As many of you know, I was very into vegetarianism for many years. In 1997 I ate chicken for the last time. I remember the night very clearly, my friend Ty made a really good chicken teriyaki. My boyfriend at the time, Jay, and I had been discussing trying to stop eating meat. I enjoyed that chicken, savored the wonderful meal my friend had prepared for us, and then made the decision to forgo meat.
My decision was twofold, and only one was beneficial. I stopped eating meat primarily because I just cannot support feedlots, force-feeding corn to ruminants who's biology is designed for eating grass, pigs forced to live in tiny pens with their tails painfully lopped off, chickens unable to establish their pecking order and having their beaks clipped, and the many other horrors and injustices of the conventional meat industry. On top of this suffering also comes the environmental impacts of these farms. Along with the chemicals they carry, I chose to not put that "bad energy" into my body and my life.
That does not mean that I reject the food chain. Humans are omnivores who progressed and thrived by hunting, gathering, and the development of agriculture. Meat production doesn't have to be like this. When I made the decision to come to Creque Dam Farm I also made the decision to support the local farmers who are raising animals in a humane and beneficial manner.
Along with this decision to eat meat I feel like I have a responsibility to deal with my underlying issues. That brings me to the second reason I stopped eating meat. You can call it 'for health reasons' or however you want to sugar-coat it, but the reality is that I am terrified to gain weight. Not eating meat is a way to control your intake and becomes a good excuse for not partaking in a heavy meal. I have gained weight since I started eating this local meat.. I see it and I feel it. Why is it so important to me? Can I just use proper portion control and maybe just find a way to be happy with a heavier me? Where is healthy? These are the questions that everyone must ask themselves from time to time. What is a healthy amount of attention to what you eat and what is obsession?
I am making progress. Part of coming to terms with accepting myself eating meat and being happy about it is to understand where animals fit into our system. Animals play a key role in any diversified farm.
Krystle Arcamo is our animal husbandry apprentice here at the farm. She cares for our goats, chickens, and rabbits. She took the time with us to show the group of us what jobs the animals perform here and also gave me the opportunity to understand the life-cycle on a deeper level. Thank you to Krystle for her support and hard work.
The chickens on the farm here are housed in chicken tractors. These pens are moved over the hard and unworked ground that we would like to prepare for planting. The chickens eat the weeds, the insects, scratch up the ground and fertilize it with their waste. The chickens do a lot of work for us. They are a part of this farm as they provide us with eggs, fertilize the ground, work the soil, and eventually feed us and our friends.
Goats and Beef
St. Croix has very little agriculture, but one thing it does have is one good grass-fed cattle farm. The Senepol beef at Annaly Farms is grass-fed, grass-finished, free-range, and is actually less expensive than the USDA beef shipped in from the states. I have seen the happy cows in the field and I know that they are raised with love. They are not pumped with antibiotics because they are not as prone to infection as cows that are suffering the effects of eating grain. We often eat this meat on the farm and I am happy to support this local food producer. There is a demand for milk on the farm as it is one thing we have to purchase at the store or co-op. I hope Penelope goat (or whatever they are calling her now) will produce milk for us to drink and make cheese from. In the future we may expand our small herd of goats to include some cattle.
At home we always had rabbits as pets, rabbits as fur producers, and as a meat producer in lean times. To this day I do not know how my mother culled and processed the rabbit we ate, after this experience I am ready to find out. Part of coming to terms with eating meat was the process of respecting the life that you are taking and giving thanks for the sacrifice. Krystle gave me the opportunity to observe the harvest of a few of our older female rabbits that were not reproducing well and not tending to their litters appropriately.
I started by learning how to tan the hide of a bunny that was culled earlier that morning. I took a small piece and scraped the fat, flesh, and oil from the skin with a machete. I then hammered it to a board to stretch in the sun. When I first approached the freshly skinned hide, at first I couldn't touch it. I watched Marshall begin the process I knew that working the hide would help ease me into the idea. I was nervous.
Krystle brought the fluffy, snow-white bunny to the table. Marshall and Wren held her down and calmed her while Krystle took a breath, found the veins in her neck, and quickly cut each of the two main arteries. She only fought a little and as Ben and I watched the blood drain out in silence we thanked her for her sacrifice. It was over quickly, but it seemed like an eternity.
I felt at peace when I sat down to eat the Rabbit Rice we had for dinner last night. I could honor the life of that rabbit, what she gave to the farm in the form of baby bunnies, manure, and sustenance for all of us who life off what this farm produces. It is the life-cycle. Life is beautiful.