Change of Pace

Matt Kelly,

Seed cleaning is work that must be done by hand. No getting around it.

Winter is finally here. Snow covers the fields. Hollow winds blow through naked trees and across gray hillsides. A change of pace at the farm.

“We’ll get some down time,” says Matthew. “Like never.”

Now is when the true push begins to clean and package seed for the coming spring. Hours spent in the warehouse with screens and air columns, with scoops and dishes. With bag upon bag, bin upon bin full of seed.

There’s no quick and easy system to doing this. No matter how fancy the tools, seed cleaning is work that must be done by hand. You have to pay attention; you have to look at and listen to the seeds as they move through the process.

The change of pace in our work is from physical to mental; from days in the sun and breeze to artificial light and four walls. But the care and attention and hours of effort remain the same.

Air column: chaff and immature seed.

Air column: chaff and immature seed.

The air column makes it much easier to clean large volumes of small, light seed like lettuce. Load your seed into the column and send a continuous but carefully modulated blast of air through it. Just like using the box fans, the air column lets the heavier, mature seed to settle into one chamber while the lighter chaff and immature seed blow off into another.

But how strong to make the blast? There’s always some figuring out to be done. You don’t want good seed blowing off.

And before you can put the lettuce seed in the air column, you have to screen it all by hand. Do we use a 1/22 screen?

“I think 1/20 is better,” says Kim.

“Make sure you screen the Gentilina twice,” says Matthew. He’s looking closely at the seed we’ve done already, letting it fall from his fingers back into the tray.

You can only shake the screen so much before chaff starts to fall through with the seed. But there’s seed still left in the screen. So do it twice. All four varieties of lettuce seed, each a slightly different size and shape.

We’ve got a Dodder Mill for the beans. A wooden box with two adjacent rollers inside, set at a gentle slope from one end to the other. Crank the rollers and pour beans in the narrow crease between them; whole beans will roll smoothly along the crease and out a hole at the far end; broken beans and bits of chaff get bounced along the rollers and eventually into the bottom of the mill.

At least, that’s the idea.

We’re still getting broken beans falling out the end. We change the speed of the spin. We change the speed of the pour. We change the height of the pour.

“There’s less cracked beans falling out,” says Petra. She’s got her hands cupped under the hole, above the bin catching the beans. She’s slowing the fall of the beans and looking at every one.

“We’re getting whole beans in the bottom of the box,” says Kim, showing us the tray.

We’re thoughtful about this for a moment. Is it worth the time and effort to get every single good bean in the bin?

“If we get ninety percent of the whole beans, that’s good,” says Matthew.

It’s an eyeball measurement. An educated judgment call.

But even with the perfect spin and pour, the mill is still letting cracked beans fall into the bin. It’s not a perfectly clean batch.

“Maybe we should skip the mill and just clean all the beans by hand,” says Matthew. He means sorting through a ten-gallon bin of beans by hand, picking out the broken pieces and chaff. It’s an option but not a favorite one.

Maybe we should decide by bean.

Cleaning Gold Rush beans by hand.

Cleaning Gold Rush beans by hand.

Uncle Willie’s gets mostly clean with the mill, making the hand-picking much easier. But Supermarconi is such a big bean, it’s more effective to clean it all by hand without the mill.

And in the process of picking through the Gold Rush beans, we find the mutants. Variations from the rest. Same size but completely different coloration. Maybe from cross pollination?

“I think a cross is unlikely,” says Petra. “Self-pollinated varieties like beans are more likely to have variation from inbreeding. Not crossing.”

“Let’s save them,” says Matthew. “We can grow them out and see what they give us.”

Work that must be done by hand. No machine would have noticed these variations. No machine would have appreciated them.

Categories: DIY, Finding Fruition, food, food storage, garden, seed | Leave a comment

The Garden in December

“At the close of the season, the garden may be left so as to be a desolate-looking spot through the winter, or it may be cleaned up so as not to be repulsive, at least.”
– The Genesee Farmer, 1864

The Genesee Farmer, 1864.

