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Some Thoughts On Death

When school groups come to the farm for field trips, I’ve noticed that, among the parents and teachers, there exists one of two ideologies about the kids’ farm education. When we take the youngsters up to see the baby chicks or the calves and piglets, the question of longevity inevitably comes up. “What happens to them when they grow up?”, “Where are all the mommy pigs?”, “Why do you keep them inside pens?”… When these sorts of investigations arise, I always take a glance at the parents to see how graphic I need to be. Can I use the word slaughter? That is only for the most extreme (often those alternative outdoor experimental schools). Can I talk about hamburgers and bacon? Sometimes the parents react more strongly to this than the kids.

On other occasions, the teachers are gung-ho about delving into the steak-ness of a cow. The other day I was leading a group of third graders through the farm tour and their teacher wouldn’t let up. During our visit to each of the animal pens he pressed the kids about what meat that creature was good for. By the end of the field trip I was surprised that the kids weren’t looking at each other and trying to figure out what the most tender cut of human would be.

Truth is, I don’t really appreciate either of these mentalities in the chaperones. I think that an over exuberance about the end product misses the point just as completely as an inability to talk about the difference between a beef cow and a dairy cow. I think the parents can learn just as much as their kids from a trip to the farm. What I know about small scale farming is that all the details have to be intimately connected in order to sustain a healthy system. Whenever Jamie leads a farm tour, he talks a lot about biodiversity. We are trying to mimic a kind of natural biodiversity in which plants, animals, fungi, lichen, bacteria… all work together. If we focus too much on one part of the system then we blind ourselves to the beauty and intricacy of the whole.

We don’t raise animals just for meat. That is a part of what we do. But we also manage our cows on pasture in such a way as to increase the nutrient density in the soils, prevent erosion, protect from drought, and encourage other pasture critters to thrive. We put our hogs on land overgrown with multiflora rose and scrubby trees that we hope to turn into pasture after a time. We keep our goats out on poison ivy and privet control. A local bee-keeper has several hives around the farm to help pollinate our fruit trees and pasture flowers. While it’s important to acknowledge that the animals do die and that they provide us with delicious, fresh meat, it’s equally important to understand that the animals are an imperative part of the farm ecosystem. Not just in their death, but in the way that they live and interact with all the other forces that are in the constant flux of birth, growth, and death.

I know that’s a lot to take in for a third grader. It’s a lot to take in for an adult! That is what agri-tourism is all about, though. I hope that at least some of that will make it through to the folks who come visit this place, or any farm for that matter.

Sweetbread

Fall On the Way!?

It’s hard to believe that fall is nearly upon us. For some reason I don’t feel like summer ever really hit. I suppose there were some hot days, but I just don’t remember enduring very many of those muggy, scorching afternoons that often characterize summer here in Fairview. Heck, I think I only got sunburnt twice this year, and that’s saying something for a pale guy like me. I’m not implying that I mind. The cool weather has been great, but it’s hard to imagine that summer is really nearing completion.

Here on the farm we’re gearing up for the fall season; always busy one for us. We’ve been clearing out the big old dairy barn and rebuilding the baby animal pens. We’ve got baby calves, turkeys, piglets, and goats moved into their new homes. The apples, what crop we have, are ripening in the orchard, and we’ve picked a few bushels of organic Jonagolds, Golden Delicious, and Cortlands to sell at the store. Organic apples may not look as nice as their conventional counterparts, but they sure taste great, especially the Jonagolds, I’m a big fan! I’ve spent so much time in the orchard this spring watching and spraying and hoping and praying, that now it is almost painful for me to discard any of the blemished and scabby apples. Most of those will go to making cider, but some are too far gone even for that. In those cases I find myself eating all the parts that are still good and making myself sick from too much apple. I think I’ve eaten the equivalent of ten or twelve apples during the past few days.

The pumpkin patch is looking a little rough for all the rain, but still struggling along. We’ve also been working on a History Timeline of Hickory Nut Gap that will go up in our education barn for this fall season.The first weekend in September has traditionally been our opening for the fall season and that was this past weekend, so that means the fall season is open! In addition to apples, and baby animals,  we have all kinds of attractions this year. The Corn Maze, the Trike Track, new giant slides, a barrel train for the youngsters… Hickory Nut Gap Farm is the place to be this Fall season! Our farmstore is also open seven days a week from 9am to 6pm. Those will be our new hours all the way through October.

I hope to see you at the Farm! Sweetbread