Thursday, September 26, 2013

Chicken harvest

We slaughtered our chickens yesterday. I'm feeling a little teary - not because of all the killing (although, believe me, “harvesting” chickens is quite sad), but because of the way my sons helped out. They are eight and ten years old, and they actively helped for the four and a half hours it took three of us adults to butcher 48 chickens.
I know that some people take offense at taking the lives of animals, and I don't want to alienate anyone here. The truth is, both Steve and I were vegetarians for many years, but my body didn't feel particularly healthy without eating meat.  Plus, we are raising three children, who eat as much as an army, and they are not even teenagers yet.  We feel good about consuming the meat of animals that we raised ourselves: humanly, living on green pasture, with lots of space to roam, feeding on organic feed we provide for them. When slaughter time comes around, our animals are not subjected to being transported to a slaughter house, but their lives end right there, on the pasture they grew up on.
Before we start our chicken harvest, we stand in a circle, hold hands, and give thanks to the animals we are about to put in the freezer.
This year, my ten-year-old Kai wanted to learn how to actually kill a chicken, and so did I. In the past, I helped with scalding, plucking, eviscerating and packing, but I never had the guts to actually put the knife to a chicken's throat. It was a job the men always did (Steve and our neighbor Rich). Kai and I wanted to be able to do the whole process from start to finish. I will spare you the gory details (and Kai's blood splattered glasses), but let me just say that we did succeed, and although we both hated doing it, we did it successfully several times.
And I get teary remembering both Kai and Lukas, plucking chickens, and later with their hands in chicken cavities, tireless cutting off feet and heads, pulling out guts, examining chicken livers and gallbladders. They didn't complain once, and they really, really helped, instead of just being in the way or wanting to goof off. I am very proud of them, knowing that they do live on a farm, and that this is one of the ways we sustain ourselves. They know how to plant seeds in the soil, weed a vegetable garden, and process a chicken. Not to mention a whole new appreciation for chicken anatomy (talk about hands-on homeschooling!).
Today, I shall make liver pate and have our friends over for dinner, to thank them for entertaining little Miss Eva while we did this nasty job.  It takes a village to raise a child.  And a chicken.

Steve, Rich and my sons preparing all the equipment.  Here is the cooling tank.
And this is the hot water tank for scalding and the nifty plucking machine thingy.
It helps to do this job with people you love!

If I haven't you grossed out enough... we fed the chicken innards to the pigs.  They loved it.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Whatcom skill share faire

On Saturday, the whole family headed to Ferndale, WA, to participate in the Whatcom Skill Share Faire. It's a colorful fair where people of all ages gather to teach and learn skills, sell or barter their wares, and partake in some good old community building. A lot of topics were covered: animal husbandry, home skills, fermentation and home brewing, survival skills, story telling, and so much more (water witching, anyone?).

After spending hours organizing and packing the RV the previous day, we were ready to leave early Saturday morning. Except when Steve turned the ignition key, nothing happened. The RV's starter pooped out on us, so we had to pile everything and everyone into the van, in a condensed version, of course. I brought my felted hats, handspun yarn and goat milk soaps, and Steve brought his hand made wooden bows.
When we showed up in Ferndale two hours later, the sun broke through, after the weather forecast had predicted rain. The whole day was a blast! We were crazy busy all day, juggling selling our stuff, teaching a class, entertaining the kids, and visiting with people.

Eva in front of our booth, showing off the balloons twisted into a flower.
Face painting.

Our friend Bo saved the day. He lives in Bellingham and bicycled out to help us with the kids. Eva adores him beyond measure. She got bored sitting around in our booth all day, so when Bo showed up and entertained her, she was in heaven. They went on little excursions visiting the Llamas, petting sheep and bunnies, and watching kids make felted soap balls. Eva wasn't entirely comfortable with the big llamas, who got kind of pushy trying to grab apples out of their hands.
Later on, she found a baby goat to play with. A gaggle of kids followed the baby goat around all afternoon.  Kai and Lukas, who ran around with their own friends for hours, joined in the fun.

