And suddenly, it’s December, and I’m recalibrating to a new wintertime routine. My apprenticeship at the farm is over, as is my life at the (loud, grungy, but admittedly always entertaining) bunkhouse. I’m staying at Hawthorne Valley for the winter but in a quite different capacity—I’m now living and working at the Farmscape Ecology Program, where I am developing a research project interviewing new farmers in Columbia County. Even though I’m just up the hill from the farm (indeed, I typically step in at least one cow pie on the way to do my grocery shopping), but the pace of my life has shifted significantly in the last couple of weeks. Suddenly and without ceremony, I find myself spending whole days in front of a computer, writing proposals, entering data, sifting through academic databases. Some days I long for my clothes to be saturated with cow-smell, or to be harvesting greens (frozen fingers and all) and other days I’m thankful to have work that gives me some time to rejuvenate. Taking time off from farming will keep things fresh and remind me why I love it, and in the meantime I can do a lot of things I didn’t make time for during the growing season. My stack of unread books has been growing, knitting projects have been abandoned, snowshoes have been gathering dust, and now they are calling me back to them.
Does this seasonal change spell the end of the farm blog? Not hardly. I am keeping myself occupied with plenty of farm-related things this winter. I joined a winter CSA at the Farm at Miller’s Crossing in nearby Philmont, so even though I no longer get food from Hawthorne Valley’s fields, my fridge is still overflowing with sweet potatoes and broccoli and carrots and cabbage and cauliflower, and it has become quite a challenge, cooking for one, to finish each round of vegetables before the next ones arrive. I am also taking a class on farm business planning, which I wrote about in a recent blog entry, and have gotten involved with some local groups of farmers—the Farmers’ Research Circle and the Hudson Valley Young Farmers’ Coalition—that get together over the winter to discuss pertinent issues. One of the most exciting things, living and working here, is the sense of community and collaboration and shared learning in the farming community.
Last Saturday I attended a “Butchering Day,” hosted by North Plain Farm and Community Cooperative Farms in Great Barrington, MA. A motley group of farmers, foodies, and interested community members gathered on a brisk afternoon to learn about the slaughtering and butchering of pigs. I didn’t know what to expect from the event, whether it would be gruesome or feel voyeuristic, but the process was undertaken with a sense of dignity and respect at every step of the way, and we all learned more about an inevitable part of the business of raising livestock.
The death itself was short—the pig was shot in the head, and then they “stuck” her in the heart and hung her upside down to bleed out. Then they lifted her into a vat of water heated to 150 degrees, where the water flowed over her skin, scalding her to ease the process of hair removal.
They shaved off all her bristly hair with knives, leaving her seeming remarkably naked.
They even removed her little piggy toenails. Then came the disemboweling: she was sliced down the middle, her organs removed, and her body cut completely in half and left to hang—a pig’s muscles need to set and solidify for a couple of days before the butchering process.
Then, somewhat like a cooking show on TV, they brought out the carcass of a pig that had been slaughtered earlier in the week to show us how to prepare all the different cuts of meat.
The day ended as it should have, around a fire and good food, celebratory.
“Would that you could live on the fragrance of the earth, and like an air plant be sustained by the light. But since you must kill to eat, and rob the newly born of its mother’s milk to quench your thirst, let it then be an act of worship. And let your board stand an alter on which the pure and the innocent of forest and plain are sacrificed for that which is purer and still more innocent in man.
When you kill a beast say to him in your heart, ‘By the same power that slays you, I too am slain; and I too shall be consumed. For the law that delivered you into my hand shall deliver me into a mightier hand. Your blood and my blood is naught but the sap that feeds the tree of heaven.’
And when you crush an apple with your teeth, say to it in your heart, ‘Your seeds shall live in my body, And the buds of your tomorrow shall blossom in my heart, And your fragrance shall be my breath, And together we shall rejoice through all the seasons.’
And in the autumn, when you gather the grapes of your vineyards for the winepress, say in your heart, ‘I too am a vineyard, and my fruit shall be gathered for the winepress, And like new wine I shall be kept in eternal vessels.’ And in the winter, when you draw the wine, let there be in your heart a song for each cup; And let there be in the song a remembrance for the autumn days, and for the vineyard, and for the winepress.”
–The Prophet, Khalil Gibran