The Reverend Jim Powell could say his ministry started as a young boy when he preached to a captive audience of chickens in the chicken coop. If he did, that might explain how it is a United Methodist minister moonlights as a chicken farmer. Or maybe it’s the other way around – a chicken farmer who moonlights as a United Methodist minister.
But Powell doesn’t say he preached to chickens. He was preaching to congregations of real people long before he became interested in chickens, cows and plows.
Powell pastors two small United Methodist churches in rural Pike County, Williams Chapel near Brundidge and Tennille in downtown Tennille. When he’s not behind the pulpit, Powell manages a furniture warehouse in Troy, goes to night school to further his education and operates a small, but growing, farm in northern Pike County.
"I guess you could say that I’m a farmer," Powell said, with a smile. "I grew up in the country but not really on a farm. But I’ve always liked animals. I love riding horses. And when I got a chance to work around cows at the stockyard, I enjoyed that too. Over the years, I’ve had more opportunities to be around farm animals and I guess milk cows are my favorites."
Powell said beef cattle come and go and there’s little attachment to them. But ol’ Betsy’s there morning and night, and it’s easy to develop a fondness for a milk cow.
Growing up in the country and being around farm animals and working with them from time to time, a little farmer surfaced in the preacher boy.
"I guess it was always there — the farmer in me — but it wasn’t until recently that I got interested in having a small farm of my own," Powell said. "There’s so much emphasis now on healthy eating, exercising more and developing a healthier lifestyle. I just started thinking about it and decided I needed to do that."
Instead of joining a local health club and beating a path to a health food store, Powell put his hand to the plow, so to speak.
"I started thinking a lot about what I was eating and where it came from," he said. "I realized there were a lot of preservatives and additives in foods that weren’t all that good for me—things that make chickens grow faster and cows give more milk. I started to be more curious about what I was eating and drinking."
The best way Powell found to satisfy his curiosity was to grow his own chickens and milk his own cow. He bought a couple of roosters and a few hens and also went in to the chicken business. He also bought two, four-year-old registered Jersey cows, Daisy and Rose, that he feeds corn, cottonseed meal, oats and coastal hay.
"I got some really good chickens — Welsummer and Marans," Powell said. "They produce dark eggs — chocolate eggs, they’re called — and you won’t find any better eggs or chickens anywhere. I feed them oats, corn, a little cottonseed meal and milk."
Milk? For chickens?
Powell explained the reason behind the milk.
"I hand milk Daisy and Rose twice a day, morning and night," Powell said. "They give about two and a half gallons of milk each and I can’t drink that much milk. So, I give the leftover milk to the chickens and they love it. Not many chickens can brag they get all-natural, fresh milk every day."
From the milk, Powell also gets butter.
"Yeah, I bought a churn and I have fresh butter every day," he said. "There’s nothing better than a fresh, buttered biscuit, scrambled eggs and a glass of fresh milk for breakfast. And what makes it even better is that I know exactly what I’m eating and drinking."
But life isn’t exactly a bed of roses for all the chicks on the reverend’s farm. A few of the chickens make it to the dinner table—Powells’ dinner table.
"Fresh fryers are good, too," he said. "I’ve got about 40 chickens and some of them are what’s for dinner. But I know they are free of hormones and other additives."
Powell also goes organic when it comes to the vegetables he grows.
"I don’t have a big garden, but it’s big enough so I can share the harvest with others," he said. "I grow just about anything you would find growing in a garden in South Alabama — corn, watermelons, collards, turnips, squash, peas, beans, cucumbers, peppers, egg-plant, okra. So with the garden, the chickens, and Daisy and Rose, I’ve got a good variety of good, nutritious and healthy foods to eat."
And to make the farm complete, Powell also has horses.
And, if he really wanted to get back to the ways of old, he could mount his steed and ride the circuit. Powell laughed at the thought but it’s a laugh that said, "I just might do that one day."
Until then, he’ll just continue in his reverse role of a country preacher. Instead of his congregation sharing their bountiful harvests with him, Powell is happy to share the fruits of his harvest with this flock.