The Costco Connection
Look for a growing variety of organic
foods and snacks at your local warehouse and on Costco.com.
IN ITS 140;year history, Coleman Natural
Foods has always been committed to raising
chickens as simply as possible. “The original emphasis was on raising animals without antibiotics or hormones, and that
progressed into organic as consumer interest in organic increased,” says Mike Leventini, vice president of operations for the
company, which began selling organic
chicken in 2001.
Coleman Natural owns chicken farms
in California, and also works with several
hundred independent family farms across
Washington, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
This gives smaller farmers an opportunity to
compete in the larger market. No matter
where their chickens start, Leventini says,
each flock is tracked from the hatchery to
Unlike dairy cows, the USDA does not
allow farmers to convert live conventional
animals intended for meat sales to organic.
That means Coleman chicken farmers must
start raising a chicken as organic from the
moment it hatches. Other wise, chickens follow the same organic requirements as cows:
no hormones or antibiotics, and the farms
and feed must be certified organic.
Leventini adds that certain building
materials are restricted to ensure there’s no
chemical exposure. Chicken houses must
have natural light, fresh air and openings for
the birds to go outside into a fenced pasture.
Like AOD’s McGinty, Leventini stresses
that the high price of organic feed is the
biggest cost in raising organic animals.
He also emphasizes that chicken health
is of the utmost importance. “Chickens can’t
be given antibiotics. Hormones and steroids
are already prohibited in [all] poultry production,” he says.
In all organic livestock operations, preventive measures are required to keep animals healthy. “You have to approach the
husbandry different. You have to have good
bio-security; you just put a lot more work in
upfront,” says Leventini.
The chickens are vaccinated against
common diseases and fed nutritionally balanced diets and approved vitamins to support immunity. Leventini adds that farm
employees are prohibited from owning
chickens at home to reduce chances of
cross-contamination with Coleman’s birds.
Coleman has expanded and converted
conventional packaging plants to organic
plants to accommodate growth, while
expanding its farmer network.
Since converting live chickens is not
an option, Coleman instead converts facil-
ities. “We have farms that are already run
under organic standards, but they may be
growing one of our non-organic birds,” he
says. “You can still raise non-organic birds
in an organic facility.”
Once the land and facility are certified
organic, Leventini says, farmers clean out
their chicken houses and start raising
organic birds as they’re needed. This allows
farmers to be nimble in meeting the needs
of Coleman and the growing market. ;
certified, an organic calf is born to an
organic cow, or a conventional cow is converted; it must be managed under organic
practices for a year.
One big challenge for the business is
the cost of organic feed, the culprit behind
the higher price of organic dairy products.
In fact, McGinty says, it’s the organic
industry’s No. 1 stress. “Alfalfa, hay, corn,
wheat, barley and cottonseed—things that
are abundant in conventional agriculture—have become rather scarce and
competitive [in organics] because the
organic milk guy and the organic chicken
guy and the organic cereal guy and …
everybody else is competing for the same
basket of crops,” he says.
When The Connection met with him
in October, McGinty said that organic
corn was trading for four times the price
of conventional corn.
To combat this, AOD began growing
its own certified organic feed, but McGinty
says this has not been easy: “In recent years,
organic cropland has become more expen-
sive. But we’ve managed to add enough
land to supply 10 percent of our own crop
needs, plus or minus, outside of grazing.”
Despite these challenges, providing
organic dairy products to the masses is
worth the effort. “Organic milk makes a
difference to a lot of people,” says
McGinty. “It reduces the chemicals and
synthetics used in the production of their
food and, in doing so, respects the health
of the farmers, land and animals that
produce it. Organic dairy farming takes a
little more work and a little more care,
but people want to have the choice. That’s
why we do it.” ;
Headquarters: Salisbury, Maryland (with
offices, farms and packaging facilities in
California, Washington and Delaware)
Products at Costco: Fresh organic chicken
Chickens forage outside
on a Coleman Natural Foods
farm in Washington.
CONTINUED ON PAGE 38
Dairy, at the
Ryan Ranck and
advisors, at an
organic farm in