I was adamant about leaving as early as possible Sunday morning. I was NOT sitting in the nose bleeds for Joel Salatin’s chicken processing demonstration. This was, after all, the MAIN reason I had purchased the tickets to begin with. If only I knew how much planning ahead would benefit me later in the day…
When we arrived, (besides the bathroom) we high-tailed it to the Modern Homesteading Stage where the demo was going to take place. Errr… Or not! A big sign met us to let us know the chicken processing demo would be taking place on the Mother Earth News Stage. So, again with the high-tailing but to another part of the fair. We made it & took some seats, hoping that there wasn’t another last minute change of plans & this was where we actually needed to be.
The “Slow Money” presentation would be happening first & I’m really glad we got to sit in on that. I wasn’t planning to – but it was super informative & the crowd-sourcing aspect for supporting small-scale agriculture was immensely uplifting. Being broke, you tend to often want to do more than your finances allow. But combine a lot of those people together, you can do a lot. Make your investments stretch further & look into Slow Money.
A little story… On the way to the Fair Sunday morning, I was telling Mr. Enders about my Grandparents’ pseudo farm & the fond memories I had. My cousin & I still laugh to this day about chucking a piece of bread to distract the rooster & running like hell to get the eggs, making a mad dash out with the bastard hot on our heels. I remember their big fat goat “Meatball” & to this day, I still walk super slowly to the front door & observe the goats & their duck, Nippy. As they aged, my Grandparents stopped replacing the chickens. They did recently acquire a new duck who was wandering the freeway, but they’re not egg producers or dinner.
Once, PETA got a hold of my brain cells & watching what happened in factory farms turned us vegetarian for a while. Now, mind you, vegetarian to a couple of young 20-somethings who were working long hours was more like soy dogs & chick’n nuggets as opposed to actual vegetables. No lie when I say we would still go to McDonalds, order a Big Mac sans meat patty & replace it with French fries & call it “vegetarian”. Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up. Eventually we gave up vegetarianism, because chicken was just too darn tasty.
But something profound happened when I started checking out food documentaries from the library. Something about that crazy lunatic farmer guy, yammering on about salad bar beef, taking such an interest in the different varieties of grass & clover in his field & lovingly lounging in the pasture with a pig foraging behind him. It’s like something snapped. Aside from the beginning seeds of inspiration planted by my Grandparents, I fully credit Joel Salatin for the reality slap that something is severely wrong with our food system (& vegetarianism isn’t THE end all, be all answer). Supporting local farms & small agribusiness is. Shopping in your own backyard & within a 50-mile radius, which means for us in the PNW, pineapples, guavas, mangos, heck oranges — those suckers are OUT. But we get to keep apples & pears (my favorite fruits anyway).
The conversation is a bit hazy & I had to sit down promptly after shaking his hand & jabbering my jaw off….
“Mr. Salatin, Danielle Ouellette, it’s a real pleasure to meet you. Could I get an autograph?”
“Sure thing! Your name again?”
“Danielle. Can I just say you really truly changed my life? I was the type of person who would pound Big Macs & not even think about it.”
(He gave that humored smile you saw in the photo.)
“But I saw you in Food Inc & it’s like something just clicked. It all made sense. I couldn’t keep living that way. And now… I care. And I want things to change. I want to be a crazy farmer! This is Brian, my husband, he’s been supportive this entire journey & now he wants to be a crazy farmer too. Mind if we get a picture?”
“Not at all!”
After the photo, I was seriously shaking like a leaf & I thought my knees were going to give out from under me. It’s really funny how nervous I was about approaching these amazing people who truly have helped me see a better way & a community I want to be a part of, they’re totally fine. They’re humbled & happy to see my enthusiasm. But me… I think I’m going to pass out =b
Speaking of passing out, I really truly thought I was going to hawk my cookies & have to leave during the chicken processing demonstration. BUT I DIDN’T! In fact, I kept my cool & found it extremely educational & insightful. It’s very obvious & well known the reason you buy from small farms is the attention to detail & their love for their craft to produce a quality product to their customers. But Joel & David Schafer were very upfront & comforting regarding the death “issue”. They discussed how slaughter day is a very solemn day. You brought this life into the world, kept it alive, you are responsible to make sure the bird leaves this earth with dignity. I would much rather slaughter a chicken with attention & care for the animal than think how they just process thousands a day in factory farm slaughter floors.