It was fun watching Steve teach his mini bow making class. We shared a booth, and he had a crowd gathered around him the whole day. He was in his element, answering questions, demonstrating proper technique, show casing his beautiful bows.  I especially loved the diversity of people being so lit up by the skill he shared.  There were lots of children, rapt with attention (later, we traded a kid's bow for beautiful beeswax candles).  There were fathers of tiny babys, rolling strollers back and forth and hanging on Steve's every word.  Even elderly women came up to him and wanted to touch the shiny wooden bows.

The whole event was organized beautifully. The people who put it on fed the teachers and vendors organic, home cooked meals for free. The sense of community, fun, networking and learning was so much fun to experience, not to mention the entertainment of well-known local musicians.

I can't end this blog post before showing you two of my favorite pictures this week.  They have to do with harvesting.  First, there is more basil, which got made into even more pesto.  Eva helped harvest and carry the fragrant basil stems into the kitchen.  She looks like she is wearing a dress made of basil.
The other picture is of Steve, helping me make green tomato relish.  I took a picture of him juggling three onions, but they all got blurry.  So instead, I am including this picture of Steve, showing off his hot body our home grown onions.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bounty everywhere

I am hiding in my bedroom with the computer and a glass of wine. My kids' loud voices are echoing upstairs into my sanctuary, and the smell of chicken in the oven is wafting up through the ceiling. The smell reminds me of the task ahead next week: “harvesting” our meat birds. I don't like this job of killing and processing chickens, but I sure like the taste of baked chicken – chickens we grew ourselves, raised on green pasture and organic grain. I don't like being part of the death of animals I raised, but I would rather eat THEM than meat I buy at the grocery store, packaged in plastic wrap, not knowing where the meat comes from, not knowing if the animals had a happy life. I know for sure that our chickens lead a happy life, up until the time of their death in the pasture they were raised in, without having to transport them to a slaughter house. They get to forage in beautiful green grass, get lots of fresh water, space and exercise and are allowed to chase bugs to their hearts' content. They live in a chicken palace with a mountain view. What's not to love?

Our pigs are next. We are hoping to have a butcher come out the end of October to process them for us. It's more expensive that way, but immeasurably less work for us. Our pigs are huge already, fattened on grass, whey and organic barley. They are spoiled, get moved to fresh pasture regularly, and get sprayed with the water hose in hot weather. They love getting sprayed and push each other out of the way to put their noses in it. Afterwards, they scratch themselves on every available surface, grunting with pleasure, almost grinning. They are so big and ferocious at feeding time that I am nervous. I don't go into their enclosure any more. When they were little, the kids played tag with them in the pasture, but now? Oh no! They bite my boots if I try to go into their movable structure, and they lean against me to scratch themselves, knocking me over. I bet they wouldn't mind taking a bite out of me.

The egg layers are safe from slaughter. These girls die a natural death, pass away peacefully in the chicken coop when they are several years old, and that's fine with us. They have cranked out eggs for months on end, so they deserve to live out their lives. The kids adore them. They watch them grow from one day old chickies, hold them when they are little, and feed them daily. “Chicken duty” is the kids' job: feed 'em, give 'em water, and collect their eggs. Between the ducks and the chickens, we are egg rich. What an abundant life!

The kids are walking along the driveway to do "chicken duty".  Eva's carrying the egg bucket.  Oh my.
The kids throw the chicken's grain in the air and on the ground, so that the chickens can happily peck it.

Talking about abundance: We are drowning in cantaloupes - can you imagine? Melons in the Pacific Northwest? Yes. You may kiss my feet. The way we do it is planting the starts in black plastic, to really crank the heat. This year, with all the heat and lack of greyness, they have exploded. We eat them fresh, juice dripping down our chins, invite friends over to gorge on them, and I froze about 15 pounds for smoothies. Ahhhh!!! This will be gold in the dark, cold, depressing winter.

