Carnivory in Ohio

We all slept poorly last night. It was hot, and the ticking ceiling fan and open windows couldn’t cool our dry skin. Chelsea and I rose from our sleepless beds at sunrise and ran down the farm’s long gravel driveway and then to the end of the road.
“Good morning moo cows. Good morning hounds. Good morning sheep. Good morning chickens.”
The dawn spilled over the hill that cradles the farm and sopped into the clouds that had carpeted the sky overnight. The breeze was cool and it left a chill where it lifted the sweat from our necks. The sky was soaked in a watercolor purple, and the birds were chirruping in the blooming weeds that filled the ditches. My legs hurt. As we started the jog back up the driveway, the world brightened and began to glow in Technicolor. I let a smile stretch my face.

The countryside in this part of Ohio is idyllic in mid-summer. The roadsides are overwhelmed with queen anne’s lace and something that flowers purple, the trees are blushing green, and the rollercoaster hills are spread with sunny pasture and crisp shady forest, and sprinkled with weathered barns and cattle. When we arrived yesterday, I went for a long run in the heat of the day. The heat billowing off the pavement and the gluey, humid air could have been Arkansan, but there was no mistaking the ambience of Midwestern Americana. When I got back, dinner prep was in full swing. We ate ribeyes from right here at the farm to kick off the inevitable week of carnivory that’s to come. We could hear cows mooing from our table on the patio.

Before the sun was fully up, Sean, Chelsea and I were weeding raised beds in one of the hoophouses. Jesse brought out steaming cups of coffee, and we surveyed our progress, listening to the beginnings of rain on the plastic roof.

Breakfast was Ohio eggs, potatoes and sausage with Arkansan tomatoes and cucumbers. Lunch was all Ohio: raw zucchini pasta with basil and nasturtium flowers, beet greens and crispy onion crostini, and broccoli raab. Not home-grown: bread flour, lemons, olive oil, balsamic vinegar. Summer is the best time of year. I forget what grocery shopping feels like for days or weeks at a time.

We accompanied our friends to the farmers market this afternoon. They sell grass-finished beef and lamb and pastured pork and poultry, in addition to eggs. I listened with pride as they fielded questions about the humanity of their farming practices and the quality of their meat products and eggs.
“Is there an agency that certifies that your animals are raised humanely?”
“Our certifying organization is our customers. We’re happy to give farm tours so that you can satisfy yourself that our animals are treated humanely.”
“Are these eggs free-range?”
“Free-range can mean that the hens have access to a concrete slab. Our hens are pastured. They eat plants and insects in addition to their organic feed, and their access to the outdoors is unlimited.”
This is a business to be proud of, and those eggs are worth every penny their customers pay for them.

Sean and Jesse hamming it up at the market

Sean and Jesse hamming it up at the market

Tomatoes are just coming on up here in the North. Sean selected this luscious beauty at the market.

Tomatoes are just coming on up here in the North. Sean selected this luscious beauty at the market.

Dinner was Thai food. Sean and I enjoyed the extraordinary luxury of ordering dishes that incorporated quality meats. My (droolworthy) masaman curry featured locally raised beef! I was swooning all through dinner. This was easily the best Thai food I’ve had in years. The four of us stopped at the grocery store on the way home and picked up two pints of Jeni’s ice cream for dessert, which is locally made and incredible. In the checkout line, we realized that we had no spoons and no way to transport the ice cream home without excessive meltage.
“Where’s the metal cutlery?” Sean asked.
“Aisle nine or ten” replied the cashier.
We looked, but couldn’t find it. We looked again, then met up in toiletries, befuddled.
“I’ve just had an idea,” Sean stated. “Let’s find cones and get an ice cream scoop. It’s better than plastic spoons that we’ll just throw away.”
So we did.

Sean scooped us each a cone and, as the ice cream began to melt, scooped us each another. We rolled over the hills in the dusky evening sunshine in a perfect, blissful, ice cream silence.

“Aw, shit!” Jesse exclaimed as we crested a hill. He swerved, but caught the rabbit anyway. It lay still in the road behind us, receding as the truck charged on.
“Go back.” Sean said.
“What?”
“Go back. We can take it home and skin it.”
“What?”
“We could eat it for breakfast if it’s in good shape. Keely can at least tan the hide.”
“Yeah! I absolutely can!” I said
Sean grinned. “We’ve been in Arkansas for… two years now?”
Laughter.

Skinning game animals might be an Arkansas thing, but eating roadkill is decidedly a liberal hippie environmentalist thing. We had late night beer floats not two days ago with two young intellectual-type people who had broken their vegetarianism on roadkill.

Meet Breakfast Bunny!

Meet (Meat) Breakfast Bunny!

