Sunday, March 21, 2010

the vernal equinox—greenhorn style

From the moment I pulled the truck into the farm's driveway I knew this was It was going to be a Saturday to remember—a perfect way to spend the holiday. The forecast wanted the sun near 70 degrees, and even in the morning wind I was comfortable in a light jacket and plaid shirt. The crowd was growing as more and more cars with New York plates piled behind me. By 10Am there were nearly thirty people, all farmers, food producers, or professionals in attendance. The secret worry I had of protesters was unfounded. Instead of an angry poster, the chef's boyfriend pulled out a 150-year-old banjo and started playing clawhammer tunes. A local organic nursery filled the folding tables with flowers, vegetables, and greens. The Greenhorns banner flapped in the wind and the lamb was on ice. This was going to be an amazing day.

For those of you concerned about carnage, know that no animals were shot or bled out in front of us. While most of the people and in attendance (including me) thought the event centered around the death and processing of one animal, that wasn't the case. The two lambs that were being butchered that day in front of a captivated, question-hungry, audience had been slaughtered Tuesday (the meat properly aged for butchering time). So no writhing death was witnessed and no one needed to bring a change of clothes.

There was no question though, this was the main event. The master of ceremonies was the young, Brooklyn-based, butcher Adam, who took our questions with eloquence and humor. For over an hour he explained each cut and what it takes to get a skinned animal to our civil plates. It was fascinating, educational, and even the kids seemed to want to ask questions as they ran behind him to get scones and jam off the workbench. I liked that children were here, unphased, seeing where the supermarket starts. I wanted to give their parents a high five.

The demonstration was two parts: on the table and on the rack. The first lamb was cut on a steel and the second was hund from a chain on a big green tractor. The butcher would be slicing through the hind leg flaps and say something like "See how easy it gets here, you can really just ride the membrane...." I turned to the designer from New York City next to me and asked, half jokingly "Does your usual Saturday morning have phrases like "ride the membrane" in it?" She smiled back at me and laughed. This was my scene. If there was ever any doubt before, it was shattered as I looked around the barn at my peers, the tables of fresh vegetables and herbs, and the giant map of the United States that stated SERVE YOUR COUNTRY FOOD. Yup, I was a Greenhorn.

As it should, the event completely centered around food. Everyone had a task to help prepare the meal. Some people held the rib cage while the butcher sawed it open and others started making sausage. A few ladies sat out on the sun and cut greens and herbs and others mashed potatoes or sliced bread. I stirred the localy-grown butternut squash soup for lunch, which we ate outside while listening to a lecture on local marketting of farm goods. People without tasks wandered around the wool or tanning demonstrations, giving hand carding or scraping a try. Some paged through farm books or merchandise on display. Others walked around the barns, coops, and stalls. It was a scene out of Currier and Ives if Currier and Ives condoned iPods.

It is not often I am surrounded by so many like-minded people my age. That was the real feast of the day. To be able to lean back against a fence and talk to my peers about compost, greenhouses, or the livestock they'd be raising this spring was a joy I didn't take for granted. Tee shirts with phrases like talk soil to me or illustrating butcher cuts on an old pig illustration were the scrappy/hip clothing. Others wore less snappy, but correct farm clothes (I was one of these cats). Lots of wool, denim, and rubber boots. Our similarities didn't stop at farming and attire either, and this is what made me swoon. There were banjos and guitars all over the place, musicians randomly jamming whenever a free moment struck them. There were dogs running around, smiling and barking. I was silently thrilled at all the young guys everywhere, happy and excited to be around women who share their love of the land. Farming, bluegrass, dogs, coffee, men in beards, chickens clucking in the background....dear lord in heaven what had I done to deserve such a day?

The new lambs of Kinderhook were just born that week, and so every once in a while one made an appearance in the arms of a Greenhorn. I got to hold one of these Dorper/Texel crosses in my arms and bury my nose in it's new wool. Every one of us holding the babe in our arms knew its fate, but were beyond okay with it. Animals at Kinderhook had nearly a year of lush pasture and fields ahead of them. This lamb would know what sunshine and rain felt like, would lay under elm trees and chase ladybugs with the other lambs. It would live as farm animals should and die as they should. The contrarian sequence of watching a lamb being butchered and then holding one in my arms was not at all disturbing. In fact, it was vindicating, and gave me hope for a better future for farm animals in general. This was how things should be done.

