The Eat with Care blog
Writing on humane farming issues by Caroline Abels, founder of Humaneitarian.
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Farming, week 1: Keepin’ it real
“If I’m going to be a humaneitarian,” I thought back in 2009, “I should work on a humane farm and see what alternative farming is really like.”
No, wait. I think the thought process was more like, “I need animals in my life. I must be around them.”
Whatever the motivation, I got a part-time job that summer on an organic dairy farm, where the native Vermont farmer teased me (sweetly) about being a “flatlander” and I learned how to castrate a bull, weed whack under fences, and shear a show cow’s hide. Next summer I worked on a small-scale poultry and livestock farm, where three adorable farm kids and their parents taught me how to move pasture fencing, catch ducks and — most memorable of all — slaughter a chicken.
This year I’m back for more. Easing my feet back into muck boots last Thursday was better than putting on any pair of comfy slippers. I grabbed work gloves, a hat, and some power bars and drove down to Green Mountain Girls Farm, a small-scale meat, dairy and veggie farm (also offering lodging, farm tours, and community events) in Northfield, Vermont. It was the first day of a part-time summer job — I’ll be there every Thursday through September, blogging about the experience and keepin’ it real by actually being around farm animals while running a website about them.
Let’s cut to the chase. The animals look great, and the farmers have their hearts in the right place. They are Mari Omland and Laura Olsen, a couple who bought the hill farm four years ago and now produce goat’s milk, eggs, vegetables, and meat (pork, chicken, turkey, goat) for their farm store and CSA. All on 20 acres, with another newly-purchased 20 on the way. All with a keen eye towards raising happy, healthy, pastured animals.
“Where’s the gestation crate?” I joked to Laura after walking into the warm and pungent upper barn and seeing Checkers, their massive breeding sow, lumbering about with a bunch of piglets in her belly. Laura pointed to the sow’s spacious enclosure and laughed, “It’s right here – it’s the really large kind of gestation crate.” The orientation also included time with the 6 milking goats and their 12 kids (that’s where the term “kids” comes from), who frolicked about and pawed us and chewed on our jacket zippers whenever we bent down to pet them. “Ongoing socialization of the kids is most welcome & needed!” said the orientation instructions. Sign me up!
Mid-morning, Laura and I and a full-time intern, Lauren, moved the 10 pigs that’ll be sent “to market” in May — moved them from their winter pen to fresh pasture. It’s been said that half of farming is about having good fencing, so Laura demonstrated proper technique for unfolding the electrified netting that eventually enclosed the new paddock. We fed the pigs grain, refilled water troughs, and spread fresh hay under the covered shelter, which everyone had pitched in to lift and move, with great team effort.
Rounding out the day was a farm lunch with Mari, Laura, and the other interns, plus setting up the farm stand for Thursday afternoon pickup of CSA shares. In future blog posts, I’ll write more about the animal rearing, and how different it is from the way it’s done industrially. For now, I’ll just say that there isn’t anything much better than giving belly rubs to pigs, having a goat kid climb on your back as if you were the side of a mountain, and reaching under the soft feathers of a nesting hen to pull out a warm, fresh, perfect egg.
Special thanks to Rose Wall, a former intern at Green Mountain Girls, for this photo and others that will appear in future blog posts.