When JJ and Teleah Dabbs moved from Denver to southern New Mexico in 2006, they were looking for a rural community where they could raise their five children (Jerik, Josephine, Trenton, Torin, and Jimi) and land where they could produce their own food. Although JJ grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania and studied agronomy, it would be 20 years before he would put this knowledge into practice again when the Dabbs moved from the city to a community of just over 700 people in Gila, New Mexico.
JJ and Teleah started by establishing the Gila Co-op, a venue hosted by the Dabbs, where local producers – including bakers, artists, and backyard gardeners – can meet and exchange goods. It wasn’t long before the Dabbs established their own chicken flock and garden on their 15-acre property. They began exchanging the surplus food from their small family farm with their neighbors at the Gila Co-op, but soon started to sell Gila Chicken products at local farmers’ markets and direct to restaurants.
Gila Chicken’s Freedom Ranger meat birds and mixed breed laying hens are raised outdoors where they have access to diverse food sources, including grass, grubs and grain. Allowing their chickens to roam free on pasture so they can access fresh forage and perform their natural behaviors is the most important aspect of their animal husbandry practices. JJ says that they pursued Animal Welfare Approved certification because they are “true believers in transparency and certification by private, third party organizations.” The Dabbs found that they were already following the welfare standards required by AWA and wanted to capitalize on their adherence to strict animal welfare practices. While JJ and Teleah are always happy to have visitors on the farm to see their farming practices first hand, they find that AWA certification further reassures their customers that they really are doing the right thing.
“People want a connection to their food,” says JJ. “Although we began doing this for ourselves, we want to share our high-quality, safe food with others and make a living from it.” Relocating their family to Gila has allowed Teleah and JJ’s children to learn about life on a farm and the children play an increasingly important role in the farm’s daily operations.
The Dabbs have many plans for the future, including the expansion of their laying flock and the addition of other animal species to the farm. They are also planning to increase their direct marketing to consumers and restaurants. Gila Chicken meat and eggs are available direct from the farm at the Gila Co-op, which is open daily for customers on a self-serve honor system and two days a week when the Co-op is staffed. For information about other suppliers of Gila Chicken products, visit AWA’s Online Directory.