We planned to feast that night in a large pole barn. The same place the animal was butchered earlier that morning, but was now transforming from a work station into a dining hall. Long tables were set out with glowing votives as the main light, with centerpieces of eggs and expertly carved onions and turnips dividing the table. The place wafted of spit-grilled lamb, cooking herbs, and hard cider. Outside the barn the bonfire blazed and local beer was on tap at a keg. As the sun went down a game of capture the flag broke out and these twenty and thirty-somethings ran around like children, smiling in ways I'm not used to seeing parents and lawyers smile. All of us had chosen to take a day off from the city, or work, or our usual chores to come together to share the work of a big meal. There was no movies, computer, or video games—just new friends and lots of sunlight. No wonder a random childhood game broke out, we all felt amazing. We felt alive.

As the sun hid I found myself near the bonfire and the band. Red Rooster was there, a folk fusion band from the city. The banjo player saw my fiddle case and asked if I wanted to play a few tunes? Did I!? We played Cripple Creek and State of Arkansas, and other old time songs. I loved that he knew them. I loved even more that the guy stoking the bonfire who owned an orchard close by and the dude from Brooklyn tuning his guitar knew them too, and we all hummed along as the spit turned. The band broke out into songs and played everything from Sitting on top of the World to their originals. I was a pig in shit.

Then someone came down from the farmhouse kitchen with appetizers, small reddish brown balls of lambburger seasoned with herbs and spring veggies. Without hesitation I popped one in my mouth and sweet jeeesus nearly fainted at the taste. It was remarkable how good it was. I had never eaten meat so succulent. It literally dissolved in my mouth, a dance of herbs and juices and pure energy. No part of me felt weird, or bad, or nauseated like I worried I might. It was the first taste of meat in nearly nine years and it was lamb I helped prepare myself at the farm it was born on. I loved it. I was in love with the whole damn day. The food tasted like I felt and I was glad.

Dinner was amazing. You just can't know.

We all stood and joined hands (probably 60 people) and started with a grace thanking (insert your god here) for the lambs, vegetables, weather and community. We were proud to be celebrating such an important agragrian event in such a traditional way. Before us lay the most beautiful spread, all food from local farms inseason here in the Northeast. We ate lamb, of course (crowned and French-boned), mashed potatoes, spring salad greens, and freshly baked bread with homemade butter. Focaicca, scones, jams and apples lined the end tables. As I stood in the banquet line to fill my plate, I noticed it was our hero, Adam the butcher in front of me, now dressed in normal clothes and looking totally different. I told him his lamb was my first non-vegetarian meal in almost a decade. He set down his plate and hugged me like an old college friend.

We sat near each other at the table and I learned we shared similar backgrounds. Adam used to run a successful advertising agency in New York, but found it emotionally draining and pointless. So he gave up that life and went to butchering school at SUNY where he learned humane slaughter, anatomy, and chef-level cuts. Now he works at Marlow and Daughters in Williamsburg, hoping that by choosing to learn the trade he can now help local farmers process their animals outside of CAFOs and in their community instead. He explained he became involved in meat production to improve America's food culture and to help animals live better lives, sharing how the real bottleneck in healthy local meat is there aren't enough people trained in humane slaughter and processing reaching out to small farms, helping them do it right. He wanted to avail himself to those farms and fix what he saw as a dangerous problem. We were two ends of the meal's spectrum, a farmer and a butcher, yet had the same goal in our hearts and minds. I was floored. If he didn't have a wedding ring on his finger I would've stuck around that bonfire a lot longer, let me tell you...

It was the perfect Vernal Equinox. I spent the day with people who share my passion and appreciated their dinner in a whole new way. It was also the end of my life as a vegetarian, brought back into carnivory by the very animal I'm dedicating my life to. And don't worry, you won't see me running to any drive-thrus anytime soon. I vow to only eat meat I raised myself, or was raised the same way I would in my own community. So what does that make me? A Mortgagetarian? A nextdooravore? Anyway, this food choice may make dinners like Saturday's few and far between, but perfect and soooo appreciated when they do. Which is how people probably ate meat in the first place, before the assembly line was accepted as a way to end a life. I refuse to be a part of that. I also refuse to not be a part of what I think is the solution. I ate my lamb dinner happily. It felt right. It felt earned. I felt at home with my table.

