Raise your own food for a new perspective

America’s eating habits have changed drastically over recent decades. The Norman Rockwell version of the family meal is increasingly rare. Beyond that, many folks have little knowledge of the origin of their food.

There are millions of Americans who have never snapped a green bean, pulled a carrot from rich black soil, picked a juicy red apple from a tree, harvested sweet corn in the field or butchered a chicken.

While I’m totally comfortable shopping for food at the supermarket and eating at a restaurant or deli, I had an opportunity to learn a little about raising food as a youngster. I’m not bragging or complaining.

My brothers and I helped our mother maintain a big garden each year. While I confess we were not always willing workers, we picked beans and peas, scrubbed carrots and turnips, dug potatoes and husked sweet corn. We also helped harvest apples — from the tree and from the ground below.

I got some solo experience in providing food for the family table when I was 12 years old. In the spring of 1960 we moved from town back to a farm and my parents decided I was old enough to raise spring fries. Without consulting with me first, of course, Dad brought home approximately 100 rooster chicks from the hatchery in Jewell. We put them in the “cook house” behind our home and kept them warm with a heat lamp.

When they were large enough, Dad said, the chickens would have to be moved to a brooder house on the farm. First, however, the building needed to be cleaned out. The previous tenants, we were told, were geese and Dad appointed me the chief goose poop scooper.

On a warm Saturday that spring I took on the task. It warmed up quickly in that little shed, I recall, and as the pitchfork dug into the layers of waste the ammonia fumes burned my eyes.

Their new home clean and ready, we moved in the young chickens. I fed them floor sweepings from the feed mill where Dad worked as well as cracked corn he had purchased. In addition, I carried water from a distant hydrant. Any excitement I might have had about the project when the birds were cute little fluffy chicks began dissipating when I had to clean out the brooder house and then totally disappeared when I had to start carrying five-gallon buckets of water to them.

After dark each night I had to walk out to the chicken house and close the door to keep out predators. Having lived in town for several years I had forgotten how dark it can get out in the country. The darkest place I can remember is out by that chicken house on a moonless night.

I have always had a healthy imagination and in that darkness a flashlight couldn’t chase off all the crooks and monsters I envisioned waiting around the corner to grab me.

By the time Mom decided the stupid chickens were ready to eat, I was more than anxious to help reduce their numbers.

Folks who butcher chickens employ different methods to, shall we say, terminate the birds. Opa Huisman showed me how to use baler twine to tie the chickens by their feet to the clothes line –properly spaced, of course — and then walk along and do the trick with a sharp butcher knife.

I won’t go into the rest of the messy process but I can tell you this: a spring fry you’ve raised and butchered yourself tastes better than today’s “factory” chickens. In fact, a drum stick from a farm-raised spring fry, fried the way my mother fried chicken, could convert a PETA member.

Because most Americans have little or no contact with the folks who grow or raise their food, many fail to appreciate the good value that our food is today. In spite of recent inflation, Americans spend less of their income on food than many other nations.

Those who would like some added enlightenment on these matters might consider buying a hundred chicks, scooping goose poop on a warm day, carrying five-gallon buckets of water each day, hiking out to the chicken house in inky darkness each night and then butchering the darn things. It will definitely provide a new perspective.

Arvid Huisman can be contacted at huismaniowa@gmail.com. ©2024 by Huisman Communications.


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