Friday, February 27, 2009


We're hearing a distinct clamor in Irish Grove these days.

What began as a few appeals, inquiries, and an occasional nudge, perhaps, has steadily grown to what I might deem a racket, a ruckus, a downright cacophony.

Allright, so cacophony may be a slight exaggeration.

People want chickens. They want home-grown, cage-free, organically-fed, pastured chickens. And I can't say I blame them.

Most of you know how I feel about store-bought chickens. If not, go get enlightened here.

But raising a couple hundred chickens for these nice, chicken-loving souls who find themselves at the mercy of Tyson concentration camps....well this endeavor holds one very large, daunting, avoidance-inducing problem for your friendly Irish Grove farmers.

The problem is the processing. Butchering. Killing. There I said it. Yes, unfortunately we have to kill the birds to eat them. PETA followers be satisfied.

(An aside: Joe Salatin says PETA stands for People who Eat Tasty Animals. Which is funny for everyone except PETA members.)

(In full disclosure, I used to be a member of PETA.)

(And a vegetarian.)

The only USDA certified processing plant in Illinois is in Arthur, IL. Which is a 4.5 hour drive from here.

4.5 hour drive!!

This would be my day on processing day:

2:00 AM: Load chickens into crates.
3:00 AM: Leave for Arthur.
7:30 AM: Drop birds off for processing.
8:00 AM: Take truck to car wash for cleaning.
9:00 AM: Eat something.
10:00 AM: Try to nap.
2:00 PM: Pick up processed chickens, pack into coolers.
3:00 PM: Leave for home
7:30 PM: Arrive home.
8:00 PM: Move chickens to freezers.
9:00 PM: Shower!
10:00 PM: Collapse in bed.

How much fun is that!?!?!

Seriously, guys. When we talk about sustainable farming, we sometimes forget to take into account how sustainable the operation is for the farmer, as well as for the land and animals.

Can I do this once each summer? Sure, definitely. Would I do this more than once? Not so sure. Would it be worthwhile to invest time and money into the cages, coolers, moveable chicken pens, etc., for one trip to Arthur with 150 birds or so? Yeah, probably not.

And therein lies the problem. I want to raise chickens for ya. I really do. I know the demand is there. So I ask you:

Would you buy chickens that were processed on the farm?

Would you come on a pre-planned day, bring your own plastic bags, bag your own processed birds, and keep your committment to do so?

Most importantly, would you mind buying chickens that have been processed while on roller-skates.

I'm really asking the hard-hitting questions now, aren't I? But I ask for a reason:

We call this photo Roller Pluck.

Honestly, home processing is really the only way I can imagine raising chickens for ya. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Selling the Farm

If there is one thing that repeatedly upsets me, it's seeing a 'For Sale' sign in the middle of a corn field.

'For Sale' due to foreclosure. 'For Sale' because of a job transfer. 'For Sale' because of a death in the family. 'For Sale' because the kids have all moved away and there is no one left to run the farm. 'For Sale' because I'm just plain tired of working all the time.

There are a million and one reasons to sell the farm. And I, someday, may claim one of them as reason to sell my share of this farm, God forbid.

I think, though, that the most common reason to sell the farm is this: Mom and Dad are retiring, and it's time for us kids to cash in on the American Dream.

Is there anything wrong with that? Honestly, it's everyone's right to claim their inheritance and to transform that land into whatever currency most fits their lifestyle. And a lot of times, selling the farm is the most practical, obvious solution to the 'problem' of inheriting a farm.

So why does it bother me so much?

On an intellectual level, if I could be so bold to claim that I even have an intellectual level, it makes sense. I get it. But on an emotional level (which I definitely have), it kills me.

Especially because reality dictates that whoever purchases the farm will likely be a developer waiting to turn that farm into houses. Or they will be an absent landowner, renting your land out to the lowest bidder who doesn't much care if they degrade the soil. Or, if your farm is most unfortunate, it may go to a businessman who also has a dream, a dream that looks a lot like an industrial 'park' or ethanol plant or landfill.

From my point of view, land is constant. It is sustenance. It connects us to our past. It shapes us into who we are.

The land educates and humbles. It defines and enables. It inspires.

Our farmland provides for us. It is space to move about, to use or preserve. It permits us to be. It is our culture, our heritage, our rural treasure.

Farmland to a Midwesterner is home.

So you see, when that 'For Sale' sign goes up, we trade in our past, our culture and our heritage for a swollen bank account. And while land's value lies in its preservation, money's value lies in it's use. Land is worth something only when it is cared for and loved. Money is only useful when it is spent. And while the land will always be there, the money doesn't offer any guarantees.

Land is the loving spouse. Money is the love affair.

So, children of farmers, I want to remind you that the American Dream wasn't always a large bank account*. It used to be a parcel of land to call our own. A place to be and become.

The American Dream was a farm. May it be that way once more.

*If farm ownership isn't practical for you, or if you really do need the money, please look into a Farmland Conservation Easement. What usually happens with an easement is that you sell or donate the development rights of your farm to an easement holding company. While lowering the cash value of your property, you do receive tax incentives and your land can only be sold as farmland for perpetuity. Please check out your options at American Farmland Trust. Locally, the Natural Land Institute can help you discover your options.
*A second local option would be to contact The Land Connection. They work with would-be-farmers to help them find and purchase available farmland.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Winter Reprieve

February has given us a welcome winter reprieve. We realize that the warm weather isn't going to last long, so we made the most of it while we could.

This has gotta last us through April. Well, at least according to Punxsutawney Phil.