Poultry Farming

This weekend, as is usual for me, I spent a fair amount of time dispensing advice and ideas on how to cook a chicken (pressure cooker! Dutch oven! Butterflied! Yogurt-marinated! I could go on ...) And, as I do most days, I spent some time considering the price of our chicken.

A big worry for Zack and I is that we are pricing out the lower-income consumers. This is not our intent, and is something we work to avoid. However, our profits are not very large, and we live on the margins, so we can't shave them too slim. With the food from Laughing Earth, you are paying closer to the full cost of your food than when you shop at the grocery store, which means the price tag is larger. 

However, paying more per pound up front does not mean you're getting a worse deal. You get the flavor, the moist meat, the heart-warming experience of buying direct from the person who raised the animal. You get the option to take a walk in a beautiful place to visit the chickens while they are growing on pasture. You get the opportunity to ask the farmer for cooking advice when you buy it. 

You also know that the people who raise the chicken are not locked into a sharecropper system of debt whereby their choices are eroded in the name of funneling more profits to a corporation.

You also know that the people who process the chickens (the same as the people who raise them, on our farm!) have safe working conditions, and only perform the job for half a day every two weeks, reducing the risk for repetitive stress injury. They are not berated and threatened to encourage them to work faster.

Our farm is not perfect. We don't pay our employees as much as we would like to, and our pastures could be more diverse and fertile. But we are trying to acknowledge the downsides of meat eating, and trying to address those issues and reduce them. 

So the next time you visit our farm or market stand and find yourself thinking, "Wow, that's a lot of money for chicken" ... think again. Your decision to purchase organic, small-scale, local chicken is helping to turn the tide away from human rights abuses in the poultry industry. It's also helping one family in your community to live their dream.

Community and the path forward

Today I am feeling very grateful to my elders. I don't mean old people, I mean those who walked this path before me. Those who walked this path before I discovered it, who improved the trail, built the bridges, and made a map. Those who did all that so that they could use the trail, but then stayed to help guide me as well. 

Farming is not an easy business. There is no kind of farming that is easy. Small-scale, sustainable, diversified farming is an especially difficult business. Not only are we growing food, but we are also trying to change people's minds, repair damaged ecosystems, alleviate climate change, build communities where they have been hollowed by the ravages of a capitalist economy that cares not for human lives, repair people's severed connections with the natural world ... In other words, there's a big load to carry. Maybe not all of my farming peers feel that this is their job description, but I do, and I often feel like I'm in the middle of the ocean riding on an inflatable pool toy. In this line of work, the community of fellow farmers is everything.

Today I had the pleasure of receiving knowledge and guidance from one of my elders, someone not so old in years but deep in his well of understanding. Sitting at his table, talking through what he has seen and what we are struggling with felt like climbing aboard a ship after being adrift in that ocean. There's hope. There are others feeling this way, others working through these problems, and workable solutions are attainable. We can succeed, and are not doomed to poverty and losing the farm and whatever other horrible fates visit my mind in the darkness of night. 

I left his house feeling so flooded by gratitude, that he had spent so much of his valuable time - not just on us, mind you, he is a mentor, a guide on the trail, to an entire generation of farmers - to reassure us and to show us where to go and how to build something successful. Here is someone who understands what a community is. When one of us is raised up, it raises us all. A rising tide lifts all ships, if you have a ship. So help the others get a ship, too, or pull them on board yours. 

Our mentor and his partner are exemplary in the community in their commitment to raising us all as they are raised, in distributing their earned knowledge as widely and as thoroughly as they possibly can. They are not the exception, though. I am so glad to be a member of a peer group that by and large views each other as co-conspirators rather than competitors. Our "competitors" are the industrial food system, human lethargy and ignorance about what we're doing to the world, and environmental degradation. Our fellow farmers are equally as important to our success as we ourselves are. I am glad to have been brought into farming by mentors such as these, who have gifted me with an abundance mindset, rather than a view of scarcity. See all that we have to work with - Sun, soil, water,  flora, fauna, people with such towering gifts. Such a huge net of interactions to learn from, to draw on, to benefit from. 

Spending time with mentors such as these helps me to re-center myself into a positive focus on the things that matter. We are here to grow life, to grow love, to leave things better than we found them. I only hope that, when given the opportunity, I offer similar help to those following me down the path.

The Real Cost of Meat

This willful blindness allows them to continue to participate in the industrial food system. If they cannot acknowledge that their hamburger has ever been a cow, then why would they care whether that cow had ever eaten grass or gotten to wade through a verdant pasture? Why would they care how that cow died? Why would they care whether the slaughterhouse workers were given adequate breaks, safety gear, or physical therapy if they experienced repetitive stress injuries? Why would they care what happens to the manure produced by that cow and its millions of brethren?

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Careening toward the year's end

Fall seems like it should be a time of winding down on a farm ... but it doesn't quite feel that way here. I feel inspired to write a blog post because there are just too many things still to talk about!

First off, pork is coming soon! The pigs are FAT and HAPPY!! I will be contacting the lucky recipients of these delicious creatures very soon, to make arrangements to get them into your freezers.

