This is the farm that supplies all of our eggs (and we eat a lot of eggs). This is the farm that gives the hens a happy, safe life and they in turn lay beautiful eggs. Dan and I were both vegetarians for many years - something like 15 for me, even longer for him - but when our kids got into early childhood we realized that they were eating meat at every opportunity they were given (I remember going to a birthday party and when I couldn't find Eliza someone suggested looking in the kitchen where they'd seen her parked next to the platter of "dragon's feet" otherwise known as chicken wings. That's indeed where I found her.), we started looking into offering meat once in a while at home.
When we moved here to Athens, three years ago, we found several farmers at the Farmer's Market who were selling what I would consider "clean meat": free-range, well-fed (organic or close to it feed, plus all the goodies included in a free-range diet), humanely treated animals. While we still don't eat meat as a central part of our week's diet, it has certainly made our re-entry into eating meat easier to have these local options available.
So, I should probably mention about now that this post is about something that has many euphemistic names, but around here is called a slaughter. It is a brutal word for something that is carried out as humanely as possible, but it also says it like it is. As a vegetarian starting to eat meat, I have felt as though I maybe wanted to help with a slaughter. You know, confront my meat-eating with the baldness of what that means: another being is dying so that I can have nourishment. It is a heavy deal.
Eliza has always been the kid to think about and question what she is eating - does she want to eat meat? Why do people choose to be vegan? This girl loves to eat meat. And she loves animals. They talk to her. She is the girl who notices the differences between the turkey vultures who fly over the parks we frequent, and calls to them by name. When we visited family in Ithaca last November she spent one tortured afternoon processing whether or not she was going to eat meatballs that night for dinner, knowing they were being prepared for us as guests, but not sure whether she was all right with eating cow. After drawing several pictures of cows and talking about it for a few hours, she decided to try the meatballs. She loved them.
She is also pretty much a "yes" girl, and adventurer - she is curious and will try just about anything. Her friend Osha, at eight, is the person in charge of feeding and watering the chickens. He is also heavily involved in the slaughter and is comfortable with every step of it. Eliza asked if she could help with one of his usual jobs - catching and carrying the birds. It turned out that they were able to process double the birds with the help of her and Osha! She carried 15-some birds that afternoon.
They worked for three hours straight, trading 10-minute lunch breaks at some point in there. Eliza was so proud of herself, felt really good about working so hard, and felt so all right with the whole process. She asked M. questions about every step, inspected various chicken parts, inside and out. I had intended to help, but honestly, it was not for me. I'll maybe try again at some point, but I found that I could not participate that day.
Instead, I learned some hula hooping moves and made the chicken Eliza earned that day into some yummy soup. Grateful for the learning that happened, for the opportunity for Eliza to participate in valuable work - she kept saying, "I'm feeding my family!"- what a powerful experience for her.