The Genesee Farmer, 1864.

Maybe home growing hasn’t changed as much as we think it has over the last hundred and fifty years. Or at least, maybe home growers haven’t: at the end of each season, we’re ready to be done with the growing, leave stuff where it lay, and move on. Thankful for the abundance of the garden but equally thankful for the break from all the labor we pour into it.

Even though the garden never looked glossy-photo perfect this year, I can say that I’ve successfully closed it down for the winter so as not to be repulsive. At least.

The Genesee Farmer was one of the most reputable agricultural journals in New York for most of the 1800s. Started in 1831, by 1864 the journal had passed through several owner/editors and been in the hands of Joseph Harris for nearly a decade. The same Joseph Harris of Harris Seed Company fame and fortune.

Harris had come to the Rochester area from England and acquired his first farm by 1850. He became a strong and vocal advocate for the region, for agriculture, for progressive thinking in agriculture, and – above all – for seeds. In 1863, Harris “commenced to grow seeds” but did not issue his first catalog until 1879. Throughout his life, he remained strong and consistent in his belief that individuals should be growing, selecting and sharing seeds.

“I should like to see more seed-growers in the United States… I would particularly urge some of my young friends to turn their attention to seed-growing. They should make it the business of their lives.”
– J. Harris, Gardening for the Young and Old, 1890

The advice offered to home growers in Harris’ December 1864 issue of The Genesee Farmer is a perfect bit of his advocacy:

The Genesee Farmer, 1855.

The Genesee Farmer, 1855.

“Visit your neighbors in the long winter evenings; compare your different modes of culture; gain wisdom by an interchange of ideas, and agree to try experiments with new varieties – one trying one kind, and another, another kind, and so on, with the understanding that you shall save and exchange seeds of the varieties that prove valuable.”

If you want you want your garden to produce seed as well as food, you need to give it some considerable thought ahead of time. Growing for seed requires different knowledge, practices and care than just growing for food.

“Now is the time to lay your plans for next summer’s campaign. Perhaps you raised too little of some kinds of vegetables to supply the demands of the family, and more than you needed of some other kinds. Devote, in your plan for next summer, larger plots to those varieties you were deficient in, and curtail those that produced a superabundance.”

Devote effort and space – both mental and physical – to growing, selecting and sharing seeds of your own next season as well.

I assure you: in today’s world, it’s a powerful thing to fill your plate and pantry with food that comes from seed you’ve produced yourself.

Additional Info:
The Genesee Farmer, Volume 25 (1864). Retrieved from

Harris, J. (1879). Harris’ Moreton Farm Seeds, Descriptive Catalogue: Field, Garden and Flower Seeds. Retrieved from

Harris, J. (1890). Gardening for the Young and Old. Retrieved from

Categories: DIY, food, food storage, garden, seed | 1 Comment

Turkey Cross 2014

Matt Kelly,

Muddy corners.

“Hey, Emily! Hurry up and pedal faster!”

Sam was done for the day. The only evidence she’d been on a bike at all were the dirty tights showing between her long down coat and polka dot muck boots. She was holding out a can of beer to another female rider chugging through the muddy switchbacks of the race lane. For something like the twentieth time that day.

“It’s cheap beer, I don’t care if you spill it!” Sam said as Emily closed in. Then she pulled back the can. “Wait, let me take one more sip…”

Turkey Cross 2014. A great way to end the cyclocross season in Rochester.

It was a tight course through the Apple Farm in Victor, looping riders through rows of apple trees and across open fields, jamming them through two bottlenecks of switchbacks and an old barn. Three inches of snow had just melted with a weekend weather spike of 50 degrees; no mud in the straight-aways but plenty tucked in the corners.

And the whole event was fueled with a little beer and a lot of raucous camaraderie.

Katina leading a climb.

Group climb.

I had a plan for shooting this final CX event: find some favorite angles on the course and capture groups of riders in motion. Individual shots give you a sense of individual effort. Which can be grueling. But group shots give you a real sense of competition, especially when paired with the effects of motion.

