our waste and make a game of this. We can look at our trashcan at the end of the week and let's all just take a peek in and see what's in there." You don't have to go digging through all the trash. But it's kind of a glance of what are we throwing away the most of? Can we choose one item this week to focus on and either not buy anymore or find some other solution, like say your paper towels. All right, there's a bunch of paper towels in there. Can we switch to rags and get a cleaner that is a cleaner that doesn't have a lot of harsh chemicals with it that's going to be better for the air quality and better for our health and still do a great job cleaning.
Franchesca: Can we tick that off our list? And if you do that one week, then it feels great and that's a sustainable change. And then you move on the next week. You look again, you say, okay, there's a lot of, whatever it is. And then you try and tackle that change. And before you know it, if you can make just one change a week, even one change a month and then you look back six months later, your whole lifestyle is going to be different. And for the better because a lot of things that come packaged aren't necessarily great for our health.
Nicole: So now that you've started to make these changes, what do you generally throw away then? If you're able to recycle a lot and save your food scraps, what's most of your trash composed of?
Franchesca: Let me think. I'm scanning my trash can in my head right now. We did a way with plastic bags, so we'll just reuse paper bags if we forget to bring our paper bags to the store. And so we keep a paper bag underneath our kitchen sink for trash. And what it's filled with, mostly, is just plastic that is surrounded from purchasing meat in bulk from different, we have lots of people who will raise local hogs or goats and then you can purchase it like a half or a whole and freeze that. And I haven't found a way to get around that. There's butcher paper, but still butcher paper has a wax side to it so it can't be recycled as far as I know. So that's our greatest source of trash.
Franchesca: And a lot of people say, well, we should all just be vegans. No animal products at all to be able to lessen our overall carbon footprint and help with the issues associated with climate change. But there's actually a lot of research now for good regenerative agriculture practices that do involve animal husbandry, specifically cows that are out on pasture that are helping the issue because they're creating really healthy pasture. So if you have access to good local meat, it's a better thing in the long run to support that. There's so many different ways to look at these issues.
Nicole: I feel like everybody focuses on, on the aspect that's important to them. And sometimes there's some contradictory information.
Franchesca: Definitely. But just for making sustainable changes as a family, making it something that's joyful and a game and everybody has different comfort levels with it. Humans don't really like change. We like things to stay as they are because we're comfortable purchasing the things that we've been buying and how it tastes and how it's packaged and looked.
Franchesca: We have the option of getting milk in glass bottles or these larger plastic bottles from the same farm. And the larger plastic bottles seem to last a little bit longer in the fridge for whatever reason. And they cost a little less. And so my husband kept buying these bottles and I said, "Please like for me, will you please just the glass bottles that we can return for the deposit and not have the plastic." And it took a little while, but then after a while he said, "You know what? I get it. It makes sense. It doesn't matter if it costs like 50 cents more to the gallon, it's for the betterment of the planet of our kids. We need to do this." I was like, "Yes, thank you."
Franchesca: So, having patients with everybody in the family, because it might take someone a little bit longer to be comfortable making these changes, but eventually when we all kind of blink a little bit and rub our eyes and look around, we realized, "Gosh, we're really mounding up a lot of trash around us." unnecessarily, because there's a lot of really creative solutions out there that we can be going for, to get rid of this trash.
Nicole: And I think one thing that you said earlier is worth repeating. You mentioned that every household dynamic is different. And my personal thought, is I think it's important, you don't, necessarily, have to be 100% totally perfect. Even just a small change in the right direction has a positive impact. So maybe, you don't have to jump into it 100% right away. Like you said, make changes every month. Or even if you don't, at the end, get to be 100% perfect, anything is better than nothing.
Franchesca: Absolutely. I saw this beautiful image last month that said, "We don't need a few people doing zero waste perfectly. We need many people doing it imperfectly." And it's absolutely true. If we just all can make a couple shifts, it's going to have a huge impact. It was like that when we started our farm business, the very first thing that was so important to me when I started my hatchery was not killing male chicks. Because, when I was purchasing checks from larger hatcheries, I found out that the bulk, of the male chicks hatched, are killed upon hatch. Because, that's how they deal with the issue of people not wanting extra mails. And that just hurt my heart. I thought, "Oh my gosh, I'm supporting, what felt to me like animal cruelty."
Franchesca: And so, that was my main focus with the farm. And then once we got that all squared away, all of the breeds that we can sex as male and female, the males are donated to local families that raised them for food that otherwise wouldn't have access to meat. So they're feeding the food scraps that they had to raise up these birds and they're getting protein that they wouldn't have had access to. And I'm dealing with an issue that's a greater issue for the poultry industry. What do you do with the males? But if you can just feed people just with that creative solution. And I was really fortified by that if like, okay, that was my business goal, we've done that.
Franchesca: And then the next year I said, okay, I realized that pollution in the air is a big deal right now. We're just hooked up to the regular grid for our power. What can I do to make sure that we're running on 100% clean renewable energy? And so that year, that was the focus. And so now all of the energy that comes to our power lines is geothermal from a local source, a local company that will deliver us power so we don't have any kind of a carbon footprint to our business.
Franchesca: And then this year it was all the plastic and the zero waste and we're 100% plastic free now in the farm business. And that's what I mean about just making these changes one step at a time. You pick one thing that you feel really passionate about, work it, find the solution and it'll make your heart feel so good and so right. Because you know, "Yes, this is the direction I need to go into." And I swear God gives that energy to just fortify a person and help them just to keep going.
