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This little chicken goes to market

Barbequed chicken served with coleslaw and potato salad ... roast chicken with baking powder biscuits and homemade gravy ... a whole chicken rubbed with a secret spice blend and smoked to perfection.

Are you hungry yet?

If you are ready to make a great chicken dinner, Eli Davis and Russ Rule can provide you with meat chickens raised in small, carefully tended flocks.

Eli Davis is just 8 years old, but he has been selling at the Carlton County Farmers Market with his grandmother, Deb Davis, since he was 7. Last year, he sold eggs and ground beef from his family's farm, Davis Acres Ranch. This year, he is also selling whole frozen chickens he raised himself.

The young farmer takes full responsibility for feeding and watering his flock three times a day.

"They eat a lot, so you have to feed them more often," Eli said.

This is just one of his farm chores, and he does it with a positive attitude.

"When I get him up in the morning to do his chores, I'd say he's happy to do them 90 percent of the time," said Brad Davis, Eli's father.

Eli is also learning the business side of being a farmer. He earned the money to buy his chickens and feed by working on the farm and will receive the profits from the birds he sells.

When his chickens were fully grown, the family brought them to a USDA-inspected processor. Every Saturday he comes to the farmers market with his grandmother, where he talks with customers and answers their questions.

"You get to hear about what's going on with other people," he said.

For Russ Rule of Silver Feather Homestead, raising meat chickens for sale is a good retirement project. Russ worked as a Fond du Lac police officer for 23 years and as a game warden for two.

Now he raises meat chickens, rabbits and laying hens. He also expanded his gardens, growing a wide variety of vegetables and herbs at home and at the Fond du Lac Gitigaaning Farm. Russ alternates selling at two Saturday markets: the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) market in Duluth and the Cloquet farmers market.

The Cornish Cross chickens at Silver Feather Homestead forage in a shady fenced pasture, where they can eat greens, bugs, and extra garden produce in addition to their feed.

Russ worked with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Fond du Lac Food Sovereignty Initiative to set up small-scale poultry processing at the homestead. Processing on-site gives Russ flexibility about when to butcher his chickens, since there can be long wait times at local processing plants. It also reduced his overhead costs.

Russ's wife, Ann, his daughter, Tasheana, and his grandkids help on chicken processing day.

He taught his grandchildren to treat the birds gently to reduce stress and ensure high-quality meat.

"I started out with 30 chickens, and they sold in a week," he said.

He gradually increased his flock size and still sells them quickly.

It might take a little more planning to thaw and prepare a whole bird, but whether you cook it in an electric pressure cooker or on a gas-fired grill, you will be sure to enjoy a tasty meal at the same time as you support a local meat farmer.

The Carlton County farmers market is open 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays through Oct. 21 in front of Premiere Theatres in Cloquet. The Carlton site is open 4-6 p.m. Tuesdays through mid-October in McFarland Park, at the corner of Highway 210 and Grand Avenue.

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