East Coast’s First Organic Game Farm Comes to the North Fork
By Gianna Volpe
It wasn’t until September 13 that it really hit Abra Morawiec: Not only does she now own her own farm on Jamesport’s Manor Lane, it’s a truly unique New York venture as the state’s first certified organic operation dedicated to pasture-raising game birds.
The 29-year-old North Fork grower was hanging heat lamps within her brooder-to-be when she learned only days separated Feisty Acres from its first flock; 120 Coturnix Quail would soon strut about the same space in which Morawiec knelt when the call came through from Dianne Tumey of Oklahoma’s B & D Farm.
“You have no idea how excited I am — I’ve been waiting all day for your call,” said the expectant mother of more than 100 day-old chicks as she plopped down in a crib of freshly laid woodchips that afternoon.
After hanging up the phone, Morawiec raced through a mental checklist to ensure everything was ready, then looked up.
“All I need now are some little birdies.”
The evolution of Feisty Acres is rooted in both Morawiec’s subsistence farming past and her mentorship on the North Fork, the latter of which the Southold resident said promotes a kind of “one hand washes the other” philosophy that “cannot be overstated” when considering creation of this country’s now two-of-a-kind operation.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s website, the only other organic operation in the country dedicated to raising quail is California’s Belcampo Farms, making Feisty Acres a fairly special agricultural ‘first’ for New York State.
“If I didn’t have a relationship with [those North Fork farmers] kind enough to accept me into the small farming community that’s out here … Phil [Barbato of Biophilia in Jamesport] wouldn’t have offered to rent land to me; the Browders [of Browders Birds in Mattituck] wouldn’t extend the use of their MPU to me; Tom [Hart IV of Deep Roots Farm in Southold] would never let me borrow his truck or his power tools or anything like that,” Ms. Morawiecz said. The support she’s received from area farmers has directly led to her ability to push the agricultural envelope in organic farming on the East End.
“I’m so full of gratitude and only hope one day I can return the favor.”
The former Peace Corps volunteer and her boyfriend, Chris Pinto, are already beginning to help in laying the groundwork for other farmers who hope to follow in their footsteps. The couple’s own quail space requirement calculations was reviewed and accepted by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York after they noticed the National Organic Program listed rules for chickens, turkeys and ducks, but not quail.
“The equation for chickens is one four-and-a-half pound bird to 1.75 square feet, so by shrinking that down to quail-size by estimating a quail at around one-and-a-half [pounds], you could — theoretically — put nine quail in 1.75 square feet using the same ratio,” said. Morawiec. “[Chris and I] personally didn’t feel like that was a good amount of space for a bird their size to live out their lives and do everything they need to do as quail, so we crunched the numbers and saw that three in that spot would be fantastic.”
Morawiec is renting seven shape-shifting acres from Barbato of Biophilia Organic Farm in Jamesport that will give the quail a constant change of scenery as she relocates her flocks based on which of Barbato’s fields are lying fallow in any given growing season. The arrangement is one that will not only bolster Barbato’s efforts to farm organically, but to do so while cultivating Biophilia’s ecosystem. The young, but seasoned professional farmer, Morawiec said she’s happy to help out on-premises, but added she wants to positively influence the East End ecosystems at large.
“We have a huge tick problem and there’s not much being done about it, so I want to offer folks a chance to sponsor flocks of Bob White Quail I will then release in local parks and preserves,” said Morawiec of the pilot program she’s planned to pump up the population of native birds known for actively seeking out ticks for snacks. “I’m not being naive; I know their mortality rate goes up when released into the wild, but I want to raise at least one flock of Bob Whites each year using my own money while allowing others to do the same.”
Morawiec estimated the cost to do so will not exceed $100, adding any of Feisty Acres’ costs — whether it be in Bob White sponsorship or two-bird retail quail packs — will not only be made available to consumers, but also be painstakingly transparent. “That may seem silly — or even stupid — to do, but it’s important to us that people know where every cent goes, so that they can see how we justify the cost of the birds.”
A two-pack of Feisty Acres certified organic quails could cost retail consumers upwards of $30 at the beginning, but Morawiec said that cost should drop over time.
“And it will obviously be lower for commercial vendors,” she said, adding culinary farm-to-table fetishists need not apply for her product unless they are willing to either work for it or send a representative to do so. “If a restaurant wants to buy our birds then I want the chef to work four hours a month on the farm,” she said. “I think it’s important for them to get a real understanding of why our birds are special.”