Saturday, August 2, 2014

Dirt, Sex, & Death

This morning I harvested two plump chickens, and they are currently resting in the fridge, wrapped up, and the meat resting for a meal tomorrow night with friends visiting from another farm. I'm so excited about the meal to come! It will be a feast to welcome Autumn, which is only a few weeks away. I'll be serving Cold antler Farm chicken, roasted over a bed of my gardens kale and Adirondack Blue potatoes from my own patch. Have you ever tried blue potatoes? They mash into a purple and fluffy starch, and drizzled with homemade gravy and a slice of chicken they are heaven at the end of a fork.

I know that all sounds dreamy, and to some of you it may even sound envious. But what a lot of food writers don't share is the story before the Pinterest-Ready spread. They either weren't a part of that process or don't want to upset the readership by talking about butchering the farm-raised birds. Folks want to see saturated photographs of beautiful, crunchy, people eating wholesome food Al Fresco, haloed by candlelight fireflies. Because just an hour ago I was outside in the woods behind my farm with a boning knife, blood on body and kilt, hunched over the unpleasantness of a large, dead bird. I had chopped off his head, was in the process of pulling off the skin, and at the moment I am sharing was trying to get it off the tricky leg bone while ignoring the mess of flies and gnats swirling all around me. I had to cut open the body cavity, pull out the entrails, and set them all into the small pit I had buried in the forest. The Earth must be fed, too. And while it is more likely small critters will get to the pile of blood, features, and guts plenty will flow through the soil and feed the forest's bed.

So there I was, hunched and sweating, trying to skin a bird. I have to stress that this process is not fun, certainly the least enjoyable part about raising backyard food. I don't like butchering chickens, but I have gotten good at it. These two went from live animals to resting meat in the fridge in under fifteen minutes. It's been a hard-earned skill I am proud of it, but I wouldn't want my mom walking back into my mowed forest paths to find me there among the carnage. I know she'd be disappointed to see her college-educated daughter gutting a chicken in her backyard. It just wasn't the plan she had in store for me. But I can't not smile when I think of the last time my folks visited me, just a few weeks ago, and my mother could not stop raving about the meal Patty and Mark fed her at Livingston Brook Farm. All we had was a roasted cornish cross bird, like the ones I had that just harvested, cooked in a rotisserie and served with homemade potato salad and greens from Mark's garden. She said she never ate a chicken so good and I'm pretty sure it was the first backyard bird she has eaten in her adult life. It was a meal to remember, a wonderful grouping of family and friends, but that night meant defrosting a bird from Patty's freezer that she and I butchered last autumn. In the local history of that meal was a day like this morning, unpleasant and smelly.

I want this blog to share the beautiful and the disgusting. There are plenty of places all over the blog to watch people living a seemingly perfect homesteading life, and who knows, maybe they are? But this blog is a place where cute chicks turn into epic meals and the story of that journey includes the heartbreak of predators, the smells of a gut bucket, and the recipes of the final product. The whole story is here, along with the reasoning behind it, and while that has caused me plenty of problems along the way I think there is value to be had in the earnestness of it all. If Cold Antler is to thrive it is not because people want to learn to raise their own dinner parties. It is because they want to know why they crave learning it. And can hear first hand along the way not what it means to be a homemaker, but to make a home.

Homesteading is not Pinterest. It is not the glossy magazine on your coffee table. It is not the books on your dresser, the tools in your shed, or even this blog;. Homesteading is the personal experience of making a small piece of land your everything. It is 40 acres and a draft horse and it is a pot of basil in a Chicago window. It is learning the wild and wonderful shapeshifting of going from consumer to producer, to being feral in a world of domesticated people. It is spending a morning slaughtering chickens while the neighbors drive past on their way to the supermarket. It is growing a vegetable curry over three months. It taking the time to put on a meal for two freinds with the excitement of a rock concert. It is being apart from those who turned their backs on what it means to get dirty, bloddy, tired and free. It is being closer to the earth that feeds you, and being okay with not a single other person understanding why. Homesteading is all this, and it is available to every human animal hungry enough to run past the pavement without looking back. It's dirt, sex, and death. It is sunlight, meditaton and birth. It's what we were meant to do.

It's worth dissapointing your parents over.
It's worth the laundry.
It's worth everything.