Don’t ask how, but after watching the processing demo, we were still hungry & indulged in organic nachos & a gluten free crepe.
Brian decided he is going to attempt to make a solar powered set up to charge cell phones for next year’s Relay for Life.
Danny oogled over Mountain Rose Herbs booth set up. Sign reads: Everything in our booth is made from recycled, reclaimed or reused materials.
This is pretty much what I want our home to be like: recycled, reclaimed & reused. So the booth made me super happy! 😀
And we swung by the electric cars one more time, just because we thought they were SO cool. We’re pondering the benefit of an electric truck over plant-based biodiesel.
In between, we checked out Ed Begley Jr’s (of Arrested Development & Living with Ed fame) discussion “Live Simply so Others Could Simply Live”. He really hit home with us about doing the little things you can do now, because let’s face it — solar panels are EXPENSIVE. Electric cars are EXPENSIVE. But biking and just turning off the light when you leave the room or adding weather stripping around your door are all fairly inexpensive & totally obtainable goals for someone in our financial state of student loan hell.
We split up so Brian could go learn about “Passive Solar Design, Straw bale homes & Masonry Heaters” while I claimed our seats & refused to move during Linda Gilkeson’s “Your Year Round Harvest Starts NOW” regarding the divine temperate climate we Pacific Northwesterns get to enjoy, which makes growing year-round possible. Due to that inspiration, I decided to swing by Botanical Interest one more time for a few hardier varieties (kale, carrots, etc) to grow over the winter (stay tuned for those updates!)
And we ended the day watching Joel’s presentation: “Don’t be Scared. Be Strange!” He covered seven of the most common fears of going into farming full-time, hitting the nail on the head for us. Every. Single. TIME. We have a lack of money. We have a lack of land. We have a lack of work force & supporters. We have a lack of tools & knowledge & in general, a lack of EVERYTHING — except passion. Passion & determination & true belief this is what our calling is, we are abundant in those things.
On the way home I asked Brian, “Did you feel like he was talking to us? Like, he was talking to the crowd but did you get the impression he might of once or twice been looking at us & directly saying YOU — stop being scared & just do it”
“Yeah, a little”
He’s a hell of a man that Joel Salatin. I went to Mother Earth News Fair just to see him & walked away with so much more…
Anytime I have one of them hard days… when I’m wondering if this is really what we want… when the siren call of a Big Mac hits me harder than a freight train… when everybody is wondering just what to make Danny for dinner because well, she’s a “food snob”… when we’re eating lentils again because we put so much money to the student loan debt we forgot to factor in buying groceries because we want the debt gone to save up for the farm… when the strawberries are 99c a pound but they’re pesticide ridden… when my turnips won’t grow because it’s friggin January & we had an unexpected Arctic gust shit snow on us…. when I lose a chicken to a coyote or the damn tomatoes have blight AGAIN… I have a little scrap of paper that sums it all up…
Someone out there is rooting for me.
And that someone happens to be the person who inspired me to be a lunatic farmer.
I asked my 3 year old, “What do you want to be when she grows up?”. She looked at me innocently, without even the remotest bit of stress on her face regarding the situation & said “I don’t know”. Fair enough. At 3, I’m pretty sure I wanted to be a painter or a dancer or a singer. At one point, I wanted to be like my mom whom at the time was a vet assistant. Eventually I wanted to be a rock star. As I exited high school & had to make some kind of concrete (realistic) decision, I opted for an elementary school teacher. After decided four years of college was too much, I chose a photographer. Once I saw the cut throat market, I opted for stay-at-home-parent (on accident, twice over).
But being a stay-at-home parent, although fulfilling in so many ways, doesn’t fill a void I have to answer that question with something more permanent. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. Eventually, my position as domestic goddess will expire as the children will be able to take care of themselves. I stay awake at night wondering, “What will I do with myself then?”