Before I headed out the door, I stopped at Severine's table (Director of the Greenhorn movement) and said thanks. She thanked me for coming and waved goodbye. I then grabbed an apple from the bowl next to her for dessert on the drive home. She stopped her conversation with her neighbor, grabbed my hand, and serious as a heart attack said "Wash that. It's Conventional." I nearly teared up leaving the loud, happy, candlelit room as I walked out to the truck. Her words perfectly summarizing the entire day, our entire lives.

I found my tribe.


Blogger Sense of Home said...

What an exciting day! Thanks for sharing it.

March 21, 2010 at 9:50 AM  
Blogger Kathi_Mishek said...

your account of the dinner experience moved me. thank you.

March 21, 2010 at 10:14 AM  
Blogger Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

Jenna, we know right away when we have come Home, wherever that home may be. I am so happy for you. Finding your tribe means everything. Congratulations.

May each step we take Lead the way to Peace.

March 21, 2010 at 10:24 AM  
Blogger E.Cohen said...

I would love a day like that! It read like a playbook for healthy happy living. Good food, good people and good fun!

March 21, 2010 at 10:27 AM  
Blogger Debbie said...

Having grown up on a sheep, and more, farm...I know that day. But, never appreciated it in that way. And, look forward to getting back to that as the Lord wills.
Watching your journey down this path encourages me greatly. are an awesome writer...I simply love to read.

March 21, 2010 at 11:24 AM  
Blogger SWEETHEARTS MOM said...

I wish they had things like this in N TX and I wish I could figure out how to fit this in to a 12 hour work day.

March 21, 2010 at 11:25 AM  
Blogger 6512 and growing said...

Thanks for your well-crafted story about your homecoming. A good education for sure.

March 21, 2010 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Hi Jenna,
I found your blog a couple of weeks ago, and I'm loving it! You are living the life I wish I had embarked on about 30 years ago. Yes, I am THAT old!! So I am living partly vicariously through you, but also making changes in my (and my husband's life) that move us a teeny teeny bit closer to growing some of our own food (in suburbia, dang it all), being conscious of where the rest of our food comes from, and supporting those who work hard to provide us that food. Wish I lived closer to support YOU in person, but at least I can give a "you go girl" from Maryland via the Web.
Hospice RN and armchair homesteader

March 21, 2010 at 12:21 PM  
Blogger Shannan said...

Jenna, I am so glad that it turned out to be such a wonderfull day. Thank you so much for sharing with those of us who do not have these kinds of experiences readily available to us.

March 21, 2010 at 1:10 PM  
OpenID thetinfoilhatsociety said...

Oh, what a day!

I so wish there were something like that around here. I grew up in a hunting family but I honestly don't remember much of the butchering aspect. That's the one thing really keeping me from getting meat birds, or meat rabbits is that I don't have enough of a memory of the slaughter or butchery to feel confident of doing it humanely and I won't make an animal suffer needlessly in its last moments.

It seems that, for once, a trend is beginning in the East and slowly making its way West!

Welcome back to the meat eating world. One caution, from experience: take it slowly. Your body isn't used to digesting red meat any more, and it can make you feel rather under the weather the next day until you adjust.


March 21, 2010 at 1:16 PM  
Blogger katty said...

I am so happy for you and the tears were hard to hold back. closet farmer

March 21, 2010 at 1:55 PM  
Blogger EcoLife said...



I am glad you had a wonderful equinox. I spent mine learning to keep bees and ordering supplies. I do wish we had something like the greenhorn's around here.

March 21, 2010 at 2:31 PM  
Blogger deborahwolfe said...

Great post!

Marlow & Daughters could use some website help.

March 21, 2010 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger Sherry and Russ Sutherby said...

I know how good that dinner was...we process our own lamb too. Lamb burger, grilled lamb chops. Amazing.

March 21, 2010 at 3:11 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

Oh how wonderful - thank you for sharing such an awesome event with all of us. Like Sweethearts Mom, I too wish we had such a thing here. Who knows...maybe one of these days I'll host it myself.

