Jake Bauer began at Blue Sky Organic Farms as a volunteer, but he soon learned to love the industry and has since turned chicken farming into his career under the name New School Acres. With fresh, pasture-raised, organic chickens now available for order, we thought we’d pick his brain.
What is your professional background?
I’ve spent the majority of my adult career in the nuclear power industry. After 9 years in the Navy as a nuclear mechanic, I spent the next 4 years working at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station as an operator.
When did you first become interested in farming?
My first visit to Blue Sky was last summer, which resulted in me volunteering my time and help in exchange for knowledge from the owner and farmer, David Vose. I had recently started gardening and found myself fascinated by the process: the miraculous transformation of a tiny seed to a full grown plant. The realization that I wanted to be a farmer didn’t materialize until six months later. David and I attended a sustainable farming conference run by ACRES USA in Illinois. Spending a few days there and being immersed in the culture created a genuine excitement in me that I had never felt before.
When did you realize eating organic was important? Why is it important?
My transition to an organic diet was at a slow pace. I was an uneducated consumer, and I think I was mostly just following the trend. In fact, I can still remember years ago when I truly believed organics was just a fraud.
Last summer, a friend of mine told me his wife, who had just been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, was going to treat her disease with an organic diet. Due to type of aggressive cancer, chemotherapy wasn’t an option and this was all they had. I had never heard of such a thing at the time and was totally shocked. I didn’t discredit the idea of this alternative treatment, but my curiosity was piqued.
While I prayed for the best and remained optimistically hopeful, I began to research the concept of healing through an organic diet. What I discovered changed my life forever. It was like taking the blue pill in The Matrix. All of the sudden I was inherently aware of the dangers in ingesting chemical pesticides, herbicides, processed foods, and antibiotics.
My newfound education was accentuated with news that my friends’ wife had beaten her cancer into submission with this organic, alternative treatment. I was now enlightened to the importance of food and its effects on our health.What did people say when you told them you were leaving nuclear power to become a farmer?
The two most popular responses were “You’re crazy” or “That’s awesome!” I did have a few people ask me why I would want to farm. It’s such hard work! As if hard work is something that should be avoided if you knew what was best for you. I think most people were shocked that I was willing to trade in a very lucrative, promising career with vacation days for a backbreaking, laborious job that includes no guaranteed days off. No matter the response, I was always understanding to the whole spectrum of reactions. I mean, who farms anymore? Not exactly the occupation you hear kids talking about wanting to take on when they grow up.
I buy most of the meat I consume from local ranchers who use ethical and humane practices in their animal husbandry. Many of them either don’t raise chicken or have a limited availability. It occurred to me that there just wasn’t a readily accessible supply of non-commercialized poultry. Back to the conference I attended last year, David and I talked a lot about different farming ventures I could get started in and chicken came up on several occasions. We both agreed that there was nobody raising certified organic chicken on this small of a scale, not in the state at least. So I figured, why not be the first?
What’s wrong with chickens you buy at the store?
Besides the fact that some of the chicken breasts are bigger and whiter than my thighs? (Something’s not right with that.)
There are several things I find wrong with grocery store chicken. One is that you have no idea where the bird came from (other than somewhere in the US), what it ate, how it was raised, or when it was slaughtered. Then you throw in the fact that many of them are injected with antibiotics to either keep them from getting sick in their poor living conditions or to accelerate their growth rate. I believe antibiotic resistant bacteria is a serious threat to human health and that our haphazard use of these drugs in the raising of animals we consume is a grave mistake.
What do you hope to accomplish at New School Acres?
My personal goals of becoming a master farmer aside, what I really hope to accomplish is to educate people about the food they consume. If I can get people to truly contemplate, “Why is this precooked rotisserie chicken so cheap?” instead of “Why is your organic pasture-raised chicken so expensive?”, I will consider myself successful regardless of how my business does financially. I want to be a part of the change in people’s lives when they awaken to the importance of a quality diet. All food should be thoughtfully purchased and consumed. It’s one of the only things we buy that ends up inside our bodies. I think that alone should earn it the utmost consideration.
What has been the hardest thing about your career change?
Not seeing my wife as much. I haven’t had a day off since I left my old career behind 5 months ago and I work long hours. Fortunately, she’s given me nothing but support and love, which I’d be lost without.
What’s your advice for anyone thinking about taking a chance to follow his or her dreams?
I won’t say anything reckless like, “Just do it! It’ll be the best decision you’ll ever make!” Dreams aren’t easy and they don’t always seem so dreamy when you’re living them. Make sure you’re ready for failures, fleeting thoughts of regret, and self-doubt. That being said, there’s few things more exhilarating and liberating than living a life you truly believe in. Also, make sure you have the support of those you love and that love you. The help of your family, friends, and colleagues will provide you with the encouragement you need to get through those times of uncertainty.
(For more about New School Acres, and to order your own healthy chickens, visit http://www.newschoolacres.com. New School Acres is also on Facebook! Be sure to like us in order to receive updates about ordering and product availability!)