Cameron Pokorny's passion for poultry serves community
Since the fifth grade, Cameron Pokorny has been fascinated with chickens.
What started as a hobby of exhibiting a handful of bantam birds at poultry at shows has now developed into a viable business and a means for the Waupun FFA member to lend a helping hand to his community.
"Once I discovered that I had a huge interest poultry, I decided to use it to make a Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) project in FFA and turn it into a business," Cameron said.
The most obvious stream of revenue would be to start up a flock of laying hens using a variety of breeds to meet customer needs. He currently has a flock of 60-80 birds at any given time that lay between 2-3 dozen eggs a day.
Operating under the banner of Cam's Coop, Pokorny says he has grown his customer base mainly through word of mouth and some advertising on social media. What his customers don't consume, Pokorny has chosen to donate to the Waupun Area Food Pantry. So far he has donated over 500 dozen eggs this year.
Cameron says he gained a concept of the immense need in the Waupun community while serving meals and handing out bag lunches at the area food pantry..
"I learned that they had no eggs to give out to needy families. Here I had all this excess product and figured it was a great opportunity to donate an agricultural product that they wouldn't have otherwise," he said. "That was 1 1/2 years ago and I've been doing it ever since.
This spring as the coronavirus swept across the country, impacting individuals, families and businesses, the Waupun Area FFA chapter began devising plans on how to help. With many markets for ag products such as milk, cheese, beef and pork drying up due to the closure of schools and restaurants along with the cancellation of large events, the group brainstormed a way to get those products backed up in the disrupted supply chain into the hands of local consumers.
"What started out as a one week giveaway of 1,200 gallons of milk turned into a 10-week effort where we were able to give away over 75,000 lbs. of food," said Waupun FFA advisor Tari Costello.
Cameron says he was so inspired by those businesses that stepped up to donate ag products that he decided to throw his hat into the ring as well.
"I know that things were pretty tough with a lot of people out of work and losing that income for their families. As a result, more and more people were relying on the food pantry," he said. "My business may not be as large or have the financial resources that these other businesses, but I have this passion for poultry, I've got the resources and time and this was a way to help my community out."
Even though he was already dropping off at the pantry between 10-15 dozen eggs every other week, Cameron decided to increase his efforts by raising 50 broilers and donating the meat.
"A lot of people get frustrated and throw their hands up in the air when things go bad and don't really know what they can do about it. Here we have a high school kid that recognizes a need and took it upon himself to come up with a plan to help his community," Costello said.
Waupun Area Food Pantry manager Terri Respalje says donations to the pantry are needed now more than ever.
"For awhile we had been serving around 75 families and that has now jumped to 125," Respalje said. "Luckily we've had so many generous donations due to the pandemic and people becoming more aware of the need."
Respalje says the 50 chickens – each weighing between 8-9 lbs. – will come in handy during the holiday season for those looking for a smaller bird than a traditional turkey.
"Cam's not one to brag about what he does, but the people are sure appreciative of the farm-raised eggs, meat and produce that he donates," Respalje said. "It's amazing to see the expressions on their faces when you can give them wholesome food like that."
Community service a family affair
Community service is a trait that Cameron's parents Doyle and Kim Pokorny have strived to instill in their three children Dylon, Katrina and Cameron. When setting each of their children up with a small business in 6th grade – beekeeping, bees wax value-added products and laying hens – community service was among the foundational pillars associated with the endeavor.
"Service to others is a non-negotiable item in our house," said Kim Pokorny. "Our challenge as parents, to our children is to make the world a better place through their presence."
While Kim says Cameron never warmed up to the bees at the family's homestead, she says her youngest son decided to pursue poultry instead.
This spring Cameron wrote for a grant from the Power of One Agricultural Education Foundation (created by his sister while she was active in the FFA at Waupun Area Jr/Sr High School) to help purchase the feed and to pay for the processing of the 50 broilers.
"Helping the community through service learning aligns nicely with the goals of the Foundation," Kim said. "(Cameron) bursts with pride when he is able to help others."
As he handed the processed birds to Respalje, Cameron says he felt humbled to be able to assist members of his community.
"I was proud of what I was able to do but at the same time it's a little daunting because I knew it wasn't the end of what I could do. It's really just a benchmark of where we might go next," he said.
The 17-year-old says he will continue to deliver eggs to the food pantry and notes that plans are in the works to raise another batch of meat chickens for next year.
"Cam's a poster child for what you can accomplish," Costello said. "Our kids got a fairly big eye-opening this summer during the giveaways and Cam's project was just an extension. He recognized what we did there and took it to the next level."