March 21, 2010 at 3:35 PM  
Blogger John from Taos said...

Hooray for you! And you may be interested in my latest blog post...

March 21, 2010 at 4:00 PM  
Blogger MaddyG said...

Wow Jenna, awesome post. Thanks so much for sharing!

March 21, 2010 at 4:01 PM  
Blogger Aimee said...

Your account and the emotions behind it moved me to tears, thank you.

March 21, 2010 at 4:38 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Good on you, and everyone else involved in this event! I so wish I could've been there. This is a great post and perfectly underscores what I love about the greenhorn community.

March 21, 2010 at 4:56 PM  
OpenID ruralaspirations said...

I love the excitement and joy in this post. Congrats on getting back to eating meat. I call it "Ethical Meat" b/c I think saying local-farm-raised, free-range-outdoors, pasture-fed, good-life-living meat is a bit of a mouthful, lol. Not only do I very much enjoy the flavour of meat, but knowing how it got there just adds to the experience of eating it.

March 21, 2010 at 5:38 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

Welcome back to carnivory, Jenna, and thanks for relating your experience. Nextdooravore gets my vote- I like it much better than locavore.

Here's hoping I become a myyardavore!

March 21, 2010 at 5:57 PM  
Blogger solstice said...

I'm so jealous that you have found such an amazingly supportive community. I'm right at the start of my farming journey - living in a city with a small garden on my terrace and documenting my story on my blog
Any advice on how to find like-minded people?

March 21, 2010 at 6:38 PM  
Blogger LindaSue said...

Thanks for sharing. So glad you had the chance to do the day there. You deserve it after all the stress and other things you have been through.

March 21, 2010 at 7:00 PM  
Blogger Debi said...

Thank you for sharing that beautiful day with us...I was moved to tears. I'm so happy that things are turning out so well for you!


March 21, 2010 at 7:08 PM  
Blogger Maria said...

Wow, what a great day! You made me feel like I was there at your equinox party. Welcome back to carnivory. I feel exactly like you do.

March 21, 2010 at 7:15 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

everyone! the greenhorns is a national group! with events all over the country, and A LOT in the NYC metro area. Most of the young people bussed up from New York, so if you're down there all sorts of events are going down. Get in touch with them, get on the map and host an event!

it's our job to get farming, and farmers, out there and in each others lives. And the website also has free resources for new farmers, which you should jump on!!

March 21, 2010 at 7:41 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

What an absolutely poetic telling of your day at the event. It's just the sort of thing I would love to attend. I'm so glad for you, that you were able to go, learn and enjoy!

March 21, 2010 at 8:27 PM  
Blogger bellananda said...


seriously, as you keep doing, you just made my day. and inspired me to figure out how to bring such events to life here in KC.


March 21, 2010 at 9:31 PM  
Blogger melinamarie said...

Thanks so much for writing this it makes me hold on to the day. You confirmed all my feeling towards this weekend. Amazing! There is no exaggeration in calling it heaven. It was it really was. Sometimes I felt like pinching myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. I have to upload my pics from day two. I wish you could have stayed longer.

We did yoga in the pasture this morning. Our sun salutations worked!

We must get together again. For your farm and for future Greenhorn events, I'm excited to hear they are doing an event in Maine in August.To all the readers wishing. The Greenhorns are everywhere. And if they are not already having and event in your area I'm sure they would be interested in organizing one.

March 21, 2010 at 10:17 PM  
Blogger SouthernHeart said...

I'm truly happy for you, Jenna. Thanks for so beautifully sharing the day with us.

March 21, 2010 at 10:38 PM  
Blogger Robin said...

Sounds like a great day! The pic of the meal was great -- looked tasty. And knowing how to prepare meat really is a lost art; it's refreshing to see so many people interested in it. However, I do have a question, which brings us back to Chuck Klosterman, I thought he became stew?

March 21, 2010 at 11:03 PM  
Blogger Erika said...

I really had hopes of going and at the last minute we had surprise guests from Brooklyn. I'm just glad they do a lot of stuff near me. I plan to sign up for their mailing so that I can do future events.

March 22, 2010 at 12:00 AM  
Blogger Pam said...