Nicole: So what are some of your future goals both on the farm and in your home?
Franchesca: Just keep reducing the waste in a way that that feels good without being too militant. If my children want to pick up, from a swap, some toys that have some plastic with them, it's okay. We can put it back into the swap next time. I'm not going to be so to one side where everything feels like it's, just the word is militant. We still get to live a life, and not freak out about every little piece of trash that comes into our house, but just be more aware of all the sources of it. We have a lot of stickers that are associated with our packaging and I'd like to be done with the stickers so when we're done with the stickers we're not going to order them anymore and just move over to stamps. Small little changes like that.
Nicole: Sure. So kind of, circling back around to your business side of it, chickens kind of. I like to talk about chickens, they hold a special place in my heart. How do you raise your chickens? Do you keep them free range or do you keep them separate since you have your breeding program?
Franchesca: Our focus is to be a humane hatchery, so however I would want to be treated as a human who was going to be in this kind of situation, or as a chicken, excuse me, how I would want to be treated is how I'm going to treat the chickens. So I have them out on pasture. Totally free of breeding cages. An industry standard for a lot of folks who raise chickens for hatching the eggs is to put them in cages. But we don't do that. All of our chickens are out on pasture, and individual pastures. We have 12 different breeding groups that each get a pasture and the pasture has two different sides to it. So throughout the year we're rotating them back and forth into each one of their individual breeding groups sides so that they can always be on some fresh grass.
Nicole: So do you keep them physically pretty far apart from each other or how do you prevent them from intermixing?
Franchesca: They have permanent fences in between them so that way they can't climb the fence or you know, if they have a wayward lover, couple of breeding groups down, they can't get to them.
Nicole: So tall fences make for good breeding flocks.
Franchesca: It's true.
Nicole: What if somebody wanted to have chickens, or maybe quail, but they don't have these big pastures to raise them on. Do you have any solutions for that?
Franchesca: Yeah, absolutely. I feel, there is a breed of chicken and or quail for every personality of human out there. Just like there's a breed of dog or cat, based on a person's situation. So if you do have some land, it's great to be able to free range them. If you don't have the land, then you could be keeping them in a coop and a run and then just being really good about the upkeep of that coop or run. Some people put sand as a substrate on the bottom and go out there with kind of a pooper scooper. Other people will use straw and then take that straw and take it to a green waste bin at the end of the street if they don't have space for compost.
Franchesca: Some people who are just in apartments will have one or two chickens and keep them in diapers in their apartment and then just feed them extra food scraps after they've, they've had a meal. So I mean every possible scenario is out there for raising chickens. I really like quail because they like being in small spaces. It's what makes them feel safe.
Franchesca: If you've ever seen quail out in nature, they prefer to be in low lying shrubby brushing settings where predators can't get to them. They're a very paranoid prey animal. They like to be the opposite of free-ranging on pasture. They want to be in a small space. So they really like to be in a small little coop or a rabbit style hutch with the sides covered. They feel cocoony and womby and you could be giving them a dust bath in there or extra greens from around. You have extra greens from your meals, so they're getting a really nice sweet life and providing you with a lot of eggs. So really, there is a chicken or quail for everybody out there if they want.
Nicole: Absolutely. We also have Coturnix quail and the way that life was going this year, I kind of needed to step back from them a little bit and it got to the point where we, one poor little quail left. So I put her in with our other game birds just so that she wasn't alone and she could have some friends. And you can definitely tell, that they don't like to be in that big spacious area. I made a little brush pile in the corner for her and that's where she hides all day. Definitely does not take advantage of that space. So we did an episode a couple of months ago about quail, but that was definitely a big confusion among people. Misunderstanding is, quail do like to be in a small area and it's, it's not cruel to do that to them. So I would definitely recommend them for small space husbandry or, smaller areas.
Franchesca: Yeah. When every ones looking at what's the most humane for chickens, quail, all different animals. And even within the breed of each one of the chickens and quail. I just look at what their temperament and their behavior is telling me.
Nicole: So if people would like to get more advice on living with less waste or maybe they'd like to pick up some of your birds, how can they go about finding you?
Franchesca: There's a lot of great ways. If someone is on Instagram then you can find us at Alchemistfarm farm on Instagram and you'll see all sorts of different photos and videos of the egg colors and the different breeds of chickens and quail we work with and there's also informational videos on there about raising quail and chickens. Each one of our posts, we try and make really informational. So it's going to be beautiful, but there's also going to be something that folks learn from each more of the posts. And our website, Alchemistfarm.com is another really great resource. And people can order directly through there or ask us any questions through there, through the contact page.
Nicole: Oh wonderful. I know, I especially love looking at your Instagram. I've got it pulled up right now and it's just so colorful and it's got a ton of great information. So Instagram is my preferred social media outlet, but definitely some great resources and I recommend everybody to go check out Alchemist Farm.
Franchesca: Thank you so much.
Nicole: Of course. Well Francesca, I really appreciate you taking the time to share all of your knowledge and your inspiration with us today. I know that I've definitely walked away with some tips on how to make my house a little bit more waste free and I really appreciate your time today.
Franchesca: Of course, thanks for taking the time and I hope everybody just gets inspired to make at least one positive change. Just try it once and I promise you'll feel good.
Nicole: Great words. I appreciate it. And for those of you at home, thank you so much for listening to Backyard Bounty and we'll see you again next week.
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