On a particularly low day, I recently googled “How to Find Your Life Purpose”. Sifting through the typical religious sites & a few with more of a Fight Club theme (“You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else… Oh & by the way, you have NO LIFE PURPOSE!”)… I finally found one that semi-helped.
It told me to write. Write & write & write & don’t stop until you write the one thing that makes you cry.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t take it seriously. And I didn’t until I was watching Hungry for Change & I started crying with Frank Ferrante when he described how much he hated himself & how painful it was to let other people love him. I realized, food is my passion. Not JUST food — but GOOD food. My actions may not always show it (I’m drinking a Monster Java after I had a donut for breakfast), but I care about the food system. I care about farmers & farm land preservation. I care about animal welfare & soil nutrient balance. I got teary-eyed as Michael Pollan described Polyface Farms in The Omnivore’s Dilemma & the beautiful orchestrated balancing act of animals nurturing the land & the land sustaining the animals residing there. I feel so warm & moved when I read about people who have essentially saved their own lives through diet change or gave their food desert neighborhood access to fresh vegetables by starting a community garden. I feel so connected & like part of something greater when I go to farmers markets & chat with growers.
This weekend, we went to the Evergreen State Spring Fair. I was primarily going to listen in on Ciscoe Morris’ garden talk, but Monster Girl getting to enjoy a carnival ride & The Mister indulging in some BBQ were perks worth the $5 parking fee. Ciscoe’s talk was packed. There wasn’t even any seating available. People were drawn to him because not only is he one of our state’s master gardeners — he’s entertaining & he’s funny… & he’s passionate. I didn’t say anything to any one of the audience members. I didn’t even get to say anything to Mr. Morris himself. But I smiled so hard at seeing so many people taking interest in their own backyard & what they could do with it.
The beauty of talking to people who make your food is information. Knowledge is power. And people deserve the right to that power (which is why there are so many petitions & bills being presented requesting labeling of products with GMOs in them! Contact your state’s legislative team today if you want access to that power!) — We found out at the Spring Fair why our beloved Tribley’s BBQ sauce has high fructose corn syrup in it (& how they are working to try to find an alternative). We were able to talk to many BBQ’ers about who sources their meat & what they add to their sauces. But my favorite part of the event?
We got to chitchat with the proprietors of R Heritage Farm. Based out of Gold bar, they raise natural, pasture fed heritage breeds of pork & poultry. Their booth was full of so much information, I STILL haven’t even gotten to process it all & the photos of their beautiful animals made me green with envy… & terribly hungry! Recipe sheets & photo slideshows can only tell you so much though. Actually getting to talk to Ben, his energy is just electric. He truly beams with pride about his products & their sustainability on the farm. Again, there it was… that passion.
WHAT IS IT about being out in nature that makes people so passionate they come off as being totally CRAZY!? Funny story, I first noticed this when we were watching Food Inc for the first time. Brian, being a man, is very visual. He has to SEE things rather than listen to his nagging wife tell him why GMOs are bad & the damage the current food system inflicts on the planet. He knows his wife is a tree hugger. He also knows I have a tendency to overreact. That being said, food documentaries are how I’ve convinced him otherwise. While watching Food Inc, I’d refer to probably the most well known “grass farmer” as “that crazy farmer guy”. Brian would be chasing Princess Cthulhu or washing the dinner dishes & he’d ask from inside the kitchen, “What’d I miss?” — “Oh ya know, that crazy farmer guy is back on… He’s on the ground with some pigs”.
And now… 6 months later… I’m totally smitten over “that crazy farmer guy” & forked out mucho dineros to be able to watch him process a chicken at the Mother Earth News Fair next month.
As we walked away from R Hertiage’s booth at the fair & Ben’s speech on the benefits of cooking with lard (I promised I would give it a try), Brian looked at me & said “That guy was kind of crazy”
“Yeah… Kind of like Joel… But that’s going to be me one day.”
“I want to be that crazy, eccentric farmer person”