Agriculture program providing Wiikwemkoong food bank with locally-grown chickens

An organization in Wiikwemkoong is helping deliver locally grown chickens to the local food bank for community members in need.

Wiikwemkoong Agricultural Resources is taking part in the provincially-run Artisanal Chicken Program.

The program is administered by the Chicken Farmers of Ontario, and it provides opportunities for small, independent, locally based farmers to meet local demands for safe high quality chicken.

Through the program, the farms can grow between 600 and 3000 chickens each year.

The Wiikwemkoong Agricultural Resources Program was developed during the pandemic in an effort to localize the food supply to the community, located on Manitoulin Island. The organization started a community garden to distribute fresh produce through the local food bank. 

“Eventually what happened was, we just started thinking instead of just offering produce, we should try to diversify what we’re offering and start offering meat,” said Annette Peltier-Flamand, Agricultural Resources Coordinator for Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory.

The organization applied to the Artisanal Chicken Program and was approved into the program in February 2023 on a trial-run basis.

“We don’t have an actual artisanal chicken producer license yet because we are being monitored by the program to make sure that we comply with all the different regulations that they have,” Peltier-Flamand confirmed.

Upon approval for the program, Peltier-Flamand said they only had two months to come up with enough funds to be able to buy the equipment needed to store and care for the chickens once receiving them.

She added they were able to secure funding through different local organizations.

Wiikwemkoong Agricultural Resources Coordinator Annette Peltier-Flamand holds a two-day-old Rustic Ranger chick in front of a brooder trailer. (Submitted by Wiikwemkoong Agricultural Resources)

In April, Wiikwemkoong Agricultural Resources picked up 225 one-day-old Rustic Ranger chicks in Espanola that had been delivered from a hatchery in southern Ontario. The organization raised the chickens over a 12 week period before sending them to an abattoir in Massey to be processed.

“We come back maybe two days later and we receive frozen whole chickens and we just bring them to the food bank,” said Peltier-Flamand.

She said a total of 208 frozen chickens were delivered to the Wiikwemkoong food bank in mid-July.

Peltier-Flamand said people at the food bank have expressed excitement to receive locally produced chicken raised by community members.

“The food bank is in the unique position where they are able to supply meat to their clients now,” said Peltier-Flamand.

A woman with blonde hair holds up a frozen whole chicken in front of refrigerators.
Wiikwemkoong Food Bank Coordinator Jamie Lynn Manitowabi displays a frozen chicken that was raised by the Wiikwemkoong Agricultural Resources Program. (Submitted by Wiikwemkoong Agricultural Resources)

Wiikwemkoong Agricultural Resources received 225 more chicks in June, and another 225 on August 9, for a total of 675 for the year. 

Peltier-Flamand said those chickens will be ready to be distributed to the food bank in September and late October. She added they are hoping to double their production next year if they are successful in receiving an artisanal chicken license.

Peltier-Flamand said if that’s the case, they will have to buy more equipment to raise the larger number of chickens.

She is putting together a funding proposal to take to local groups to help with the initiative, which she says will cost about $1,500 to $2000.

 “That is quite a lot up front, right? And then afterwards, once all the equipment is there, then it would be less than that,” said Peltier-Flamand.

“Once we get the infrastructure together, it’s not going to cost much at all, because after the infrastructure is secured, then all we will basically be doing is paying for the chicks, the feed and the abattoir expenses.”

Peltier-Flamand said the program not only benefits community members who use the food bank, but also educates the volunteers and summer students who help her with the chickens.

“Because we employ local community members through, you know, different work programs, it’s providing training opportunities for people, even just to get their first experience with livestock,” Peltier-Flamand explained.

“They’re definitely motivated into caring for the birds and they’re learning about responsibility. I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate that the students are there because they help us out so much.”

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