The Demise of Our Chicken Processor - What's Next? - Heartstone Farm

The Demise of Our Chicken Processor - What's Next?

By Farmer Dan

Our chicken processor, Commonwealth Poultry, went out of business a couple of weeks ago. 

I want to give you the background on their closing  - and share our future plans for chicken. 

Sadly, this isn’t just a case of one small chicken processor in Maine not making it. It’s the story of what’s going on in our country with agriculture, specifically livestock and meat. 

Perhaps you already are aware that 80% of meat processing and production in our country - I’m talking about pork, chicken, beef - is controlled by  just four companies. One of those companies - Smithfield - is owned by a Chinese billionaire. Another - JBS -  is owned by a family in Brazil.

The story of a small chicken processor in Maine failing is hardly going to make national news - but in a way it should - because of what it tells us about where things stand with food production and agriculture in the US. 

When Commonwealth Poultry started up 10 years ago they were filling a void. There were no USDA poultry processors in Maine. In fact, there weren’t any in New England.  Over the years, Commonwealth  built an impressive operation - processing as many as 10,000 chickens a week. They employed over 30 people - many of them immigrants. Over the years, they added equipment and capacity - including air chilling.

When I last visited them a few weeks ago, workers were efficiently killing, scalding, plucking, chilling, cutting and packaging chicken for Heartstone’s customers. 

I was impressed - as I had been every time I had seen the operation over the years. Everything looked good - but beneath the surface was a hard reality they could not fix. 

After we walked around the processing floor, we went over to their office and we learned that their operation was likely going to have to close. They were in debt, without the cash to pay their growers. 

It was kind of a classic business problem. They could not charge enough to cover their costs. You see, Commonwealth’s competition is companies like Tyson and Perdue - which control over 50% of chicken production in the US. By production I mean, they control everything - from the price they pay their contract growers all the way to the prices they charge retailers.

The deck is stacked. It always was - and, in some ways, it’s sad to say but Commonwealth’s days were always numbered. 

I feel bad for the entrepreneurs who had a dream and worked hard for years to succeed. I feel bad for the workers who lost their jobs. And, of course, for the farms who are now back to where they were 10 years ago: there are - again - no USDA poultry processors in Maine, or in New England for that matter.


From the day we learned that Commonwealth was struggling to stay alive, we started placing bigger orders each week. In part because we wanted to help them stay afloat, and, in part, because we wanted to stock up in the event they closed. 

At the same time, we started our search for another processor who could meet our standards. We wanted chickens from small family farms, raised humanely, processed with air-chilling, and USDA inspected. 

Since Commonwealth was the only such processor that had existed not just in Maine, but in all of New England, we expanded our search into New York State.

Two weeks ago, Sean and I got in the car and drove seven hours to Fort Plain, New York to meet with and tour Morning Star Poultry

Morning Star is owned by an Amish family and they work with seven small family farms owned by other Amish families. We’ll be sourcing from seven Amish family farms nearby. 

Here is a list of the farms we will be sourcing from. 

We liked what we saw at Morning Star and their operation checked the boxes - air chilled, small operation, supporting family farms, all natural, USDA-inspected.

But there was still one test they needed to pass - and it wasn’t one we would know the results of right away – the taste test.

We loaded a cooler full of their chicken and headed home and over the last couple of weeks we’ve been trying it out. 

I’ve made dishes with their chicken breasts and chicken legs and tried out their chicken pot pies. Others at Heartstone have as well.

I’m really happy to share with you - this is great chicken. It tastes like well-raised chicken. It has real chicken flavor (unlike supermarket chicken which has been soaked in chlorine baths effectively removing the flavor).

So here’s what I am excited to share with you - we’ve found a new source for chicken we can feel good about. We’ve found chicken that tastes better than any supermarket chicken. 

And - with our partners at Morning Star and the farms we’ll be working with in their neighborhood  - we’re going to keep the good fight going - to create a meat supply chain that supports family farms who are raising livestock humanely - right here in the US. 


We will get our first order from Morning Star and our new chicken farmers in mid-June - it will take them a while to gear up for our business. In the meantime, we have many cuts from Commonwealth in stock, though we will likely run out of some inventory - but our empty shelves will be short term!

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