Why is Raising Chickens Like Swimming in the Ocean?

When we decided we were farmers, something changed in my brain, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. The first step was when we took control of a fraction of our food. Eggs. Suddenly there was one less item on the shopping list. I felt lighter, happier, just thinking of these eggs as they started appearing in our coop. Something we didn’t have to depend on others for. A drop in the bucket, maybe. But it felt like so much more. 

free range organic fed eggs from ferrin brook farm in madison nh

I listen to a lot of podcasts these days. They are great for entertaining me while I work (both at my day job and with chores at home and on the land). All of the feathers we plucked were plucked to stories on Reply All, Radiolab, The Moth, and Risk. Even today, months after the plucking work is done, Robert Krulwich’s voice can occasionally conjure images of a freshly plucked Freedom Ranger in my mind. It’s weird, but a good weird.

One evening while processing chickens, a story on The Moth made me stop, drill plucker whirring.  It was a story about a man who had experienced religion one way all his life, and then when we visited Malawi, he saw that there was a better, more engaging and enjoyable way to practice faith.  You should listen to the full story, but here’s the part that really meant something to me:

“And you know when I was in Malawi, I thought that when I came back to America I was gonna go to church, that I was gonna be the kid that my dad always wanted me to be, that, hell, maybe I’d be a preacher, I don’t know. I felt like I was going to change. When I got back to America I drove by a church and I couldn’t even look at it. I couldn’t…comprehend it. And I can’t talk to anybody in my family about it, they just won’t understand. But I haven’t been to church since. Because I feel like my entire life growing up, I had been handed this glass of water. When I was in Malawi, I swam in the ocean. And no glass will ever be good enough again.”

This is from Al Letson’s story “Love Song for Malawi” as told on The Moth Radio Hour.

Mr. Letson’s words stunned me. It immediately clicked. All my life I’ve been thinking in terms of glasses of water! Grocery store food, baking from a mix. These things were just how I cooked and ate, I didn’t bother to think there could be something more.

It wasn’t until I took some control of my food that I could swim in the ocean.

We started with egg layers, but it wasn’t long before we ordered chicks to raise for meat and expanded the garden beds for more vegetables.

Now we could cross a majority of our meat and vegetables off the shopping list. We splashed and dove deep in the water.

pan seared heritage breed chicken meat from ferrin brook farm in madison nh

Amy began getting the rest of our meat and vegetable needs taken care of by buying from farmer friends at the markets where our bakery, Ashera Fine Baking, was selling. All summer the shopping list was cleared out at the market, filling our bellies with 100% local food.

Everything felt better, life had more clarity. We were supporting our friends. We were supporting ourselves.

Trying to explain this to people has always been difficult. The difference between a grocery store carrot and one we grew can be subtle to those not listening to the carrot’s story. The cost of our chicken raised on organic feed may not seem worth it compared to the very low prices at the store for commercially raised birds.

But when you try it, when you actually step into the crashing waves of true involvement with your food, everything changes.