Second, our turkey pre-orders are filling rapidly. If you haven't reserved your Thanksgiving turkey yet, get to it NOW! They are also growing quickly, and passing from gangly youths into more majestic adults. Still goofy, but majestically goofy.

Then, on to the garden. The FarmShare still has 3 weeks to go, but now I am gearing up to sign you up for NEXT year! Get your renewal forms starting on 10/19, and your new-member forms shortly after.

Garlic planting is coming up - 10/20 from 9 til noon. Don't miss the fun!

WinterShare sign-ups are in full swing. If you are interested in 3 (or even just 1) boxes of delicious, nutritious storage crops over the winter, get in touch! The pick-up dates will be 12/1/16, 12/15/16, and 1/12/17. A 25 lb box is $75, and will contain a variety - some combination ofonions, winter squash, rutabaga, turnips, beets, leeks, daikon radishes, and watermelon radishes.

It is time to start thinking about holiday decor - I am taking pre-orders, at a 5% discount, until November 15th. Wreaths, kissing balls, swag, roping ... get in touch with your requests.

Additionally, I am excited to announce that in April 2017, we will be having a Spring Share for those of you who really love the tender spring crops. Four extra weeks of FarmShare! Keep your eye out for details.


James Smith

Researched and Written by Chris Kelly

James Smith

James Smith was born in Ireland in December 1838 or 1839. He came to the U.S. in 1853. By 1860 he was living in the family of Daniel Rockenstyre, a wagonmaker in Cropseyville, also working as a wagonmaker. He must have been a young man with something on the ball, as when the 125th NY Regiment was forming in August 1862, James enlisted as a Sergeant, though he was just 23.


Muster roll abstract

Muster roll abstract

This is his NYS Muster Roll Abstract, where his service and experiences during the war were recorded. His occupation is listed as “mechanic,” which reflects his work building wagons.   The first battle of the 125th was Gettysburg, from July 1-3, 1863. Evidently James came through unscathed, but he was wounded at Auburn, Virginia on October 14. This wound couldn’t have been too severe, as he returned to duty. The 125th participated in many more battles through 1864, which James survived, only to be wounded in the last days of the war. The exact date is unclear in the record, but while the rest of the regiment was sent home in June, James was sent North to recuperate inhospitals in Albany and Troy. He was promoted to Sergeant, then to Lieutenant, at the time he was mustered out in June. His wound must have been severe, as he applied for an invalid pension in December 1865.  A list of Rensselaer County Pensioners in the Troy paper in 1883 lists he had a gun shot wound to the left side, leg, and arm.  He received an invalid pension of $12 a month.  An article in the Troy “Times” in 1889 reports that James was injured in an incident with a runaway horse on Congress Street in Troy, breaking a rib, in the same place where he was wounded in the war.

Pension papers

Pension papers

We know, of course, that he recovered. Finally in 1871 or 1872 he married his across-the-road neighbor, Eliza Cropsey, who lived in the Morrison house. She was the child of David and Clarissa Morrison Cropsey, born in 1843. David died and Clarissa moved in with her parents, James and Sarah Morrison. She died in 1855, and Eliza and her sister Margaret lived on with their aunts and uncles.

In the 1875 census, James was listed as a 36-year-old wagon maker who owned his own home. He and Eliza, 34, had a 2 ½ year old daughter, Fanny. A son, Percy, was added the next year. James continued to do business in Cropseyville for the rest of his life. He participated in the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ association, attending reunions and serving as an officer.

When James made his will in 1902, he left everything to his wife Eliza. As of 1900, son Percy was not at home, but Fannie, 27, was a dressmaker, living with her parents. James gave his will to his life-long friend, Brigham Morrison, for safe keeping. Brigham was his wife’s first cousin. James died in 1903. Daughter Fannie died in 1907 and wife Eliza in 1913.  All are in the Morrison Cemetery.


Why I Farm

Now that Spring is in the air, sign-ups for our FarmShare are rolling in. This always brings me to reflect on why we are here, doing what we’re doing on the farm.

I don’t want to grow food in a vacuum. I want to know the people who are eating it, hear from them about how they are eating it, and share in the pleasures and sorrows of raising it.

I also don’t want to sell food. I want to build a community around food. I want to share my skill and passion for growing food with people who want to eat that food, to become a part of my web by consuming the fruits of the land I work.

I want to spend my time on building a web. I want to break bread (or carrots, or cucumbers) with my neighbors, and have them share with their neighbors and friends. I want to walk up the hills and alongside the creeks with these same people, creating more strands of the web and strengthening the ones that are there. I want my community to feel drawn to the farm, as if we have our own gravity, pulled to share and to grow with hands in the soil, with faces in the sunshine, with feet splashing in puddles.

I want my community to feel that this is their farm, to feel that they are integral, essential. To feel that when they give me their hard-earned dollars for their FarmShare, or for chicken, or eggs, or anything else I have helped to produce here on this land, that I have earned that dollar from them. I also don’t want them to feel that their money is their most important contribution to the farm, because it isn’t. Their presence, their friendship, the time they spend standing in the farmstand talking with me, or chasing our kids around the picking garden – that is why I’m here. That’s why I farm.