Tag Archives: chickens

i8tonite: Farm Musings – Husbandry at Hateful Acres

This is part of the on-going series on Food Musings written by award-winning poet and writer, Julie Fisher. She is also  the founder of Litmore, Baltimore’s Center for the Literary Arts. 

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“The industrial mind is a mind without compunction; it simply accepts that people, ultimately, will be treated as things and that things, ultimately will be treated as garbage.” Wendell Berry

These Musings are a reflection of my amateur farming experiences and research which intertwine with waxing poetic about the genuine pleasures of cooking, growing, harvesting, and sharing food. Our relationship to food is a biological imperative first, of course. But I believe the evolution of our food science and artistry is also an ingredient of our humanity. The good, generous, and delightfully curious part of all of us.

How we eat is no longer dependent strictly on what we can hunt or gather. It’s become this incredibly complex soup of choices and emotions and evocative memories and politics and class and income and marketing and industry. We no longer eat just to survive. Our daily lives are consumed by food and eating. We order our schedules and plans around food- shopping, preparation, and clean up. Food is a part of ritual. Food is so closely intertwined with our memories as to be inseparable. We remember the cooking smells of growing up, the scents of certain foods linked to great experiences, there’s the association of food eaten during an illness or particularly rough time. We are as fervent about food and eating as we are about religion and politics and sports. Our emotions and intensities cannot be separated from what we eat.

Some of us are fortunate and were taught to treat food mindfully and with a reverence for the ordinary. Some of us have such a helter skelter relationship to food we find ourselves with addictions and other harmful eating habits. Most of us fall in the middle. We don’t take food for granted, but we like convenience and ease of preparation. We are aware there are nutritious food choices and comfort food choices – and we tend to teeter between the two. As modern lifestyles evolve, we spend huge chunks of time away from home and we overschedule our time. This feeling of time scarcity makes us so susceptible to food impulses. As citizens of modern civilization, we are also recklessly bombarded with food marketing. We are consistently taunted by food AND food like substances.

Husbandry at Hateful AcresAs farmers, our food choices are simplified. We eat what we’ve grown or managed to stock up on, freeze, or jar. We only get taunted by the food industry when we are out and about, like when we are shopping for what we can’t grow or we didn’t pack snacks to bring along and we’re starving. I’m so grateful for this simplicity, because we spend less money on conglomerates and we eat nutritious food.

But farming has attuned our minds another way too-food is no longer an abstract list of purchases. Food becomes not just a thing but an interlocking process. Food is not just a jaunt to the store or market to get onions but a continuity. It’s also not a process with a beginning and end. Of course we plant, grow, and harvest onions but the harvest is not the “end.” There is no concrete end to the process because a) once you grow onions you will want to continue to grow onions, and b) the ability to grow onions doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Growing onions requires un-polluted, nutrient dense soil. Growing onions also requires sunlight, and non polluted rain water and good drainage and few predatory insects and a watchful eye on potential blights.

Nutrient dense soil is acheived with the right mix of compost and manure. Compost and manure don’t arrive magically, but through a fantastic, reciprocal energy exchange between animals, dead matter and decomposition. The result is beautiful, dark, rich soil full of complex nutrients, beneficial bacteria and good microorganisms. Nothing is wasted, there’s no garbage because a millenial old natural cycle is maintained.

AND we are intrinsically included in this natural cycle as labor and as consumers. We aren’t an anonymous cog in an assembly line wheel. We see and eat the fruits of our labor.

Husbandry at Hateful AcresSince we are learning from scratch to be farmers, we’ve had to make a significant choice early in our farming goals and decisions.
The decision was whether we would go into food production or farming. That seems at first glance to be a semantic choice, but any, even brief, research into food growing advice uncovers the duality of food production or farming. One method is heavily mechanized, reliant on machinery and man made chemicals. The other is small scale and labor intensive. We chose the latter. Part of the decision was pragmatic. We didn’t want to go into heavy debt. We aren’t borrowing money to buy equipment we can’t afford, much less maintain. One part of the decision was impulsive. We prefer the sensation of our hands in soil and the “normal” sounds of outside like birdsong and creek burble over the constant sound of large tractor engines.

Before WWII, it was simply farming. but its not simple now. The military/industrial complex learned large scale food production ccould use up the stores of unused munitions chemicals. Farming “science” spread and convinced farmers that bigger is better and more profitable. I don’t begrudge farmers who had their eyes on a comfortable, future living. But as it turns out, what seems to be too good to be true is mega-agriculture/factory farming.

Wendell Berry is a writer and farmer who I respect immensely. His writing has been instrumental in clarifying my goals as someone who grows food and raises animals. I am currently re-reading Bringing It To The Table, Wendell Berry On Farming and Food,  and I’d like to share this excerpt that somewhat sums up our aim…

“Husbandry pertains first to the household; it connects the farm to the household. It is an art wedded to the art of housewifery. To husband is to use with care, to keep, to save, to make last, to conserve. Old usage tells us that there is a husbandry also of the land, of the soil, of the domestic plants and animals-obviously because of the importance of these things to the household. And there have been times, one of which is now, when some people have tried to practice a proper human husbandry of the nondomestic creatures in recognition of the dependence of our households and domesti life upon the wild world. Husbandry is the name of all the practices that sustain life by connecting us conservingly to our places and our world; it is the art of keeping tied all the strands in the living network that sustains us.

