Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Lesson In Gratitude

As people passed by me Wednesday morning at the intersection of Earl and King Streets in Shippensburg, they smiled weakly, shook their heads and even graciously offered to help as I spun off the eight lugs that fastened the black rubber pancake that once was a tire to my flatbed Ford.

"I've got it, but thank you very much," I cheerfully replied.

"Yeah, right..."and probably thought to themselves that they wouldn't have been so happy about a flat tire on a truck towing a stock trailer first thing in the morning.

But I was.....

What everyone didn't know was earlier I had been rolling down Interstate 81 to Horst's Abattoir in Maugansville, Maryland, where I have my livestock processed under USDA inspection. Riding alongside tractor trailers destined for Wal Mart, Target and Tractor Supply was my load of future scallopini, osso bucco and chorizo. Anyone who travels this mid-Atlantic corridor understands the volume of 18-wheelers with one must share the road. (I use the word share facetiously as the big rigs are also big bullies). Thanks to all the "Your Speed" contraptions throughout the construction zones, I knew my little rig was humming along at 60 mph both on the way down loaded and on the way back empty.

Butcher days are logistically tough for me. I have to deliver the livestock to Maryland first thing in the morning, having them at Horst's by ten at the latest. While I have the option to transport them the night before, I believe in minimizing stress prior to harvest not just for the welfare of the animals themselves, but to also produce superior tasting meat. (Check out this article in the Atlantic) Then it's back to the farm to load up and head into the city for the Crossroads Farmers Market.

Although I've had local cattle jockeys haul my stock to the butcher on occasion, it's one part of the process of putting food on the table I am loathe to give up and not because it's simply more money out of my pocket.

When I'm standing behind the table at market, I want to be able to tell my customers I've been completely responsible for what they're about to eat---beginning to end, pasture to plate. For me, that includes loading the animals on the trailer and driving them to be processed.

Factory farms only commit half the atrocities against our food by cooping them up indoors by the thousands and feeding them antibiotic-laden GMO grain-based feeds. Equally egregious is the way in which they are harvested and processed which often includes being trucked hundreds of miles in a tightly-packed tractor trailer and then held for at least a day without food or water to clear out their bladders & bowels prior to slaughter.

So you can see why I was living in gratitude for my flat tire in downtown Shippensburg. I was not stuck on the side of the highway with a load of goats and calves, possibly missing my butcher appointment. Even more fantastic were my neighbors who, seeing me in obvious need, stopped and helped me get my tools and the wheel to the tire store for a new one and back to the truck to put it on and get rolling down the road again. And I wasn't even late to market!

It's all a matter of perspective.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hog Heaven

Yes, I finally went and did it, thanks to my friends at North Mountain Pastures. Brooks Miller rolled into the driveway one Thursday morning with a trailer load of piglets and sows for sausage he had just picked up from Paul Fisher over at Otterbein Acres. Given that the temperature was hovering in the high 90's, there wasn't much noise coming from the trailer. It was even too hot for the pigs to squeal."Ok, how do we get these things from the driveway to their pen?" I asked Brooks who responded by grabbing the smallest pig out of the batch the his hind legs and handing the loudly squealing and squirming critter to me.

"Like this," he said as I grasped the thirty or so pounder by his ham hocks before walking him over to the hut that over the years has housed turkeys, broilers, layers, goats, calves, dogs, children and even a greenhouse with Brooks in tow similarly carrying a slightly larger pig.

But before introducing my latest addition to his new home, I had to cuddle him for one picture at which time I was thoroughly baptized in pig shit. This promptly put an end to my ham hugging days.They're quite the pair and there was plenty of joking and speculation as to their names, but eventually I settled on Elwood and Jake (as in the Blues Brothers). Now if I could only get them to wear sunglasses!
The first time I dumped my compost bucket into the pen I was amazed at their 'piggieness"--the snarfing and grunting as they rooted throughout the pile first picking out the empty eggshells and crunching them as if they were Gibbles Potato Chips.
Never having had pigs, I watched in amazement as they held down an ear of sweet corn past its prime with their little cloven hooves as their stout snouts deftly parted the husk to reach the juicy golden nuggets inside.
There's plenty of opportunity for me to pick up ripe and over-ripe produce that would normally hit the compost pile or dumpster after farmers market. My produce pals were more than happy to let me cart it home for the pigs instead of them having to transport back to their farm and deal with it. Plus, they know they'll eventually share in the bounty. I've often said that "You are what you eat eats." This means that the quality of the food eating by livestock and poultry is directly related to their diet on this earth before harvesting. It's no wonder that sickly people result from eating sickly animals so often found in industrial agriculture.
Not these boys! Theirs is a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables from neighboring farms and orchards, whey from a local dairy manufacturing plant and the overgrown vegetables in my own organic gardens which the porcine pair are "pigerating" as my rototiller needs repaired.
Since the pigs have arrived, I keep asking myself why I waited so long. I'm sure after their harvest this fall I'll be looking forward to producing more Painted Hand Pork.