The trick is to catch group shots early in a race. The pack always seems to spread out after a few laps. Riders are still challenging each other but not so closely you can capture them in a nice tight shot, neck and neck.

I spent the morning working a few choice angles over several races. But by the middle of each race I settled into playing around with the camera until the next race got started; the barn was begging to be a backdrop for some images but kept foiling my efforts to catch it.

The last race of the day – Men’s Open – was no different. The pack had spread out. Andy and Craig from Park Ave Bikes were holding steady in first and second place. Ross was tailing in third. I was trying to capture that elusive barn with riders passing by.

Then Ross took the lead.

I didn’t see it happen. The three of them passed through the barn and all of sudden a roar went up from the crowd on the other side. People started to point. I picked my fat ass up off the ground and started sprinting.

Andy and Ross, duking it out.

Andy and Ross, duking it out.

From that point on, Ross held his lead position and Andy kept punching to take it back. I kept up an all out hustle between different angles trying to catch Andy and Ross going at it: dodging spectators, cutting across lanes, jumping over flagging and bikes on the ground. Back and forth, back and forth for the last few laps.

“Having fun? Better run faster,” Sam said as I chugged by for something like the twentieth time.

She did not, however, offer me a beer.

Ross gliding across the finish line.

Ross gliding across the finish line.

Ross and Andy were flying full speed down the gravel road, around the big curve and into their last climb. I headed straight to the finish line to catch them coming across.

Then my battery died.

The empty nothingness as I hit the trigger for a test shot. The little battery light flashing. You’ve got to be shitting me.

Ross and Andy burst out of the apple trees, into the last set of curves.

I pulled out my iPhone.

Ask any photographer and they’ll tell you: the camera is just a tool. It’s up to the photographer to get the shot. No one to blame but myself if I missed this one.

I positioned myself and framed the shot. I pressed my thumb on the touchscreen trigger as Ross rolled into view; released my thumb and panned with him as he sped by. And in the end I got a pretty good image of Ross gliding across the finish line, secure in his first place position and happy about the win. A great way to end the cyclocross season in Rochester.

Emily. Winner.

Emily. Winner.

Much later, Emily came rolling across the line, completing her third race for the day. She had slugged her way through the same climbs, the same muddy corners as everyone else. Three times in a row. The only person to do it.

She wheeled her bike off the course and slowly made her way down to the parking lot.

Nice riding, Emily.

“Can you believe how much fun this is?” she said. “I didn’t think adults were allowed to have this much fun.”

Hell yes we are.

Now where’s my beer?

Additional Info:
Apple Farm Racing,

Categories: cycling, photography | Leave a comment

The second most important reason to save seeds…

More than one good reason to save seeds...

Tossed. Toasted. Tasty.

Growing and saving healthy seeds is what we do at the farm. It’s some of the most important work that can be done in today’s world. Consider what Seed Matters has to say:

“We usually don’t think about seed when we sit down to eat our cereal in the morning or tuck the kids into their cotton sheets at night, but it all starts with seed. And the seed we sow affects the quality, nutrition, cost, and environmental impact of all the food we eat and every fiber we wear.

“The last several decades of industrial agriculture have developed seed that is suited to intensive chemical agriculture. While this has sometimes resulted in higher yields, it has come with very real costs. Unintended consequences include air and water pollution, increased pesticide use, greater dependence on fossil fuels, degraded soil health, increased exposure to toxins in farm workers, and the loss of biological and genetic diversity.”

Pretty important stuff, right? But consider the other equally-important argument for growing and saving healthy seeds:

“Sweet Lord Baby Jesus these taste awesome toasted and tossed with salt and cayenne!”

As these cold days of winter begin to set in, don’t ever miss an opportunity to toast up some seeds. Pumpkin seeds are the standard. But squash seeds can be just as good.

A couple weeks ago, we were working double-time to clear the fields of all remaining produce. And I ended up with a tub of Delicata Squash. The rejects, from plants that might have cross-pollinated with another variety.

