Monday, March 19, 2007

Breaking in Spring

Three really memorable spring break moments, in the category of:
1. A life completely unlike my own
Not gawking at the celebrity-laden Pasadena lawn party

2. Hippie Madness
Bonding with my Cali uncle over beer and Wahoo's

3. NY Redux
Trudging through the wintery mix to a city museum about a city plan

Or more generally, being in paradise, even in the snow.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Sustainable agriculture Part 1

The beauty of living in North Carolina is that eventually you'll meet someone who has a farm. A woman who works in my department has a small chicken farm, which she runs with sustainable agriculture practices, and she knows other people in the sustainable agriculture community. The thing about a farm is that there is ALWAYS work to be done. So a bunch of us students have started volunteering on Saturdays so that we could learn more, help out, and of course, procrastinate on our school work. Yesterday was the first farmhand day, and we went to help out our chicken farming friend.

Some more details about the farm: they have about 100 chickens who lay eggs year-round and three roosters, and in the spring and summer, they have more chickens which they sell for meat. They take the meat birds to a small processing plant nearby--none of the slaughtering is done on-site. They also have a pony and a horse that they rescued, and they donate a parcel of their land to a pot-bellied pig rescue. All of the animals are completely free-range. The chickens eat natural grains fed to them, plus they wander around all day eating bugs, worms, and other seeds. At night, they naturally come home to roost, which means they wander into the big caged area and sit down and hang out for the night. The cages are there only to protect them from raccoons and oppossums, which get in anyway. This year, they're getting a guard dog to protect the roost at night.

If you think chicken farming is easy, think again. The owners are up early in the morning to feed and let out the chickens, collect eggs to sell, and feed and take care of the horse and pony. They then take their kids to school and go to work. At night, they have to feed and secure the roosts, take care of the horse and pony, make dinner, help kids with homework, and get ready to repeat again the next day. Any chickens that are injured by predators need to be cared for, and when they have chicks, they have to make sure the heat lamp is on and that they're safe. They also have to move the meat bird roosts each day on top of fresh grass, fix anything that has broken, and attend to regular life. If there's bad weather, something will surely be flooded or frozen or broken. If predators attack, the battlefield must be cleaned up. And those things don't stop or go away just because work is stressful or there's a death in the family or it's a holiday. Farming is a life that goes on every single day, no matter what.

Chickens are funny animals, with the energy of dogs and the curiosity of cats. One chicken even jumped up into the car to get a better look. At the end of the day, we all sat around on the porch, drinking beer and watching the chicken-and-children antics unfold. Then we drove to a local dairy farm and had fresh ice cream. Then we went home and the reality of our schoolwork, so insignificant compared to the real world of farming and family, hit like a brick.

In two weeks, we plan to visit another sustainable farm, something different, where the tasks will be all new. But at the end of the day, we'll know we contributed to something important. It's an experience everyone should have.

*By the way, yes, I am still, and will continue to be, vegetarian. My biggest issue with meat is the giant factory farms that have atrocious animal treatment practices. It's important to me to support sustainable agriculture, plus I enjoy helping people out with this kind of work, and I learned a whole lot. *