A Different Kind of Journey

Sometimes a journey may not be far from your home, but quite distant from a place you have ever considered.  If I had a bucket list, and I don’t, what I did today never would have been on it……but I can proudly albeit figuratively check this off the supposed list.

Today I helped a farmer for 6 hours prepare for a big sale.  Let me explain.

I was hired a few months ago to start writing a blog about the farm system in West Virginia for the West Virginia Farms2u Collaborative. You all know I am not a farmer…shoot! I grew up in the New York metropolitan area and even if my dad had a garden, I certainly never worked it except by parental coercion.

But last fall I became strongly interested in changing our eating habits to as much locally produced food as possible to improve nutrition as well as helping the local economy. I was hired by the Collaborative to get the word out to potential consumers (hey! you eat, don’t you?) that there is a lot more food growing even here in West Virginia than was marketed.

Then, as some wonderful people in my town are working to open a year-round indoor fresh farm market, I started also writing a blog for the Wild Ramp.  I’ve been getting very busy: visiting farms and markets and restaurants that serve fresh farm food.

About a month ago I visited Roy Ramey who owns about 37 acres maybe 10 miles from my house. He had some chickens so sold eggs and planned to sell chicken meat,  recently got some hogs, has several goats and plans sometime soon to get some beef cattle. He will become one of the suppliers for the Wild Ramp when it opens soon. But meanwhile, his chickens were growing and he needed to find someone to buy them.

I suggested he contact Chef Mike Bowe at Huntington Prime, a restaurant in my town that serves as much locally raised food as possible. Chef Mike has high standards and this is one of the best restaurants in town. Graham and I are proud to supply herbs for their kitchen and we have gotten to know the team there pretty well.

Late Saturday night Roy Ramey called me, very excited. Chef Mike said he would buy 10 chickens from him! I asked him when he was planning to deliver them and he said Monday.

I then asked if he had prepared the chickens for delivery and Roy said he planned to process them Sunday afternoon.

Now, many of you are going to have THE typical reaction. I want you to pause and think for a second…..if you eat meat, you know intellectually that the stuff you buy in the plastic wrapped packages at the supermarket really came from a live animal at one time, right? You know that, don’t you?   If not, we have a bigger issue and maybe need to require EVERYONE to go work on a farm at least one day of their life.

But okay, you know and maybe you just don’t like to think about it.  Just for a moment follow my tale.  (I promise no photos of blood and gore, although my readership may grow if I included some. LOL)

Raising an animal to provide healthy nutrition is a task many of the small farmers here in West Virginia and all over the country are pursuing. There are concerns about some of the foods we have been eating and the short and long term health issues they could be causing. (Even today one of the headlines on Yahoo News that caught my eye was a nationally recognized maker of hotdogs uses some kind of “mystery meat” in their low fat dogs. There you are thinking you are making a healthy choice and it begs the question of what exactly you might be putting in your body.) For those people who want a healthier lifestyle, chosing to know their farmer is a natural step.

You can get to know your farmer by shopping farmers markets, visiting a farm nearby, or joining a CSA.  Then you can understand how the food they produce is raised.

Processing that food for market is part of the careful steps they take to make sure the animals are handled with care and respect and the slaughter process is done humanely and with minimal stress.

So, Roy needed 10 chickens processed and I volunteered and bless Graham for joining me. Roy’s friend Doug was also there but a few other people who had promised to help never showed up.

We all learned a lot….Roy had done this before but not since he was a kid so the set up took a while and next time will go easier.  Doug’s expertise is broad and he often helps Roy, offering insights that produce results. Graham and I, needless to say, were neophytes.  It took us about 5 hours to process the 10 birds.

The chickens are all now in Roy’s refrigerator, each wrapped in a heavy duty freezer bag. They are free of feathers and clean inside and out, ready for Chef Mike to prepare into something I hope to go eat in another day or so.

I learned a lot about a chicken’s anatomy, but don’t expect to volunteer to do this again.  Now that my fingernails are clean again, I am feeling very proud that I learned one more life skill. What a trip!

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10 Responses to A Different Kind of Journey

  1. Susey Garvin says:

    Hmmmmmm. Have mucked a lot of stalls, helped deliver a calf and some puppies. Think I’ll stay with that side of farming. lol

  2. My whole past experience has always been picking produce, and even that has had its funny stories. I will admit that I did not know I was going to be involved the way it developed yesterday, but now I understand a bit more about how we get meat. I think you would have been the same way I was, sort of “Okay, I got myself here, might as well make it the best experience I can”.

  3. Graham says:

    Photos of a lot of the “icky” steps have been left out.

  4. well, yeah…this is the travel blog, not the farm blog! LOL

  5. Gunta says:

    I’ll just stay with not eating meat, thank you.

  6. Well, not trying to persuade anyone to change their diet…..except for looking for local to gain better nutrition, and you already do that.

  7. Gunta says:

    Meat has never been high on my list of favorite things to eat (ever). Not even when I was a kid. The first CSA harvest basket finally arrived with a loaf of scrumptious sourdough bread…. sheer, unadulterated heaven!!! 🙂

  8. I’m so glad you finally are going to be enjoying the weekly harvests!!! We had bread in our last box also and it is wonderful!

  9. Ingrid says:

    My husband and I just returned from a family visit to Illinois. Husband was telling stories of how he, as a young kid, and grandpa would “process” a chicken on the farm for grandma to fix for dinner. Realities of life you could say. Cudos on writing for more than one blog. I’ll check’m out 🙂

  10. I have been traveling since I was 3 and planning vacations as soon as I was old enough to control the purse strings. It was after writing about our experience at Cafe Cimino, one of West Virginia’s gems, that I was hired to write for the WVFarm2u Collaborative and then, more recently to support the establish of the Wild Ramp, a indoor year round fresh local farm market in our town. It gets very busy but I am having a lot of fun and learning so very much….AND changing the way this family eats.

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