“Cook ‘em up,” said Matthew. “We don’t need the seeds.”

Roasted squash. Squash bread. Squash apple soup. No problem, I got some plans.

The first batch of seeds I scooped out of the first Delicata went straight to the chickens. Which is a great treat for them, especially since they’re all molting and sad looking. More protein in their diet to regrow those feathers.

But looking at the tub, it occurred to me: there’s a lot of seeds in there. I mean, a lot. Sending it all straight to the chickens felt like a little bit of a waste. Time to toast a few.

“I’ve never had good luck toasting squash seeds,” said Matthew. “Too fibrous.”

Mine turned out great. Sweet Lord Baby Jesus.

The trick – I think – is to soak the seeds in water overnight, helps them to soften up. You end up toasting them twice as long as usual – 20-ish minutes at 350 F – but they seem to cook more evenly and don’t burn from the inside out.

Before toasting, be sure to toss the squash seeds with some oil, salt, and whatever other spices you want.

“I always ground up my squash seeds after toasting them,” said Matthew. “I use them like a spice in other things. You get that nuttiness without the fibrous texture.”

Growing and saving healthy seeds is critically important, people. Because they taste so damn good.

Additional Info:
Seed Matters,

Categories: Finding Fruition, food, food storage, seed | Leave a comment

Kimchi, baby


Where I like to spend a day off.

You’d think a couple days away from the farm would be filled with a little relaxing. You’d be wrong.

They’re filled with kimchi. Copious amounts of glorious kimchi.

So much kimchi that the folks at Small World needed to build a holding bin eight feet long, eight feet wide, and five feet high for all the cabbage.

“We should wrestle in it,” said Emile, chopping cabbage.

“We should wrestle naked in it,” said Andy, chopping cabbage.

Um… no. Just keep chopping cabbage.

Day One: Four double-stacked pallets arrived – three thousand pounds of Napa cabbage – from Stick and Stone Farm in Ulysses. It took almost twelve hours to empty every last crate. It was a whole-day frenzy of flying knives and green leaves.

Cabbages were pulled out of the crates one at a time and stripped of their dirty outer leaves. The beautifully clean heads were handed to one table, cored and chopped then loaded into buckets. The leaves were passed to a different table, chopped, double-rinsed and loaded into their own buckets. Nothing wasted.

Cabbage going into the holding bin.

Cabbage going in.

Every full bucket was weighed before dumping it into the holding bin, every weight recorded. Salt is an essential ingredient in fermenting vegetables; it’s often the difference between a tasty tangy treat and plain old rotten food. Keeping the ratio of salt to stuff requires a bit of precision: you want to encourage fermentation, not kill beneficial microorganisms. Every time a bucket was emptied into the bin, salt was added in just the right amount for the weight of the cabbage.

Cabbage coming out.

Cabbage coming out.

Gradually, over the course of the day, this is how we moved every last bit of cabbage into the bin. It was covered with plastic and then weighed down with four water-filled 50-gallon drums, keeping the cabbage submerged in a brine of its own juices and salt.

Day Two: All three thousand pounds of cabbage came back out of the bin.

A dozen 50-gallon drums were set up for mixing kimchi. Additional ingredients were chopped, cut, diced, and otherwise reduced to smaller bits: carrots, leeks, onions, and radishes. A spicy sauce was prepared in a cauldron big enough for three witches to gather around, very Shakespearean.

And the cabbage was uncovered.

It was all hands on deck: twelve people working in sequence to move the ingredients into the drums by the bucket-load. Always carefully weighing before dumping to ensure the appropriate salt-to-stuff ratio for fermenting.

Everyone had a task. And Whitney and I were assigned the cabbage. Sleeves rolled above our elbows, we scooped cabbage into buckets by hand; we passed them off as quickly as we filled them, to be poured into the drums. The cabbage was packed in the bin as thick and dense as clay soil, impenetrable to fingers at times; we used a wooden scraper the size of a small shovel to loosen and break apart the solid mass. The cabbage steadily receded towards the back wall of the bin and I had to chase it by climbing in. Had I known, I would’ve brought my waders. I kept handing buckets back to Whitney, who kept bringing them to the drums. Three thousand pounds of cabbage in the bin dwindling to zero.

