Socorro poultry farm receives grant from USDA

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A local poultry farm has received a grant from the US Department of Agriculture that will allow the farm to expand its operations and create new jobs in the Socorro area. Pollo Real will receive a $49,500 Value Added Producer Grant from USDA Rural Development over the next two years for the farm.

Pollo Real, run by Tracey Hamilton and husband Tom Delehanty, has been bringing money into Socorro for 18 years by producing high-quality chickens, turkeys, ducks, guinea fowl and eggs. This grant will allow them to increase their flock size and expand their product base, thus creating new jobs.

The VAPG isn’t easy to get; only a few are given out each year statewide. When asked what made Pollo Real’s application stand out, USDA Rural Development Public Affairs Specialist Ernie Watson said Pollo Real submitted a good application that met all of the requirements and scored very high.

“Their work … and what they wanted to do with the money (stood out),” he said.

And why wouldn’t it? Pollo Real is the largest pasture poultry farm in the United States.

Hamilton and Delehanty said they plan to use the money to grow their business by buying more birds and expanding their market. They currently sell their products at farmers markets and in stores in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Delehanty said they helped start that about 17 years ago and they helped start the Albuquerque Downtown Growers Market 14 years ago. They’ve also been selling their products at the Santa Fe farmers market for the last 16 years.

This grant will not only help Pollo Real, but the Socorro economy, as well.

“If we sell locally, that’s beautiful, but if we sell out in Santa Fe or Los Alamos or Taos, that money comes back,” Hamilton said.

The new jobs, mostly field and sales work, will be in Socorro, where they already employ 10 people.

Hamilton and Delehanty said they also wanted to continue focusing on out-of-town sales. All of that selling they do to the north ultimately feeds the Socorro economy.

Helping Hatch a Business

Their time in Socorro started some 18 years ago, when the couple moved here from Wisconsin in order to start a family farm.

Initially they had some difficulties — banks would not give them a loan to buy farmland — but they found assistance from the USDA Farm Service Agency. The FSA gave the couple a loan, and Pollo Real was hatched. This began their happy relationship with the USDA.

“The federal government is out to help folks like Tom and I,” said Hamilton.

In the past, they qualified for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s equipment program, which paid for land leveling and irrigation. The couple used these resources to improve their main farm. With the time and money they saved on resources and labor, they were able to increase production. Today, Hamilton focuses on the business side of things, while Delehanty focuses on production.

“I’m the brawn, Tracey’s the brains,” Delehanty quipped.

USDA Rural Development arranged for the grant to be officially awarded at the Santa Fe Farmers Market in order to spread awareness of available grants to farmers and growers.

“There is so much grant money — so much federal money — that is there to help small businesses in rural areas and to help agricultural businesses,” Hamilton said. “My main thing is to go out there and let people know that you can do it. It’s daunting. The paperwork is like reading a foreign language; it’s quite difficult, but once you can get into it and get through it … We got it done within about a week and a half … just Tom and I.”

Hamilton’s done more with the government than this. Recently, she was in Washington D.C. as part of the White House New Mexico Business Leaders council, a group of businesspeople from across New Mexico who were brought in to discuss job creation and the economy with higher-up administrators. Hamilton said she took time to talk to several local businessmen, some of Pollo Real’s customers, and State Rep. Don Tripp in order to better represent Socorro’s needs and the needs of the agricultural community in New Mexico. During the meeting, she focused on how the government could help small farmers.

Big Plans

The couple has many plans to grow their business. Most immediate, though, is dealing with the oversight measures for the VAPG and making sure the government knows its money will go to the right places. They’re also working on plans to open a full-line butcher shop in Santa Fe sometime this fall, with poultry, pigs, lambs and cows. The butcher shop will deal with butchering, curing, smoking and cooking — full line is not an overstatement.

“We just want to keep creating the best poultry we can possibly create,” Delehanty said.

And that’s Delehanty’s real focus: better poultry. While it’s not at all simple to care for chickens outdoors, Delehanty finds that building-grown, mass-produced commercial meat is simply unsatisfying. He feels the only way to increase production is through care. His business plan is to “take care of birds really well from 1-day old all the way through … If you drop production at one point, you lose the whole thing.”

And the results show. Delehanty goes around the country to talk about his farming methods with the Midwest Organic Sustainable Education Service.

Pollo Real is proof of both the USDA New Mexico branch’s commitment to helping New Mexican farmers and businesspeople and what two people can accomplish with hard work and diligence. While they only sell birds right now, they are trying to get into selling sausages, soups, stocks, whatever else they can.

“We try to get everything but the cluck, as Grandma always said,” Delehanty said. “But I’ve been considering how to get the cluck too.”

 

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