The rabbit was in good shape when we picked it up. It had been hit only in the head. It had bitten through its tongue and one eye was lolling out of its socket, but the hide was completely intact and no damage was done to the internal organs. I got the rabbit skinned and gutted with a minimum of fuss, though I lost the tail. Fleshing is proving to be the hardest part of the process for me. I tore the hide in several places and didn’t succeed in removing all of the fat and membrane from the skin. I did, however, wind up with a perfectly respectable attempt at a clean hide, which was conveniently sized and shaped for a brief puppet show.

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Hitch

 Hitch up yer dungarees! This weekend kicked some derriere and I’ve got some thoughts I’ve been thinking on and I’m ready to spill because I think I done thunk ’em out fully.

1) Hitchin’ up the team:

Meet Jesse and Chelsea. They’re living and working on Jesse’s family’s farm in Ohio.

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We played board games and had real conversations and amazing food all weekend. Every time we end a visit with them, I’m left with a hole in my heart as the car rolls down the gravel road. We always talk about ways to bring our lives closer together, and someday we will. These folks are our family.

The farm just acquired two gorgeous Haflinger draft ponies, Molly and Polly, at an auction last weekend. They’re a trained team, and are to be used, among other things, for logging and to haul wagons and farm implements. It felt so good to smell like horse again. Jesse and Chelsea taught us the basics and let us each try driving the team. The girls know their stuff and they’re eager to work. They’re really magnificent, purposeful, powerful animals. My superior position felt fragile: It was a privilege to direct their strength, but I never felt like I had any ability to command them without their consent.

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We were lucky enough to be present on the farm for Open Farm Day. I hung out with Molly and Polly and got them ready for the driving demonstration, but not before checking out the chinampa and the hugelkultur. I helped Chelsea put up signs, which meant I got something of a grand tour.

It's a living fence! You can see the willows starting to leaf out. It'll provide fencing for livestock, withies for basketry, food for critters, and wildlife habitat.

It’s a living fence! You can see the willows starting to leaf out. It’ll provide fencing for livestock, withes for basketry, food for critters, and wildlife habitat.

They raise a lot of sheep, and they're ridiculously cute when they're small.

They raise a lot of sheep, and they’re ridiculously cute when they’re small.

This eggmobile is moved from place to place to give the chickens fresh grass. As it moves, it leaves a well-fertilized swath in its wake.

This eggmobile is moved from place to place to give the chickens fresh grass. As it moves, it leaves a well-fertilized swath in its wake. There are also chicken tractors for the broilers, which are moved on the daily to keep the meat birds delicious.

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In addition to all the cool stuff mentioned above, the farm practices management intensive grazing with their sheep and cows, presents farm-to-table dinners, and is hosting a permaculture course. I’m selling them short by trying to list it all. They rock.

Jesse told me a great story about a hawk that used to prey on the chickens that would graze in the pasture. When they started grazing the pigs and chickens together, the hawk killed a chicken, only to have his dinner stolen by the pigs! The hawk spent the rest of the summer sitting mournfully on his perch, gazing down at the fearless fowl below, knowing they were unattainable thanks to the pigs.

The kind of farming that our friends practice is something that I aspire to emulate in every aspect of my life. They solve problems creatively and seek to build streamlined, efficient systems that are sustainable and productive. The farm is beautiful and it does important work. It allows the people who live and work there and the patrons who support the business to live ethically. It educates people about the significance of food in the economy and the environment.

On Saturday night, we had a picnic dinner and a fire in a hilltop pasture. The view was stunning, the food delicious, and the conversation candid. We are all at this amazing point in our lives where we have these enormous choices to make, and the imminent decisions can either be crushing in their significance or can make you feel free.

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2) Gettin’ hitched:

A ton of our friends are getting engaged these days. Sean and I have been together for almost six years, we are the dream team, and we choose each other every day, gladly. Marriage seems like an obvious choice for us, but we’re not getting married, at least not for a while. There is no compelling reason for us to get married: We don’t believe that our lifestyle is sinful (apparently some people do?!), and, though we want to have kids someday, we don’t think marriage necessarily has to come first. There is, however, something that compels us to not get married: we can’t buy into an institution that excludes people that we love. Love and partnership aren’t limited to one man and one woman, and marriage shouldn’t be either. Until it’s an option for all of our friends, in any state, we refuse to take advantage of our privilege. For Sean and Keely, the personal is pretty much always political. That said, I’m super stoked for some beautiful weddings.

3) Bonus

highlights from my conversation about the farm photos with C:

Ms O: “they have a wire bottom on their chicken house, which is on wheels, so the chicken poop falls on the ground and fertilizes the grass, and they move it so they can fertilize all over the place”
C: “That’s awesome!”
(this is markedly more enthusiasm than I expected)

C: “Are those solar panels? Way cool.”

C: “when they were logging my woods, the tractors ripped that place up. Probably, if you were doing it with horses, you’d do way less damage. That’s what my grandpa did. He had mules and stuff when he first got here. That seems like a pretty good way of doing things.”