Ready to ferment.

Ready to ferment.

Ingredients filled the drums in organized layers as we worked in assembly line fashion. Mixing was done by hand, Ken and Logan and Emile reaching armpit-deep to stir by the arm-load.

At the end of the day, every last vegetable bit had made it’s way into the drums. Salted and sauced, stirred and submerged. Ready to sit quietly and ferment.

Ready to become that beautiful thing called kimchi.

No better way to spend a couple days away from the farm.

Additional Info:
Small World Food,

Stick and Stone Farm,

Categories: food, food storage | Leave a comment

It finally happened…

Molting. Yeeeesh.

Molting. Yeeeesh.

It finally happened: the chickens went a day without laying an egg.

Never in all the time since they started laying last fall have they missed a day. They’ve always given up eggs like champs, even through this past winter. During the height of summer, my six birds were averaging five eggs a day, thirty-five eggs – three freaking dozen – a week. Some days I got seven eggs. I couldn’t give away eggs fast enough.

No longer.

“Less than 14 hours of daylight,” said Denis when I mentioned this. “That’s when chickens start slowing down with laying.”

The birds have been slowing down for a couple weeks now, ever since the days started getting shorter. One or two eggs is the new daily count. When they lay.

But here’s what else finally happened: the chickens got ugly.

They’ve started to molt. And just like people, some individuals weather the aging process better than others.

New feathers coming in.

New feathers coming in.

My birds are 17 months old, which puts them at just the right age for their first full molt. The decreased daylight during autumn triggered the process. Old feathers are falling out in patches, new feathers will be coming in. Soon, hopefully. The molting is a second major whammy to egg production.

Regrowing feathers demands significant amounts of a chicken’s energy and protein. Resources that are diverted from laying eggs. My birds could be out of the laying game for a couple months or more, depending on how long the molt takes.

In the meantime, this decreased egg production throws a big wrench in my regular food routine, as well as the food plan for the next several months.

“I’ll get you squared away if you need eggs,” said Denis when I mentioned this.

Food independence is most often the result of growing and raising with your own two hands. But it’s also the result of having friends who can help you out in a pinch.

Additional Info:
Denis Lepel, Lakestone Family Farm

Mormino, K.S. (2012, July 27). Molting: what is it and how to help chickens get through it. Retrieved from–how-to-help-chickens-get-through-it.aspx#axzz3Habg0PJ4

Categories: chickens, food, weather | Leave a comment

Churning out seeds

Processing Goose Egg eggplants. Not a lemon.

Processing Goose Egg eggplants. Not a lemon.

Today we removed seed from eggplants, Goose Egg and Violetta Lunga varieties.

This is not an easy thing to do by hand, not like peppers or tomatoes. The eggplant seeds are tiny and imbedded in the thick flesh. Could you do it manually? Sure. Is a mechanical process better for efficiency and sanity? Oh yes.

As long as it doesn’t damage the seed in the process.

This is the key consideration when harvesting any type of seed. And you just have to pay attention when getting creative.

Seeds can be incredibly durable when mature. This is actually one way we tell the difference between mature and immature seeds with eggplants. Mature eggplant seed is rock hard when pinched between two fingernails; immature seed is soft, dents easily, and often pops like a little zit.

But mature dry beans are incredibly durable, too. And it required a bit of trial and error to keep them from getting cracked and damaged when threshing with the wood chipper. One batch of Orcas went through beautifully. But the next batch of the very same bean got beat up really bad; we had to adjust the chipper in terms of speed and time-in-the-flails to minimize the damage.

To get the seed out of the eggplants we used a little hand-cranked food mill. Absolutely nothing fancy. And it took a fair bit of jiggering to figure out the best way to use the thing. But once we had a system down, it made short work of the eggplant. No damage at all to the seeds.

