Small and Alternative Enterprise - Feature Farmer

Linda Hart - Crazy Hart Farms

Crazy Hart Farm - Turkeys Linda Hart - Crazy Hart Farms

Driving down a dusty dirt road in Fellsmere (located about 20 miles northwest of Vero Beach) one would not expect to find Florida’s leading pastured poultry producer amongst the small 5 and 10-acre lots of hobby farmers. After all, there are no giant poultry houses with huge cooling fans and thousands of chickens in each house. Except for the occasional turkey gobble or murmured clucking of contented chickens walking around and scratching in the dirt or grass, you would not ever realize that more than 500 chickens, 200 turkeys and 500 game hens are living the good life at Crazy Hart Ranch. Walking around freely and feasting on a variety of insects, grasses, weedy plants and wild flowers, these birds have never seen the inside of a cage and probable never will until they are transported to Ocala for harvesting. Crazy Hart Ranch specializes in pasture-raised poultry that are not treated with antibiotics, hormones or other commercial additives. Owner, and all-round ranch hand, Linda Hart, watches over every bird like the mother hen that she is. Her philosophy is that she is producing quality poultry in a healthy and humane manner. Birds kept on pasture are raised in a more natural environment; they are able to eat bugs and insects, grass and take dirt baths. Due to high costs, supplemental feed is not labeled as ‘organic’ but Ms. Hart is careful to make sure that it does not contain additives such as antibiotics, hormones or animal byproducts.

Linda HartLinda Hart was not always a poultry farmer; in fact she has been a surgical nurse for the last 27 years and still has to assist with surgeries in order to make ends meet. Although she did grow up on a farm near Paris, Texas and was a 4-H member for many years as a child, life led her in a different direction until 1996 when she bought the 5-acre property in Fellsmere. She had a strong desire to return to farming and started out with laying hens. In 2003 Linda attended the SSAWG conference in Gainesville and that cemented her desire to farm full-time. Around that same period, she happened to read Joel Salatin’s book “You Can Farm” and that set her on a path that has been rocky and difficult but she has never looked back once. When Linda first started farming, she wanted to do it in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way that would also bring her closer to the consumer. She did not realize how difficult it would be to market her product legally and she has had to work closely with U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to comply with federal and state safe farming practices. Although some things have changed, it is still very difficult for the small poultry farmer to sell their product, in fact, Crazy Hart Ranch is the only pastured poultry producer licensed to sell what they raise to the public, grocery stores and restaurants. This was no easy feat, but persistence and perseverance prevailed and Linda can openly market her product legally. This has helped other small farmers as well and she continues to be a vocal advocate for the small farmer.

Pastures at Crazy Hart Ranch are maintained using organic and sustainable principles and Linda works closely with the Indian River County Extension Office and the University of Florida trying out new and innovative technologies that will help improve the farming practices used on the farm. She was awarded one of the first Innovative Farmer of the Year awards at the 2009 Florida Small Farm and Alternative Enterprises Conference held in Kissimmee, Florida. It is her hope to be able to include a legume crop in with her grass pasture for a more well-balanced and nutritional mix for the birds.

Crazy Hart Ranch produces Cornish cross broilers from November through May and Linda can be found at the Ft. Pierce or Oceanside (Vero Beach) farmers’ markets on Saturday mornings. Narragansett turkeys are grown for Thanksgiving and Christmas and are so much in demand that reservations have to be made about a month ahead of time. A new endeavor was started late 2009—the Cornish game hen. Linda has been working closely with executive chef, Michaels Landers of the Moorings Club in Vero Beach, and he finally convinced her to try out the Cornish game hen. It has been another success for the farm, and she sells them to other specialty chefs at exclusive restaurants and to the public.

Linda continues to develop new avenues for her farm and hopes to produce her own breed stock in a few years. She is very interested in only using heritage breeds whenever possible and the ranch currently uses Narragansett stock. She have produced three generations of turkeys on her own farm and no longer buys turkey chicks from other farms, thereby ensuring a pure, quality product. Crazy Hart still produces eggs and does sell them in the farmers’ markets, but due to state regulations she is only licensed to sell eggs that are labeled for pet food only. An unusual distinction for sure, but one that Linda hopes will be changed in favor of the small producer in the next year or so.