The story of the French Chicken Farmer reminds one of the 1950s sitcom Green Acres. You know, the show about the couple who moves from a glamorous life in New York City to try their hand at working the rural country farm? Only this story begins with a pair of restaurateurs relocating from a North Miami home to Loxahatchee, Palm Beach County's very own rural countryside.
For the past six months, Kefren Arjona and his wife have been adjusting, having swapped their oceanfront home for a five-acre plot in the boonies to raise chickens. But not just any chicken. At the French Chicken Farmer, the couple specialize in European chickens from France, what many consider to be the best tasting poultry in the world.
Born in Havana, Cuba, Arjona -- a former restaurant owner with an MBA in marketing from Nova Southeastern University -- began raising chickens just over a year ago. After leaving the restaurant industry, the chef-turned-chicken-farmer told Clean Plate Charlie he wanted to do something he could be passionate about after leaving the kitchen.
"When I was working as a chef, I could never get chicken to come out the way I wanted. No flavor," said Arjona. "So I started doing some research."
Today, what began as a flock of 40 chickens has quickly grown to just over 400 birds, many of which are considered "rare" breeds of poultry. Right now the farm has several heritage breeds -- each renowned for their taste -- including Freedom Ranger and true French (not American) Bresse, a chicken originating from the Rhône-Alpes region of France. He also raises quails, Muscovy ducks and French Guinea hens.
"These days everyone is becoming more educated about what we eat," Arjona told Clean Plate Charlie during a recent interview. "This is a new era. An era of fresh, clean eating. [I don't know of many farms] in South Florida offering organic, pasture-raised chickens free from growth hormones, antibiotics and GMOs."
Grown to Label Rouge standards -- the sign of quality assurance in France -- it means Arjona's chickens are truly free-range, pasture-raised, and fed an all-natural diet. Hand-processed and slaughtered, it also means chickens are air-chilled, slaughtered just hours before being sold, and never frozen. To supplement the chickens' diet, Arjona said he feeds his birds organic white and golden maize, flax, non-GMO wheat, and non-fat milk to "help to give the chicken its flavor."
So what makes a French chicken different than the average American-bred chicken you get at the grocery store -- aside from being all-natural, organic, and fresh, of course?
"It's very tasteful. The best-tasting chicken you'll ever have," said Arjona. "Americans have been taught to prefer the white meat [of the chicken]. Especially the breast. But the breast has no flavor."
Particuarily large, oversized breasts thanks to American-raised poultry pumped full of growth hormone, he added. Unlike the average store-bought bird, Arjona said his chickens have smaller breasts -- half the size of standard American-raised chicken -- and more dark meat, but make up for what they lack in size with a rich, gamey flavor.
"I [adhere to] the old way of doing things," said Arjona. "If you want to eat an organic chicken that has never been frozen, never been contaminated, and raised on the land, this is purest, freshest you will get."
To purchase fresh chickens from the French Chicken Farmer you must first place an order by calling or emailing Arjona to schedule a slaughter. Depending on the quantity of the order, Arjona will deliver anywhere in Palm Beach or Broward County. You can also visit the farm to pick up, but must make arrangements to slaughter before visiting the farm. Freedom Ranger chickens are processed to order at $20 each. You'll get the entire carcass -- de-feathered, of course -- but you'll have to break it down yourself. You can also purchase the chicken live for $15, and do the slaughter yourself. Ducks are $30 cleaned, $25 live; French Guinea chickens are $25 cleaned, $20 live; quails are $7.50 cleaned, $25 live.
Don't fancy a drive out to Loxahatchee? The French Chicken Farmer also plans to participate in local green markets starting this month, including those in Boca, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. However, dates will revolve around the farm's slaughter schedule. According to Arjona, it takes three months to grow one chicken to prepare for slaughter. To ensure freshness, the FDA requires the meat be sold within five days of slaughter -- and cooked or frozen within 24 hours of delivery/pick-up.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.
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