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Lovarchist Farming Chronicles

Harvesting Apples & Chickens: A WinterWonderLand

When Chels leaves me the farm for more than three days, she comes back to the land looking different. I mean the LAND looks different--is less alive! It's not that my missing New Mexico brings depression to the land, it's just bad timing. She left the green grassy plains in June and came back to a meadow of yellow. She left in early November for CTA when the fall colors were at the apex of bright brilliance, and immediately the skies darkened and the snows began the killing frost for three days while Chels was in Louisville, KY. The early winter beauty has hit the land in full force, and i can't show you in pictures {maybe next year?} because I don't even have a camera anymore! Coincidence upon coincidence: my HARP leaves and not only does the land change nearly overnight (the rainbow of leaf-colors around these 5 acres between houses has turned into a three-tone landscape: snow-white, pine-green, and grassyoak-grey-brown), but the ability to document via electronic imagery has failed too! Actually, not all is lost--i can still type (yer reading this, aint you?), and there IS an electronic imaging device here in the office, although it's not portable like a camera and it can only focus up to a few inches (no landscapes to shoot here unless I rig up some complex of mirrors and aim them into the scanner's glass document plate). So here's how i can show what some of 22 hens produced on a Friday of November--actually they produced another 6 beyond these, but these 5 show the dramatic difference of what happens in the chicken world when Chelsea leaves the farm...

This is the only image i can show you of the transformation from living chicken to chicken meat at the Catholic Worker Farm. The birds pushed these out before they died, and the decapitation of 8 birds per day began a few days after this image was taken. We are cutting short the lives of all 24 chickens over a three week period. Naturally, as the population of adult birds decreased, the harvesting of eggs from their nests decreased too. We are trading in egg-productivity for the ability to freeze their meat and serve it at retreats during the next year. Things seem to shrink back at this time of the year, when we go from autumn into winter, and we have fewer AIDS retreats. Again, because my only access to imaging equipment is a table-top scanner, i can put simple, small things like eggs and apples on it, but i can't focus it's image-taking capacity on the deathly action of our de-capitating 8 birds, their de-feathering, their de-gutting, their boiling, rendered bodies, and their de-boning.

You might ask, "Why is a vegetarian engaged in harvesting/slaughtering 24 chickens?" I may answer, "Our non-vegetarian guests are going to eat chicken meat whether or not we farmers/retreat-coordinators take responsibility for personally providing farm-grown chicken meat." In order to harvest the flesh from the adult chickens so that our AIDS retreat guests can eat chicken from this local land SOMEBODY's got to kill the chickens while the birds are still healthy. It's a willful act of killing a non-human animal because the alternative (harvesting the meat from birds that randomly die of "old age" or "natural causes") is dangerous to the human consumer of the bird flesh. In order to eat meat in the most healthful way, the human must eat the animal flesh that's been properly harvested. That's why the kosher systems were invented (and that's why in the modern world amidst inhumane factory farming they need to be updated).

Americans, like the peoples of many other lands, are big chicken-eaters. Smithsonian magazine earlier this year said that U.S. Americans consume 80 pounds of chicken per year--nine million birds for our 315 million people. As followers of Christ who care about the sanctity of life, our intentional death-dealing to the beloved birds (that provided farm-grown free-ranged eggs for two years) includes prayerful gentleness up to the point of the swift CHOP that separates the body from the head. That part is obviously not gentle--it takes good aim and force for an ax to instantaneously separate chicken head from chicken body, and further swift action from the human that held the chicken legs to be able to put the body in a bucket and cap it quickly while the unconscious nervous energy keeps the bird body gyrating vigorously for a minute in the bucket.

None of this is on video or otherwise captured in still pictures here, because we aint got the equipment right now. In the process of turning the living birds into a pile of leftover compost and edible meat i learned some biology about chickens and their daily egg-laying capacity. As i was taught this month to safely pull out the guts of a dead bird prior to cooking it, we can see the little ova in their various sizes on their way to becoming complete eggs. The ability for people to have easy access to chicken eggs for the past 5,000 years or more is partially due to the disabling of the THSR gene. Regular, wild animals (as opposed to domesticated layers) reproduce (and lay eggs) based on TSHR synching up birthing with the length of daylight available. This causes me to consider my own human hormonal cycles (like the daily rise and fall of testosterone, or the monthly estrogen-driven fertility spin), and my relationship to the environment. I sincerely enjoy the gift of Brother Sun, especially when he returns after three cloudy days that i missed his bright efficient 8-second journey directly into to my skin to cause me to create the Vitamin D i need. He also was less-able to charge our solar power electricity system here at the Earth Abides Land Trust when he was hiding behind clouds for so long. The lack of sun going along with the colder days is causing changes in the apples too, which led to an urgent need to harvest bushels and bushels rapidly, which led to canning and juicing too.

We have at least 6 varieties in three locations here at California's CW Farm (Earth Abides Land Trust). That's four on our scanner (still no camera available to me this month): a granny smith, a macintosh, a black arkansas and a pippin. Together, they make great juice--and the remaining chickens love eating the dehydrated juice-less apple bits leftover from our process. And then we'll slaughter the chickens, harvest their flesh, and someday, the retreat guests will enjoy eating the chicken flesh cooked to perfection by our awesome volunteer cooks!

Of course, you might know that Chelsea's not as religious as i am about avoiding eating flesh of other animals. She's written a poem about the surreal work we've been doing here--spending a whole day in the funeral parlor (kitchen) of ceremonial chicken slaughter and flesh harvest from 8 beloved birds...

p.s. Tom Merton died 2 years and 2 days after i was born, in a freak electrical accident with a motorized fan. While Chels was in Louisville, she stood at that same corner in KY where Merton stood (4th & Ali), falling in love with all humans individually everywhere. I don't recall whether or not Merton's spiritual practices led him to vegetarianism. Anybody else remember? Write to me: pegasus AT lovarchy DOT org to lemme know!