Juicy, ey?
And then there are tomatoes. Homegrown tomatoes, rich and sweet and juicy, warmed by the sun, freshly picked from the vine and bitten into... there's nothing like it, except maybe eating a killer chocolate cake. We bought two boxes of tomatoes from a friend and made it into salsa and sun-dried (or rather dehydrator-dried) tomatoes. The salsa is a big hit with my family. It's amazing what you can do with tomatoes, onions, garlic, sweet peppers, lime juice, cumin, salt and pepper. The kids devoured the salsa, served with stone ground organic chips. I should have bought about 150 more pounds of tomatoes. I tell you, the way these kids eat, we will have to start raising pigs. Oh, wait a minute. We ARE raising pigs. Phew. Good.

Despite all this work, we managed to escape for a two day vacation up to Birch Bay, close to the Canadian border, where we bicycled and played at the beach.  

A rare sight indeed... Steve relaxing.
I leave you with the image of my son Lukas with a salmon he caught himself.  My wilderness man husband Steve, Lukas and his brother Kai went out into the wild this week, with nothing else than some knives, bamboo spears, and a pot to boil water in. They left in the morning without eating any breakfast, so they would experience what it's like to feel hungry, and to be motivated to hunt and gather their own food.
Steve treated this as a rite of passage for the boys, and they came back changed, with incredible stories.  They got to share them with our community at a feast, where they brought salmon they had caught and smoked over a campfire.  Oh, how I love these men of mine.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Harvesting and putting food by

Eva helped me make pesto with all the basil in our garden. Notice I didn't write, 'Eva “helped” me make pesto”. She HELPED me! In fact, if it wasn't for her, there wouldn't be many bags of freshly frozen pesto in the freezer right now. It's quite the undertaking, this pesto making business. I don't know how people made due with mortar and pestle before Cuisinarts existed... Even mechanized, it's a lot of work. First, there is the harvesting and snipping of fragrant basil stems. Then, you have to pick the leaves off the stems in order to wash them (just in case the dog peed on them, hypothetically speaking). Then the leaves have to be spun in the salad spinner to dry. Afterwards, they get dunked in olive oil in the Cuisinart and then blended into puree. You can't believe how much volume the basil looses once it gets smushed. You keep repeating these steps until you have enough paste to put into a quart freezer bag, which then gets flattened and put in the freezer.

I really, really love the smell of basil. But after two hours of standing in the kitchen and plucking, washing and pureeing basil leaves, it gets old. Eva was my cheerleader, demanding over and over again that we do more. She rather liked picking off leaves and spinning them in the salad spinner. I am so glad for her help and the female bonding that ensued over the kitchen sink. We now have many nights worth of dinner in the freezer, thanks to this little girl. When I'm ready to make a frozen green patty into a meal, I will take it out of the freezer, put it into a pan of hot water (still in the bag til it's soft enough), then put it into the Cuisinart with fresh garlic, more olive oil, and a handful of walnuts (I am too cheap to spring for pine nuts). Voila! Heaven!

I love fall and harvest time. All the work of planting seeds, fussing over seedlings in the greenhouse, transplanting them in the garden, and watering and weeding them for months finally pays off. The garden cranks out a lot of food. I made my famous bread and butter pickles, after the boys harvested cucumbers. While they were out there, I made them help with garden clean up, weeding, cover cropping and all that. They didn't complain too much, and I was glad for the help.
There is also (surprise, surprise) lots of zucchini to be had, which I make into zucchini bread and stir frys. Kai and Eva helped me harvest a couple, and I thought the apple tree looked so inviting, I promptly took their picture under it.

Fall also brings Humpies. I wrote about them in last week's blog entry. They are such fascinating, magical creatures, these salmon. By the time they reach our creek, they are beaten up, eager to spawn, and ready to die soon after. We are careful not to disturb the ancient rituals of these fish, but the kids love to watch them, and sometimes they try to touch them. I make sure the kids don't get overly zealous, but every now and then, I let them try to catch one with their bare hands. They have never succeeded, since the salmon are too fast and skiddish, but just the other day, Lukas grabbed one for a split second, and I even got it on camera!

The above is a salmon egg that one of the kids picked up, and I immediately had them put it back in the water where they found it.  Pretty, though, ey?
I leave you with an image of the sky last week.  We've lived through some intense thunderstorms lately, one of which fried our phones.  
May you feel as abundant as we are right now.

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