Sounds like a wonderful way to welcome Spring. Isn't it a great feeling to find and spend time with people that are similar to you. It is truely a sense of coming home.


March 22, 2010 at 8:37 AM  
Blogger Don said...

Jenna......just a note to thank you for being an inspiration. Back in Ocotber 09 I ran across your website. At 59 years old I had always wanted to play the fiddle and reading your website made me want to go out and purchase a fiddle and a copy of Old-Time Fiddle for the complete ignoramus. Well that was 20 weeks ago and how do I thank you for making me understand that if you want it........go for it. Each day I continue to improve and I look forward to the day when I can jam with others. You truly have given a gift to someone you do not know. Thanks again........I look forward to reading you stories and hope the best for you.

March 22, 2010 at 8:56 AM  
Blogger 脣形 said...

I love readding, and thanks for your artical. ........................................

March 22, 2010 at 10:32 AM  
OpenID thatsthelife said...

What a wonderful day and a pleasure to read!

My partner had fish for the first time in over ten years last christmas. We were given a big slab of locally caught halibut, and we cooked it over the campfire.

food that's fresh and without poisons, meat that's grown without chemicals and with minimal stress really does taste amazing.

We've started using the term "food orgasm" for the stuff that's just beyond words. It's such a primal thing to be eating food as fresh and healthy as it was meant to be. It makes every cell in our bodies sing.

If you're ever in our neck of the woods we'll take you to the mussel and oyster beaches - there is nothing on earth like fresh shellfish that you dug from the ground and cooked in sea water. Eating this way is like a deep meditation.

I think that's why "Ohm" is so close to "Mmm!"

March 22, 2010 at 11:24 AM  
Blogger Mud Mama said...

I want to share with you our very favorite blessing.

We sing it, holding hands around our table.

For sun and rain
For grass and grain
For beasts we eat and dairy treats
For those that toil on seed and soil
That we may eat our daily food
We give our loving thanks to you!

March 22, 2010 at 12:19 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

I thought this was an awesome post I stumbled upon just now from a totally different blog:

The writer respectively talks about eating meat, or not. I appreciated it.

March 22, 2010 at 2:02 PM  
Blogger Crystal said...

Fantastic post Jenna.

March 22, 2010 at 5:54 PM  
Blogger J said...


March 22, 2010 at 6:25 PM  
Blogger Tammy said...

How wonderful, the perfect day!

March 22, 2010 at 6:55 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Nice post, Jenna.

Now that you're officially no longer a vegetarian, I wondered if I could ask a question. What's your perspective on meat from hunting? I'm not a hunter. Like you, I'm committed to eating only meat raised near me according to ethics I can honor. But recently I've been seeing and reading some things that really make me think again about hunting for meat. It's not that I ever condemned it. Just have never done it myself. Seems to me that wild animals killed cleanly for food are much in the same ethical category as humanely raised/killed farm animals. They led free lives and knew only the natural stresses of their environment.

What's your take?

March 22, 2010 at 7:17 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

I really enjoyed this post Jenna. Thanks for sharing. I hope you that might find you a set of Antlers at one of these meetings! No pressure you have lots of years to find the "right" one! : )

March 22, 2010 at 7:35 PM  
Blogger ~ Janis said...

Enjoyed every word, every photo, every wonderful observation. This kind of event should be held in every agricultural county in NY & VT --and beyond.

March 22, 2010 at 8:18 PM  
Blogger 背影 said...

加油!!! 很棒的分享~ ........................................

March 23, 2010 at 4:28 AM  
Blogger South Brunswick Public Library Blog said...

Jenna - Work at a library - PR - and have been reading your blog as I update mine each day - doing more reading than updating actually. Really hope all the best for you. You are like a dear friend.

March 23, 2010 at 1:00 PM  
Blogger Moose said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 23, 2010 at 7:13 PM  
Blogger Moose said...

Hi Jenna,

I've been laughing and crying at this blog for about six months now and the image of this party going on near enough to my old stomping grounds finally motivated me to say hi. I live in California now, it's Greenhorn heaven (although I just learned the word today!), and you make me so thankful for my community and the others like it in the world!

March 23, 2010 at 7:16 PM  
Blogger Muffy Sainte-Marie said...

best! blog post! evah!

March 27, 2010 at 1:39 AM  

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