At some point after we bought our land, we were struck with a sense of responsibility regarding our land. A lot of farms in our area have been subdivided, like ours, into small 'lifestyle' blocks. What this means is that formerly productive parcels of land have been 'taken off the market' with regards to their capacity for feeding the local community (though of course a lot of farms around here are in the business of producing for the export market or for a particular big cheese company).
With this sense of responsibility in mind, we developed some vague notions of producing a lot of food for ourselves and at least a little bit of food for the wider food community. If everyone produces a bit of food for themselves and some for the community, then we'll have a better chance of developing secure local food networks, and therefore prove to be a little more resilient when the big P.O (that's Peak Oil, in case you're wondering) and when serious climate change comes. It really feels as though the current industrial food system is finite. Not only is it environmentally unsustainable, it's making us sick (think heart disease, cancer, type-2 diabetes, increasing rates of asthma, food allergies and so on and so on), animals are compelled to live miserable lives and it's a system that's providing a terrible living for many primary producers. We know there are better ways to feed ourselves.
We've been supplying our local food co-op with greens for a while now, going to food swaps, and generally bartering veggie goodness for things like art lessons and loaves of amazing sourdough bread, and this has been a nice, if somewhat inconsequential contribution to our local community.
But yesterday, we officially launched into a bit more serious operation, namely raising pastured meat chickens for a small network of locals who have subscribed to our pastured poultry CSA, Autumn Farm.
The pasture raised meat chicken thing came about mostly as a result of reading a lot of Joel Salatin, and going to visit Taranaki Farm last year, where we met and chatted to the man himself.
And yesterday, after some months of preparations, building works, reading, and volunteering at the local small species abattoir (where our chickens will be processed) we picked up our first lot of 100 day old chicks.
And, I'm sorry to say, they're really really cute.
As I've written before, killing things does not come easily or naturally to me. But it was important for me to know that, if we were going to become meat producers, I'd be able to steward the animals all the way through their lives. So a few months ago I got involved with the abattoir, which is an amazing and unique facility, just down the road from our house. It's a producer-run co-operative, which, as well as processing birds for small, localised growers like us and Symphony Farm, from Tilba, also processes 'home kills' for people who want to raise their own meat but aren't able or don't want to process at home. This is a fantastic local resource, and we feel really happy that our birds will be going through this abattoir. I also feel proud, if somewhat apprehensive, that I'm going to be with them right to the end, not just sending them off to be processed somewhere else.
For us, it feels like this kind of small-scale, grower-controlled production of meat is a sustainable and ethical answer to the question of meat production. Obviously, in an ideal world, people who wanted to eat meat would raise their own animals, and kill it themselves in the paddock where it lived. No stress for the animal, no food miles, and we can guaran-damn-tee you, people would probably eat less meat.
But this system just isn't possible. So the next best option is for localised small (and large) farms to grow meat for their local community.
So far, the response to Autumn Farm has been amazing. People have been super-keen to get their hands on some locally-grown, pasture-raised chooks, and our first batch of chickens is fully subscribed! These chickens, as well as sustaining our local community, will be naturally fertilising our land, as we move them all around in their movable hoop houses. The hoop house will be surrounded by electric mesh fencing so that by day, they can scratch around and nibble and do chicken-y things on the grass in the sun and by night, be safely enclosed in their hoop house with the electric fence offering extra protection against the predations of local foxes.
One of our main objectives (in addition to feeding our community) is to connect people with their food, to talk to them about how it's raised and also how it's killed. It feels as though a lot of the problem with our industrialised food system is the mere fact that people just don't know how their food is produced. We're talking to our customers regularly, sending out an email newsletter and posting updates on facebook. And the chooks, once they're 'done' will be picked up by our customers from the abattoir on the day they're killed. This means that the chickens will be super-fresh, obviously, but it also means that people won't be so divorced from the processes involved with getting their meat to the table.