Ramble On

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Food Chain

In my most recent post, I wrote about working with David Sours on the chicken operation and some of the thoughts that go through my head while I am spending a few hours at Public House Produce.  Perhaps before this post gets too far along, I should add the clarification that David and Heather will both smile politely at my adoption of the word "work" to describe what I am doing out in these fields.

Tuesday evenings and Wednesday mornings are the key moments in this part of the farm week.  On Tuesday night, those heritage breed birds that are ready are collected from the tractors where they have been living out in the nearby pasture for the last six to eight weeks.  It is a process that is more or less culled from Joel Salatin's authoritative "Pastured Poultry Profits."

The collected birds are prepared so that they can go to the processor early on Wednesday, but they must be protected from predators overnight, and because the quarters are a bit more confined, there is added ventilation to help them quiet and help them to cool down after the excitement of being collected and moved.  Handling them this way means few are lost during handling and transit - unlike in the industrial process, where dozens can be lost on the truck ride to the processor.

Then, early Wednesday (at least in my book it's early, although there are a bunch of Page County commuters already on the roads at this point for jobs elsewhere), there is a drive over to New Market to drop the birds off for processing.  The plant there can process thousands of birds a day, so the smaller scale, pasture-based crowd (really only a few locals - there was one other besides us there last week) gets the small lots up and on on-line before the industrial flocks arrive (athough two truckloads were waiting when we got there).  

The birds are left for processing and then there is the drive back to the farm, and then out to the tractors to move them.  The chickens get new pasture every other day, depending on the condition of the fields - they may be moved every day if needed.

They are given new water - 10 to 15 gallons a day, and then some feed in addition to the grass and bugs in the pasture.

One of the more amusing parts of all of this is the cows who share the pasture I wrote about them last week.  When the farmer approaches on the tractor, the cows looks up from where ever in the field they happen to be.  They observe the tractor's destination.  Once they confirm it is headed for the chickens, the herd picks up on a trot down to that area, hanging around waiting for the chicken tractors to move.

It's inevitable that some of the meal that supplements the chickens' pasture diet will spill out onto the ground.  This is left behind when the chicken tractors are moved along.  The cows love finding this among the grass, and crowd and jostle in to get their share.  The intern needs to stay alert with all these hulking bodies around, becasue even if he himself has a hulking body, these hulking bodies are three, four, or five times as hulking.

After this work is done, it's over to the produce section for some picking.  I worked on the tomato and cantaloupe rows, although Wednesday is a community supported agriculture (CSA) pickup day and all of the crops needed gathering - so four or five kinds of summer squash, three kinds of peppers, two or three varieties of eggplant, watermelons, onions, and sweet corn would be collected over the course of the morning.

It was only 9am, and we'd gathered (again - "we" - there were two other workers besides David in the field doing the bulk of the work) quite a bit, including 100 cantaloupes (I will be bragging on this fact for some time to come, so friends and family: fair warning), but it was time to go back and pick up the processed birds.

After that, over to their destination at the kitchen of a local restaurant.  A result of all the interest in local food is the fact that a couple of the Page County restaurants now source sme ingredients from the farms there, and David and Heather's operation is part of this group.  I've written about "Page County Grown" before - check the label at the end of the post for details. 

Around 10:30, I'd done everything I could - honestly, I will say that, because I sit on my ever-widening-backside during my day job, which I arrive at comfortably around 9am each morning, via Starbucks.  But it was a rewarding day and insightful day, fuel for several more posts, in fact.

By the way, August is "Page County Grown" month, and there will be a couple of events to celebrate it.  Notably, on August 27 there is a farm tour followed by a farm dinner at the Mimslym.  Check the Page County Grown web site, or check with the Chamber of Commerce for more information.

And it did leave me looking forward to the next installment.  Stay tuned.

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