And so it appears that most and perhaps all of industrial agriculture’s manifest failures are the result of an attempt to make the land produce without husbandry. The attempt to remake agriculture as a science and an industry has excluded from it the age-old husbandry that was central and essential to it, and that denoted always the fundamental domestic connections and demanded a restorative care in the use of the land and it creatures.”

We practice husbandry at Hateful Acres.

Husbandry at Hateful Acres
Farm Cooking: Vegetable Stock

There are infinite uses for cooking with vegetable stock. AND you can use the “scraps” from vegetables you use in other dishes.

Take any vegetable scraps you have around – carrot peelings, onion skins, celery ends and leaves, etc. If you think ahead, freeze these as you get them, and then just pull them out of the freezer when you make stock.

Cook the scraps with a little bit of your favorite oil – just until soft. Then add water (how much you add depends on the quantity of your vegetable scraps), and simmer gently for an hour. Cool, strain, and use. Freeze extras!

 

 

 

 

Our Pastured Chicks Kill Fascists

This is the second of the ongoing series on Food Musings written by award-winning poet and writer Julie Fisher. She is also the founder of Litmore, Baltimore’s Center for the Literary Arts.

Our Pastured Chicks Kill Fascists. Musings by Julie FisherSo! Hateful Acres has chickens! Fifteen at the moment. Six who are in the weird feathered but still slightly fluffy, huge feet, awkward stage and nine fluff balls with emerging feathers. I am SO excited. I have wanted chickens of my own for AGES. Our wonderful outdoor space coupled with shared labor and generosity is making it possible.

Chickens are a fun mix of endearing and industrious. I’m repeatedly surprised how long I can just watch them and listen to their little conversations. Even my mostly city slicker kids are enchanted by the chicks and their antics. It’s not that chickens do anything particularly dramatic, they are simply a little silly in their seriousness.

Before I go any further, a disclaimer: I make sweeping generalizations and OVER simplify complex politics and science. I do this hesitantly, but with the goal of opening conversations and encouraging us to investigate for ourselves. End of disclaimer.

Chickens are currently an excellent symbol for the controversy over where our food should come from. In the United States, the science, technology, and expectations of our food culture changed dramatically post World War II. Advertising from food manufacturers waxed poetic and seduced us with promises that new convenience foods would grant us more leaisure time. After war time years of rationing and Victory gardens and let’s face it, quite a bit of labor, we were ready for some convenience.

But behind the scenes and with little media coverage, relationships were forged between chemical manufacturers who had a surplus of stock post war, agricultural colleges, and food regulating branches of the federal government. Strategies were put in place for a long term process to move wealth from the large number of traditional American family farms to a tiny sliver of corporate owned mega farms. In a kind of stealth mode, farmers were “taught” that modern farming informed by space age science could be very profitable. Agricutural colleges were at the forefront of the new science and praised introduction of chemical feritlixers and pesticides. The resulting high volume yields could be farmed with very expensive machinery. It was expensive but it was modern machinery with perks like air conditioning and fast processing speeds. Not to worry, the money for the purchases of all these chemicals and machines could be easily borrowed and the fat cat life would soon be in the palm of the farmers’ hands.

Our Pastured Chicks Kill Fascists. Musings by Julie Fisher

But Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp alerted us back in 1985 that American farmers weren’t making a living anymore…farmers were finding out that all those loans became a heavy burden. The market that promised to make them rich instead got flooded with crops and prices plummeted. No profits mean no money to pay back all those loans. The banks didn’t want to hear what happened to the market, they just wanted their money. So, many farmers lost farms that had sustained their families for generations. Despite the best funds raised by FarmAid, auctions for farms and equipment became common place and farm families were evicted from their farms.

Can you guess who swooped in and bought all those deeply discounted farms? Property developers who build Mcmansions? Sure, a few. But the bulk was purchased by corporations like Purdue and Tyson. Farming became food manufacturing. Instead of pockets of farms raising small numbers of animals based on what the land could support and the farm families could sustain. Food production rather than farming became the new normal. For example, here is some information from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service:

U.S. poultry meat production totals over 43 billion pounds annually: over four-fifths is broiler meat; most of the remainder is turkey meat; and a small fraction is other chicken meat. The total farm value of U.S. poultry production exceeds $20 billion. Broiler production accounts for the majority of this value, followed by eggs, turkey, and other chicken.

Broiler production is concentrated in a group of States stretching from Delaware, south along the Atlantic coast to Georgia, then westward through Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas.
Most U.S. broiler production is under contract with a broiler processor. The grower normally supplies the growout house with all the necessary heating, cooling, feeding, and watering systems. The grower also supplies the labor needed in growing the birds. The broiler processor supplies the chicks, feed, and veterinary medicines. The processor schedules transportation of the birds from the farm to the processing plant. In many cases, the processor also supplies the crews who place broilers into cages for transportation to the slaughter plant.