Blogger barbsbirds13 said...

Well written, Jenna. Thanks :)

August 2, 2014 at 11:32 AM  
Blogger Mel Baker said...

Well said, Jenna. Enjoy your dinner.

August 2, 2014 at 3:11 PM  
Blogger Nancy po said...

I will add- I have pinterest boards on urban homesteading, outdoor (rough) kitchens, etc. Some people just use it to share ideas. While I don't raise meat birds, I get it. Not a fun way to harvest food, but you probably don't get attached to your birds, and they're just little meatz...

August 2, 2014 at 4:28 PM  
Blogger sandalfoot said...

What passion you have for what you are doing, how you are living, your every day. I suspect very few people share such passion. I admire you, as I have said before. What wonderful spirit. "It is being close to the earth that feeds you, and being ok with not a single person understanding why." How many people go through their days, their lives, without a thought of the earth that feeds them. Easy, and somewhat mindless, to grab a few pounds of beef and find the best price per pound of poultry. I've been there. But I've also been witness to grandparents who raised everything they ate, East European immigrants, brought their peasant lifestyle with them. I saw the slaughter of poultry and hogs, the gathering of fruits and vegetables, canning, pickling, fermenting, whatever it took to make that food they raised last the year, until it was time to start over. Good for you, Jenna. I bet there are many folk out there who don't get it. "....not a single person understanding why...." Again, good for you Jenna. Thank you.

August 2, 2014 at 6:27 PM  
Blogger Peter Uphold said...

I really don't recall how I found your blog, but I totally love it! And today's post pretty much sums up why!

August 2, 2014 at 7:52 PM  
Blogger Phyllis Franklin said...

Thank you!
I have been having a super-tough time slowing down my dreams of turning these two swampy Florida acres (Soggy Bottom Farm) into my dream homestead.
I had my third baby on March 31- a healthy homebirth. And we are wonderfully blessed with our older children as well. We homeschool, we work, we shop and we visit. But one thing we don't do right now is homestead. My garden has gone to weeds, and I haven't gotten any animals yet due to the swampiness of this land.
One thing at a time, I suppose. But it's tough when I want so badly to get busy.
Thank you for reminding me that any little tiny thing I do is homesteading in my heart. My knitting bag hanging on the hook on the wall that I grab for those car trips to Grandma's house. The books with the pretty pictures that I love to read. The seed and chicken catalogs on my desk. The basil that, blessedly, keeps reseeding itself. These things are homesteading. And for now, they will have to be enough.
Keep writing always, Jenna,
you have a wonderful voice.

August 2, 2014 at 8:32 PM  
Blogger Kyler and Sylvia said...

Great post, Jenna.

August 3, 2014 at 6:26 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

I have 5 CornishXs that weren't big enough for the trip to the custom slaughter house with the Colored Cornish and Kosher Kings last week. They will be dispatched and processed as you described. My 3 extra roos will go the same way. I sacrifice the wings and cut off the feet which makes skinning go much faster. Nancy Po, meat birds would be extremely hard to get attached to. They eat, drink, poo and sit in it to rest until the next eating orgy. That is why they are ready at 7-9 weeks.

August 4, 2014 at 3:42 PM  
Blogger k said...

Love it - enjoy your fresh killed birds, and thank you for sharing that part with us too. I am not a homesteader (as yet), but this morning I caught, killed, cleaned and filleted a salmon for my freezer. I felt very proud last night eating salmon I caught another day, certainly not a feeling I'd ever get from the grocery store. I look forward to soon having my own garden so that I can make a complete meal from things I have grown or harvested myself.

August 4, 2014 at 5:50 PM  
Blogger Heather Knoll said...

I love your bluntness & your honesty Jenna. Thank you! This is why I read your blog :).

August 5, 2014 at 2:07 PM  
Blogger Lone Pine Farm said...

Homesteading is glorious and delicious, but is also full of dirt and death, as you say. Thank you for sharing ALL sides of your journey, not just the picture-perfect-in-pink snapshots. This is what drew me to your blog, and what keeps me here, and provides me inspiration as I walk my own homesteading path. Keep up the great work!!!!

August 5, 2014 at 5:41 PM  
Blogger Mrs.Haggie810 said...


August 10, 2014 at 12:06 PM  

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