The resulting heap of eggplant pulp was dumped in a bucket of water, letting the mature seed sink, and pouring off the rest. Just like with peppers and tomatoes.

The hand-cranked food mill is one of many creative solutions we’ve used to efficiently extract seed. And just another example of the cool shit we get to do on a small seed farm. Some more cool shit for your consideration:

Red Russian Kale and the truck


Squash and the wood splitter


Sunflowers and the wood chipper


Categories: DIY, Finding Fruition, seed | Leave a comment

Gypsy Seeds

Black Garbanzo, Orca, and Scarlet Runner beans.

Black Garbanzo, Orca, and Scarlet Runner beans.

The end of another day on the farm. I arrive home and empty my pockets: keys, knife, wallet, phone.

And seeds.

Cupped in my hand is a little collection of beans that had found their way into my pocket throughout the day.

A diverse little group. Individual beans that had gotten mixed in with others of a completely different sort. Threshing with the wood chipper makes easy work of beans. But things get stuck in nooks and crevices, get spit out with a completely different batch. You suddenly find a bright purple Scarlet Runner mixed in with the sea of Black Cocos lying on the tarp.

I picked up these gypsy beans as I found them. Put them in my pocket in the haste of the work we were doing. Keeping the current batch clean and wholly intending to return each gypsy to it’s own.

But being gypsies they continued to wander, disappearing into the very bottom my pocket. Not to be found until I got home.

Which is what seeds do.

Seeds are meant to travel. They’re meant to spread and put down roots in a completely different location from where they originally grew. Caught up in fur and hair and between toes. Eaten and later returned to the ground in a pile of poop. Blown free of their pod and carried away on the breeze. Seeds must spread to thrive. They can’t all drop from their parent plant and grow in the exact same spot. Nature got this figured out for plants a long time.

And at some point, we animals got involved. We became an effective mode of transportation for seeds. Often willingly and to our own benefit.

That’s really all the farm is: just another mode of animal-based transportation. We grow seeds in one location and share them with home gardeners to plant in another. Not exactly how we’d describe the business; not exactly what gardeners are thinking when they buy.

But animal participation was never about thoughtful consideration for the seeds’ need to travel. It just happened. It was all about the animal: like the fruit, eat the fruit, and poop out the seeds later.

Like the flower, grow the flower, and sell the seeds. Like the flower, buy the seeds, and plant them later.

Exactly what the seeds need. Sneaky.

Just like the beans in my pocket. They made it from the farm to my home. I’ll save them and plant them next season. Or if I decide not to put them in the ground, they’ll be tossed into the compost pile or out into the woods, both places where they could take root. Even if they go into the garbage, the beans will end up in a landfill. Eventually taking root?

Very sneaky.

To keep seeds from doing what they do, you’d have to want to stop them. You’d have to make a focused, purposeful effort to prevent seeds from spreading. Which would be just another exercise in human folly and hubris. But try if you want.

Nature’s got it all figured out. And Nature always wins.

Categories: Finding Fruition, garden, seed, waxing philosophic | Leave a comment

Magic Beans

Iroquois Skunk Bean

Iroquois Skunk Bean

“Have I shown you these special little beans?” asks Petra. In her hands is a single bean pod, brown and paper-dry. She’s just beginning to crack it open as she steps up next to me.

And inside are some of the coolest beans I’ve ever seen.

Of course, I’ve said this about every bean I’ve seen on the farm this season. Scarlet Runners. Chocolate Runners. Snow Cap. Calypso.

And now Iroquois Skunk Beans.

Also called Flagg and Chester, these are pole beans. Growing up to ten feet tall by some accounts. The bean looks like a huge lima bean but isn’t actually a lima. Gail Flagg gets credit for introducing this bean into the mainstream: in the 1970s she was given some by an unnamed farmer in Chester, Vermont. In turn, Gail gave some to Will Bonsall of seed-saving fame. He has since passed them on to others; the beans have also been traded by folks though Seed Savers Exchange. But it’s the Cornplanter Senecas who originally grew this bean in New York and Pennsylvania in the 1800s. Or something extremely similar. They called it a Skunk bean.

