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Quail Takes Center Stage in One Farmer’s Fight to Preserve the Ecosystem

Nov. 10, 2016

Quail Takes Center Stage in One Farmer’s Fight to Preserve the Ecosystem

By Victoria Sadosky

Ever dreamed of making a living raising birds? Well, that became Abra Morawiec’s reality when Abra debuted Feisty Acres Farm and the Quail Release Program last fall. As the only certified organic farm dedicated to raising game birds in the country, Abra and her farm on the North Folk of Long Island have recently received national attention. This past June, Abra and Slow Food East End hosted an event at Feisty Acres Farm in which individuals enjoyed a lovely potluck picnic and walking tour of the farm.

Growing up, Abra never imagined she would become a professional farmer. Although Abra and her father raised chickens in their upstate New York home, she did not come from a farming family. After receiving her degree in English and French at Bernard Baruch College, Abra was interested in diplomatic work and journalism, and perceived the Peace Corps as the next logical step for her career. The Peace Corps assigned her to Mougui, a small, agricultural community in Mali.

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It was during her two years in Mali that she acquired the majority of her farming skills, from animal husbandry and keeping cattle to planting grain crops like millet, sorghum, okra and hibiscus: “The Peace Corp was a catalyst for me. I really assimilated into that village. I spoke the language and lived my day-to-day life as a subsistence farmer. We are so entwined with nature, and in the United States, you can forget about that sometimes. I realized that we are part of the ecosystem whether we like it or not, and I didn’t learn that until I went abroad and had to farm my own food in order to eat.”

Once Abra returned to the United States, she was briefly employed at the Brooklyn Rescue Mission, and shortly thereafter began working as a farm apprentice on Long Island, a job in which she learned the value of protecting the ecosystem: “We make a living off of the land, so the ecosystem is out of balance. If the ecosystem is weak, we as farmers can’t do our job.”

After accessing the market’s needs and seeing the wealth of vegetable and poultry farmers, Abra realized that no one was producing specialty items. Even though Abra was a young farmer without much land or capital, she saw that there was a niche to be filled. Since her farm is located between the two major markets of the Hamptons and Manhattan, Abra’s clientele includes both individuals and restaurants, and a majority of her customers are international.

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In addition to raising game birds, Abra was passionate about helping the environment, a vision which has manifested itself through her Quail Release Program. The Northern Bobwhite Quail are a native species on the East Coast and are well-known as tick eaters. Since Long Island is home to a substantial population of deer and rabbit who are carriers of these ticks, the quail are integral to maintaining the balance of Long Island’s ecosystem. Although it is essential to raise and release quail, it’s just as important to preserve the land the quail inhabit. As Abra commented, “A large part of why the ticks are so out of control is because our ecosystem out here is completely out of balance. I wanted to help balance that out through the Feisty Arms Bobwhite Quail Program. It’s not going to take a year, five or ten years. It’s going to take a lifetime of me doing this in order to help reestablish native populations.”

In addition to working two other jobs, Abra and her boyfriend face continuous challenges, as the ones solely responsible for all aspects of their enterprise. Whether it’s the farming, infrastructure, repairs, or the marketing, social media and bookkeeping, their daily life on the farm is a testament to the immense work ethic Abra and her boyfriend possess. As Abra commented, “In order to be a farmer, you need to be optimistic. We do have things stacked against us, but we work hard.” Although there has been a strong agricultural community in the area, Abra is fearful that this culture will soon cease to exist due to rising land prices, which, according to a Farm Credit East study, ranged from $12,000. to $2 million per acre in 2014.

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This season, the Feisty Acres Farm was so successful that they were selling out within a day or two of the bids being slaughtered. For the future, Abra wants to prioritize diversity. Although Abra was originally planning on only raising Japanese quail for meat and eggs, she has since expanded to guinea hen and partridge, and wants to expand further to raising rabbit and squab. She is also looking forward to becoming self-sufficient, as they launch their own breeding program. Despite the uncertain future of the farming industry, this quail farmer isn’t going anywhere, and her story shows how doing something you love and giving a voice to the environment can co-exist.

Want your share of the quail? Find out more about Feisty Acres Farm here. You can also check out one of Abra’s quail recipes below!

Pan Roasted Quail with Butter and Red Wine

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2 whole quail, backbone removed
1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup red wine
Salt
Pepper
A couple springs of thyme

Preheat oven to 425F.

In a cast iron pan, or other oven safe cooking vessel, melt the butter on the stove top with a medium high flame. Season the quail with salt and pepper to taste. Once the pan is nice and hot, place the quail in the pan, breast side down--the meat should sizzle, indicating the pan is the right temperature. Cook the quail for 6 - 7 minutes, then flip them and remove from heat. Add wine to the pan as well as the thyme. Cook the quail in the preheated oven for another 6 - 8 minutes. The skin should be golden brown and crispy and the meat cooked all the way through. If you like a medium rare bird, drop cook time in the oven to 5 minutes.

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