Fair fowl at the market
Wednesday, Sep 03, 2014 06:00 am
Isabella Miranda greets each person who stops at her Bear Springs Farm booth with a shy smile. The 13-year-old entrepreneur is a weekly fixture at the St. Albert Farmers’ Market selling organically grown chickens, turkeys and eggs.
Along with her 14-year-old sister Miranda Cerena Miranda, the siblings raise 3,000 chickens on a quarter section on the family’s Smoky Lake Farm.
The poultry is grown free range and pasture fed. It is supplemented with organic feed without the use of hormones, antibiotics or chemical additives.
While most teens play video games in their spare time, the Miranda sisters feed chickens, collect eggs and change out the bedding.
“It’s fun. I like taking care of animals. My parents started it and I thought it was fun to pet the chicks,” says Isabella.
Living and working on the family spread, she’s learned to drive a backhoe to transport bales and water tanks for poultry. She’s even manoeuvred the backhoe to create a dugout. In addition, her blue-collar resume lists operating a 20-ton crane to lift posts – not something your average teenager does.
Spearheading the enterprise is their father, Paul Miranda, who takes charge of construction, financing and bookkeeping.
A communications manager for the County of Smoky Lake, Paul originally studied mechanical engineering before working for a decade for the City of Edmonton designing traffic lights.
Reyna, the matriarch, was originally trained as a large animal veterinarian but now operates a school cafeteria.
The Mirandas wanted to provide a healthy lifestyle for their daughters and took the plunge buying 160 acres in 2007. Unlike, large factory farms prevalent across Canada, they are part of growing movement of young couples nurturing sustainable farming practices.
“Everything is recycled. Our water runs down hill. We don’t change the environment to match our needs. We work with the environment. We don’t clear-cut. All our fence posts are from existing trees that fell down. We have a 5,000 ft garage built into a hill that is accessible from both directions,” says Paul.
He has constructed five large chicken pens that encompass about seven acres. Each is about 150 feet by 76 wide with two sea cans on each end for shelter. Recycled galvanized fencing protects the animals from flying predators. He estimates 500 chickens share one acre of land giving them room to peck at fresh grass and readily available insects.
The Mirandas took the plunge into farming with a clutch of 300 chicks. Originally the poultry was raised exclusively for family and friends. However, in the last couple of years the flock was bumped to 1,500 and this year it’s increased exponentially.
“My oldest daughter also raised 100 turkeys with a mortality rate of one.”
Baby chicks are raised in a solar heated building eating duck starter that is equal portions of one-third oats, wheat and barley and an added 1 per cent pea mixture.
Older chickens feed on the range. Once penned chickens have scratched the grass down to the bare soil, the two-legged feathered friends are rotated to another enclosure.
“Depending on the amount of grass growing, we let the pen relax. It’s about sustainability.”
While Paul and Reyna originally moved to a rural environment to provide a healthier lifestyle for the family, the move has been highly educational.
“It’s all about providing kids with knowledge to live and work in the future in the face of increasing stresses in energy and food production.”
One of the most important skills Isabella has picked up is “how to be flexible with my schedule.”
While mom and dad are planning for the future, there are immediate payoffs for Isabella. She takes her earnings and purchases clothes, electronics and attends a three-week summer ballet intensive with Royal Winnipeg Ballet.
“I work for what I want and I get it.”