Petra presses her hand to her chest, holding some thought close and near to her heart. Her eyes fill with gratitude, as they often do when discussing seeds.

“I just feel so humbled to think about how many generations these beans have been grown by others. And now it’s our turn.”

Chocolate Runner Bean

Chocolate Runner Bean

It’s easy to see why some people are so enthusiastic about beans, collecting them to grow and store. Never missing an opportunity to tell you about their collection. The richness of colors and diversity of patterns make them unique among all other things you could grow in your garden. Flowers might rival the splendor but cannot match the permanence of beans. Hidden in unremarkable brown pods, harvesting beans is always like lifting wonderful little gifts out of a dull box wrapped in brown paper and string. And every bean has a story.

When I had the opportunity, I took every type of bean available for my own collection of seeds. Despite my commitment to keep the home garden small, focused, and limited only to things I enjoy eating. Beans aren’t one of those things. Yet.

It’s a Skunk Bean. How could I pass up something with a name – a look and a story – like that?

Help me out? Historical information about the Iroquois Skunk Bean has been hard to come by so far. That is: nothing much showed up in my Google search. If you have any experience with the bean or know anything about the history, I’d enjoy hearing from you. Much appreciated.

Additional Info
Schreiber, T. (2012). Vermont Heirlooms: Plants with (more than one) story to tell. Retrieved from

Will Bonsall, Khadighar Farm

Categories: Finding Fruition, food, garden, seed | Leave a comment

Taking the insides out

Knife handling skills and a sharp blade are essential.

Knife handling skills and a sharp blade are essential.

“You know how to eviscerate a bird, right?” asks Denis.

I’m standing on the table side of the tarp. Zac has the first two chickens in the scalding water. They’re ready to be plucked.

No, I don’t know how to eviscerate a bird.

Zac has the first two chickens plucked and clean. He hands them over to us.

“Let me show you quick.”

And this is how I learn to take the insides out of a chicken. This is how you learn most things on a farm: about seven seconds before you need to do it. If you’re lucky.

Knife handling skills and a sharp blade are essential to the evisceration process. Economy of movement is how you get through forty birds in a morning, with both the chickens and your fingers in good shape.

I watch Julia remove the head, neck, and feet from the first bird to come through the tarp. Then she slides the carcass across the smooth metal table surface. To me.

Step 1: Remove the oil gland.
Every chicken has a gland just above the tail. The urypogial gland, the preening gland. It produces an oil that the bird uses to keep itself clean and waterproof. And the oil tastes terrible. It could foul the taste of whole bird. Very important to remove the gland.

Step 2: Remove the insides.
There’s an art to doing this with one hand and in a single motion. Making sure not to rupture the gallbladder, which is filled with nasty alien-green bile. Whatever the bile touches is thrown out and we don’t want any bird to be wasted.

Step 3: Separate the heart and liver.
People like eating these. So we save them to bring to market. There’s a skill to putting your fingers in the right place and applying the right pressure when you remove the liver and the heart from the rest of the mass. Again, making sure not to rupture the gallbladder.

Step 4: Get the bird on ice.
There’s a final rinse of the bird, both inside and out. The legs are tucked. Then birds are put in a cooler, submerged in ice and water.

The chickens are market-ready.

A whole lot of learning to do.

A whole lot of learning to do.

It’s not until I’m on my last bird of the morning, with all of the insides heaped in my hand, that I realize I know nothing about chicken anatomy. I can tell you what the heart and liver look like. I can show you the gallbladder. And after just one morning, I can give you their rough geographic location inside the bird. But I’d totally be making things up if I tried to tell you what the rest of the parts are and what they’re all for.

In my hands I’m holding a whole bunch of new learning.


Additional Info:

Denis Lepel, Lakestone Family Farm,

Categories: chickens, food, Lakestone | Leave a comment

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