Chickens and Other Musings

By Victorian Tilley

It is the beginning of week three on the SIFT Demonstration Farm and I am just about to do the first thing that I do many mornings – say hello to the chickens. I let them out for the day, make sure they’re watered and fed, and hang out with them for a minute (until I need to go back inside and thaw out). The chicas and I are going to be great pals, I think.

Chickens are such fascinating, even sort of weird, but also sort of sweet creatures. They are great to have around on a farm, homestead, or the backyard. On the SIFT Demonstration Farm we take care of over a dozen hens. We collect their eggs to enjoy or sell to the public. We collect their poop for an excellent nitrogen source for our compost. We also rotate their coop and grazing area around the farm so they may feast on insects that may be harmful to the crops as well as to fertilize that patch of soil.

I have only recently appreciated chickens. We didn’t have a garden in the backyard and my immediate family really didn’t spend any time farming or homesteading. So chickens were certainly not around me. My grandparents moved from ways of self-sufficiency to ways of convenience and consumerism a long time ago. In fact, I do not know many people my age that have parents who ensured their families’ survival by growing their own food or raising animals. At some point after the start of industrial agriculture, you did not have to think about slaughtering an animal or harvesting some veggies for dinner – you just went to the grocery store. And I don’t think I have to remind you of what large-scale production means for the chicas.

I think the shift of perspective across the past few generations is fascinating. Besides the couple of tomato plants currently at my grandparent’s house, gardening and farming memories and ideas are never discussed. So one day I asked my grandmother if she had farmed or gardened much growing up. She almost fell to floor with a dreadful look on her face as she recalled her memory of harvesting summer crops all day long in the Mississippi heat. Which yes, I must admit, the heat and humidity are unbearable at times, but ask her anything about her experience with growing her own food, and it’s mostly negative. Now, I feel like the conversation is changing. I witness many people searching for that life. Wanting to rejoin with earth and her wisdom through the seasons.

Most of the farmers and growers I knew in Mississippi advocating for a change in their food system are in their 30’s with parents that are not farmers and never have been. This is not to say that you can’t find food advocates from any age group – because there are several OG’s out there that have been preaching more self-sufficient ways to thrive as individuals and more importantly, as communities. There is also a resurgence of people yearning to come back to natural and traditional food ways and on broader terms, to reconnect. For me, I have discovered a deep urge to tend the soil, harvest the crops, and care for the animals.

So far on the farm, we have been working to finish the last few tasks that are still possible before winter weather. J Harvesting the last few crops, planting more garlic, getting the chickens’ coop ready for the winter, as well as winterizing windows and irrigation in greenhouses and throughout the farm have been priorities. The crops that we harvest are provided as a donation to the Heart of Butte Community Café, a pay-what-you-can restaurant in town. Lastly, a major project on the farm is the construction of the 15-foot high tunnel, on which we are truckin’ right along.

I am really thrilled to be farming again. My experience as a farmer is not much, but a lot can be learned in a short while. After joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program and getting to know my local farmer in Mississippi, I knew I wanted to get further into it – the experience of taking care of the soil and plants, the dirt underneath my fingernails, providing fresh produce to people of the community, learning about bugs and bees and chickens – and spreading the word of what being a community actually means. Having the opportunity to continue that service here at the National Center for Appropriate Technology as Farm Energy Educator is super exciting. I look forward to my time here as an Energy Corps member!

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