30 December 2011

Farm to Plate: Part IV

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when many Portlanders were still lost in the haze of leftover turkey sandwiches, a trio of Portland Farmers Market staffers hit the road for a one of a kind experience: a stewing hen harvest day at Persephone Farm.  We invite you to follow their adventure through a series of posts over the next few days that capture the reality and intensity of life on the farm and the reverence that comes with butchering your own dinner.

Farm to Plate: Part IV

PFM attendee, Amber Holland, shares her personal account of the day:

My challenge for the day: hold a chicken, run my hands over her body, notice the color of her eyes and the way that she blinks, touch her comb and those funny dangly bits that hang below her beak, feel the bottoms of her feet and marvel at the softness, coo to her, recognize the life in my hands, thank her for her service to us, lay her down and raise and axe to her neck.

I am not going to lie or pretend that I was brave… I questioned my ability to go through with the harvest and I felt the lump of fear or maybe sadness form in my throat as I listened to Jeff’s words.  He started talking about the feeling of holding an animal so alive, giving a moment of thanks, lying her down on a block of wood with her head gently held between two nails, lifting and then quickly lowering the hatchet, then holding this headless creature in a bucket while the life drains from her body completely (it sounds awful but it sure is better than her running around).

I would soon know what it felt like to pull the feathers from the bird’s body to see what a small, fragile being she is without her wispy body armor, and then finally using a knife to open her body and place my hand on a set of vital organs that were once responsible for comical clucks, pecking at the ground, and forming and expelling eggs for our nourishment. I would feel the warmth of the organs, the surprisingly small heart, the pebble-filled gizzard, and the plastic-like esophagus.

Listening to Jeff as he talked about the process made it all real and helped me appreciate that these farmers aren’t heart-less slaughters. They are practical people that treat life with respect, dignity and feel the inevitable sorrow associated with the life cycle, be it plant or animal.

Amber's moment of truth

I looked at the other 20 people that were committed to connecting with their food in a way that most would never even consider and I knew that I was not alone in my angst.  What was I afraid of?  In a word: failure.   Somehow I would end up with the one hatchet that didn’t work.  Angst that the last moments of my avian provider would be full of fear and that she wouldn’t know how thankful we are for her.  Some may poo-poo being thankful for a chicken, saying chickens are stupid, no better than an insect, and good for only one thing. I am here to tell you just the opposite – that chickens are marvelously simplified creatures with a complete set of skills to feed you and your family all throughout (and at the end of) their lives.

To be continued…