Hickman adds local twist to prime meats

Looking for organic, pastured chicken that doesn’t come from the supermarket?

Coastal Point • Monica Fleming: Bill Hickman of Hickman’s Meat Market in Rehoboth Beach cuts up some prime rib for the store. The meat market just recently started carrying broiler chickens from The Farm in Georgetown. The birds are organically and pasture raised right here in Delaware.Coastal Point • Monica Fleming
Bill Hickman of Hickman’s Meat Market in Rehoboth Beach cuts up some prime rib for the store. The meat market just recently started carrying broiler chickens from The Farm in Georgetown. The birds are organically and pasture raised right here in Delaware.

Everyone knows there is no shortage of chickens on Delmarva, but for consumers who are interested in both the health and environmental aspects of organic and pastured products, there’s a new place to get the popular poultry close to their home.

Hickman’s Meat Market in Rehoboth Beach is currently the only retailer carrying organic, pastured broilers from The Farm in Georgetown. The market has been carrying eggs from The Farm for a while and just recently started to carry the broilers as well.

When buying food labeled “organic,” consumers still might not realize exactly where the food was produced, or how, or how long it traveled before it got to their plate. And they might not realize that the average ingredient at their grocery store, organic or not, travels approximately 1,500 miles from farm to plate.

Not so with these broilers. The chickens are grown in Georgetown, on the 40-acre homestead called The Farm, which is dedicated to providing the highest quality USDA certified organic and pastured products. They are processed on site and then taken to Rehoboth to sell at retail. From farm to plate (depending on where the plate is) can be as little as 20 miles.

“Carolyn’s birds are phenomenal,” said Bill Hickman, speaking of Carolyn Donald of The Farm. “I carried another organic brand, and they far surpass them. She’s small and very hands-on, and you just can’t compare the quality of the bird. I’ve been in this business 45 years, and I used to say, ‘A chicken is a chicken,’ but that’s just not the case. They are simply that much more juicy, plump and fresher.”

In addition to the broilers, Hickman’s Meat Market — owned by Hickman and his family — will carry a full range of organic produce starting in 2009.

Because of the manpower and the hands-on requirements that organic farming entails, organic products are often far from the cheapest available. But Hickman is confident that his customer base is more interested in quality, and his sales have proved him right.

Hickman started carrying eggs from The Farm last year and said, conservatively, that sales have quadrupled since then. He is in his third month of selling the broilers and already has seen an increase in sales from about three or four birds a week to 20 to 25 per week.

“People are becoming more interested in knowing about how their food is processed,” he said. “My customers want the very best, and that is what we have: all natural prime beef with no antibiotics or animal by products, and pork, chicken and veal. We have 48 different kinds of sausages and four smokehouses. We cure our own bacon, and we cure it in sugar rather than salt. Our sausage has no preservatives, no MSG and no nitrates.”

Hickman’s Meat Market has been in Rehoboth Beach for about seven years. Hickman works with an all-family staff of meat cutters, and his son is the fifth generation of the family in the business. About 30 men on his father’s side of the family have been in the business, so it “goes back aways,” he said.

“It’s kind of a lost art, but the corner shops are coming back,” he said of the traditional neighborhood butcher. Hickman got his start as an apprentice and then left that work for 20 years to go into the corporate side of the business. He now has a four-year apprentice program, where future meat cutters have two years of anatomy instruction and are on the job six months before they pick up a knife.

“When they are done, they are finished cutters,” he said. “They can go anywhere and be the best.”

Hickman plans to open a second location in 2009 and also is working on a cookbook. He also plans to start working on a line of all-natural spices.

“If we can incorporate all natural, by all means we are going to do it,” he explained. They also carry Kogler’s Old World Bread, a natural, locally-produced product that has been a big hit at the area’s farmers’ markets.

It’s that commitment to detail and to good, quality food that attracted The Farm’s Carolyn Donald to do business with Hickman. She had been a customer for a while before introducing the idea of carrying her eggs to him a few years ago.

She said she had been growing the broilers for a few years but not retailing them because she was trying to get them just right. She starts a “division” of birds and works with them until they are at a quality that is acceptable.

“It has to be the absolute best quality, or we don’t put it out,” she explained. “The bird, the flock, the feed, our land, our lives — we have to get that balance of energy, and then it can go out.”

“Bill and his family are amazing people,” she continued. “They have a very similar, if not the same, philosophy — you do the best you can do, or you don’t do it.”

Donald said her broilers are processed on farm, which allows them to be stress-free until the end of their life cycle. Because of the nature of the pastured animal, they are at the mercy of the weather and do have a few months where they are not available. They have supplies to last from now until about the end of the year, and then things will pick back up in the spring, when the weather gets warm enough for the birds to be outside.

“We don’t control our system,” said Donald. “We are not forcing the animal to grow, and having it grow in an unnatural manner.”

Hickman’s Meat Market is open year-round. They carry prime beef; top round, flanks, sirloins, rib-eyes, T-bones, porterhouses, filet mignons and whole tenderloins, as well as pork, veal, their 48 different kinds of sausage and the organic free-range whole chickens, chicken breast and rotisseries. They also carry various spices and, starting in 2009, will carry certified organic local produce.

Hickmans Meat Market is located at 4307 Highway One in Rehoboth Beach. They can be reached by calling (302) 226-8345. Right now, they are open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. In the summer, they are open on Mondays as well, and they are always closed on Sundays.

In Delaware, the “locavore” movement is growing. There are many small farms producing food for local consumption and eating local year-round is becoming more and more of a possibility. To learn more, or to join a locavore group in this area, visit http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/DeLoca online.

For more information on The Farm in Georgetown, visit delawareorganics.com or call (302) 854-9260. For more information on the health and environmental benefits of eating pastured animals, visit www.eatwild.com.