The U.S. turkey industry produces over one-quarter of a billion birds annually, with the live weight of each bird averaging over 25 pounds. Production of turkeys is somewhat more scattered geographically than broiler production.

The United States is by far the world’s largest turkey producer, followed by the European Union.

U.S. egg operations produce over 90 billion eggs annually. Over three-fourth of egg production is for human consumption (the table-egg market). The remainder of production is for the hatching market. These eggs are hatched to provide replacement birds for the egg-laying flocks and to produce broiler chicks for growout operations. The top five egg-producing States are Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Texas.

The large majority of the U.S. table-egg production is consumed domestically. U.S. egg and egg product exports are a relatively minor proportion of production. U.S. per capita consumption of eggs and egg products is around 250 eggs per person.

Did you catch that? 43 BILLION pounds of poultry. Also notice the language in the obove excerpt. Does it sound like the USDA is discussing sentient animals that breathe and have feelings and enjoy the sun on their feathers? No. The language refers to products. Units, not actual animals.

That staggeringly immense number of birds are not raised on a farm and they are not treated like animals. Food manufacturers, otherwise known as factory farms, raise chicken-like animals in sunless warehouses where they sit in their own excrement or in tiny cramped wire cages, eating and fattening up or laying eggs in an endless succession. Factory-farmed chicken-like animals don’t get to manifest their “chicken-ness,” to borrow a term from farmer/ food activist Joel Salatin. Factory chicken-like animals are not given the chance to act on the chicken behaviour impulses embedded in their chicken biology. They don’t get to scratch for tasty stuff outside like grubs or caterpillars or peck at vegetation to hunt aphids. They don’t get to select their own obscure egg laying spot or even get to choose which roost to claim for the evening.

Our Pastured Chicks Kill Fascists. Musings by Julie FisherMaking space for these distinctive chicken activities is the hallmark of a good chicken farmer. In my opinion, genuine farming includes, no – plans, the space for animals to be themselves. A good farmer helps chickens produce eggs and offspring or fattens them to be food in exchange for a steady food supply and thwarting predators and illness. But in this exchange, a good farmer RESPECTS his animals are alive and have feelings and sensations. A good farmer doesn’t try to just ignore this fact.

Factory farming subjugates an animal ONLY according to its use and with zero respect. Factory farms don’t recognize consciousness or sentience, only product and profit. Even the human workers in factory farms are de-humanized. They are expected to just distribute food, dose the antibiotics, and remove corpses from the same toxic climate the where the chickens live.

I’m drawn to raising chickens because I feel like my family and I are closer to the truth of eating. We can see how we are included in our “food chain”, not isolated from it and misled about the origins of our food. Most consumers have almost no awareness of HOW their eggs appear in a carton under flourescent lights in the refrigerated food warehouse. Or HOW the pre-butchered meat wrapped in plastic wrap gets there. This lack of awareness severs all of us intellectually from our animal-ness. The tragedy is we can pretend we aren’t predators. We are just shoppers.

Our Pastured Chicks Kill Fascists. Musings by Julie Fisher

This is the crux of our Earth crisis. Consumers do not recognize the consequences of being a shopper. Consumers cannot comprehend their purhases are the end point of a chain of events that ravages nature at the total expense of the future. Advertising has brainwashed us into believing all animals are raised and nurtured on bucolic red barned farms. But food manufacturers are lying to you. Only a tiny fraction of the animals we eat are raised as animals. The majority of those 43 billion birds are birthed, fed and butchered in a cruel, mechanical over medicated feedlot or warehouse and most of us don’t even know it.

So I confess my urge to keep chickens is because I love the cluck and the scratch and the funny way they look up to swallow water and how freaking adorable the fluff muffin chicks are in the first couple weeks and the squee! I will get when we see our first eggs. But I DECIDED to raise chickens becasue pasturing chickens is one of the most subversive things you can do on a piece of land in 21st century United States. So in homage to Woody Guthrie, my bumper sticker is gonna say, “Our pastured chickens kill fascists.”

Care to find a middle ground between total dependency on convenience foods and and raising your own animals? Find a local farm that pastures their animals and buy from that farmer. I also offer you the EASIEST chicken breast recipe ever, if you have access to a crockpot:

3 Ingredient Salsa Chicken

Yield: 4 servings
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 6 hours, 5 minutes

Ingredients

4 chicken breasts, trimmed
2 cups salsa
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
¼ cup fresh chopped cilantro (optional)
2 cups cooked rice (for serving)

Directions

Place 4 chicken breasts in your slow cooker, top with 2 cups of salsa. Cover and cook for 4-5 hours on low.
Top with cheddar cheese, cover and continue to cook for 1-2 hours more, or until the cheese is very melted and the chicken is tender and cooked through.
Top with cilantro and serve over rice.