Abstract With increasing concerns about food safety and the enhanced purchasing power of people in China, organic agricultural production for domestic consumption is booming, primarily on the outskirts of megacities. The aim of this study was to perform an emergy evaluation of the environmental sustainability of two typical kinds of poultry farms with organic claims in a suburb of Beijing, i.e., a backyard rearing system and an orchard rearing system. The results of a similar evaluation conducted in Italy were also used for reference and comparison. The results show that the two poultry farming systems in China had poor environmental sustainability, with ESI values less than 1, despite the fact that they had used no antibiotics and chemicals, and were trying to increase free range for chickens. The two systems in China were superior to conventional production systems, but inferior to the grass organic farming system used in Italy, as demonstrated by the indicator comparisons of EYR, ELR and ESI. In light of the potential for decreasing environmental pressure, enhancing ecological complexity (indicated by EmExR) and increasing overall sustainability, raising poultry in forests or orchards is a good alternative choice in rural China. Nevertheless, organic farming practices in China are experiencing challenges on many levels: (1) they conflict with China's food safety strategy; (2) they are often having small scale operations; (3) they lack knowledge of best production practices; and (4) they have a bad reputation with the credit system.