We were invited to Robin and Roger's for a Passover Seder on Monday night. I volunteered to bring the salad and a vegetable soup with matzoh balls. I got up early and made the soup and then went off to Restoration Farm to spend the day weeding the peas.
The support posts are in but before the netting goes up it is much easier to hand weed. My afternoon was relaxing, talking with Dan and Trish about the recent Small Farm Summit held at SUNY Westbury last Friday. The event was like a mini version of the NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Assoc) meeting I attended this summer in Saratoga Springs. There were terrific sessions to attend on many aspects of land use and availability, farming methods, food education and outreach, food processing. The keynote speaker was Joel Salatin, as near to a rock star in the world of organic farming as it gets, and he gave a keynote address on (mis)perceptions about farming that make it harder to have farms in densely populated counties like ours. He is a very entertaining speaker and he was speaking to the faithful so ...it was great. He also gave a workshop in the afternoon on pastured poultry which both Trish and I (and Dennis and Steve, two more of the farms committed volunteers) attended. Trish is using Salatin's model of pasturing poultry to raise her broilers (meat birds) at Restoration Farm starting in May. Besides the usual talk about chickens we also discussed a workshop all of us had attended on raising nutrient dense crops. The essence of the talk was that most plants only live out a small fraction of their DNA potential because of limiting factors in the soil. Paying greater attention to creating a healthy immune system in your plants =greater insect and disease resistance. The more balanced the fungal environement in the soil the more plants can communicate their nutrient needs and then receive the macro and especially micro nutrients they require. The result is longer life and increased health of your plants and also increases the yields and the nutritional value of your crops. It was a talk heavy on science and technique but the basics were clearly valuable and we are all interested in taking first steps in this direction and improving the immune systems of our plants and the nutritional quality of our produce. It was a nice way to pass the time weeding. Anyone interested in learning more about this should check out Dan Kittredge and realfoodcampaign.org. He is also at work trying to develop tools that consumers can use in a shopping environment to test/compare the nutrient content of food choices on the shelf...an aim and shoot device with a readout...really interesting and great if he can do it.
Back to the chicks...and Passover.
So I went home, made the salad, showered and dressed up, put on my heels, and then thought about the fact that the seder was at 5:30. I either had to go and come back at sundown to close the coop door after all the chicks had naturally gone inside , or if I didn't want to have to run out halfway through dinner I had to get all the chicks inside at this unnaturally early hour. So I took off my heels, slid my farm overalls, a ratty old ski jacket and my rubber boots on over my nice clothes and went out to the coop. I remembered from my early days helping Jen with her chickens that she suggested using oats, a chicken favorite, to make friends with her rooster who had been bothered by my presence and shown it by pecking at my legs and generally terrorizing me when I stepped into his territory. Well it had worked. With oats he was literally eating out of my hand and I was able to go about my business in his yard.
I grabbed a bag of rolled oats and went out to the coop. I started by sprinkling a few in the yard and interest was heavy. So I decided to sprinkly them on the ramp hoping that once on the ramp I could encourage them up into the coop. At this point about 15 of the 32 chicks were outside. When I sprinkled them on the ramp everyone came running. Unfortunately this meant everyone inside as well. More chicks came out than went in. However, I was undaunted. I then went inside the coop and started rattling the bag loudly and sprinkling the oats all over the bedding. This worked somewhat better. Lots of birds headed in. When I ran out of oats I went outside to count birds. Better...only 4 still outside. Now it was already after 5:30 but I was so close, so it was time to get down on my belly and start crawling under the coop (in the poop). Two of the birds were easily coaxed out and shooed up the ramp where I quickly opened the door and let them in. The hardest part of that was the quick shimmy backwards out from under the coop to get to the door before the chicks changed their minds and no longer saw the ramp as the preferred method of escaping from me. I had visions of chicken poop smearing in my hair...the clearance under the coop is only about 15 inches. The last two had to be chased down individually and captured and the backward shimmy repeated with a squawking bird in two hands....I wish there had been a video camera....again.
With everyone safely in ...and counted ...three times because they keep moving and I often get the wrong number...I went to change...again. The phone was ringing...where was I? is everything ok? even my husband Steve, who NEVER gets anywhere before me, was calling to ask where I was. Yes, yes, I am just leaving now...getting the soup and salad and wine into the car...running back and forth now in the high heels to the car that is no longer parked in the garage...I was an hour late. My clothes were nice, my hair a mess but not poopy, and I think my friends are getting tired of my chicken stories...they just prefer to sit down and eat chicken...but I am still loving it. A happy Pesach to all.