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Posts Tagged ‘sustainable agriculture’

Baguette for a pillow

Spring is here, and the pigs are beginning to smell. Which means: the pigs are running out of time. I’ve never dispatched a pig before and all week I’ve been feeling a little sick with worry at the thought of it. But my friend, and pig project partner, who is from Alabama, seems to think that hog butchering and eating isn’t anything out of the ordinary. In fact, everyone from the South seems to think that hog butchering is just about as American as the Fourth of July. In the last few months alone, there was a free hog roast on the river by Audubon Park, and next week there’s a benefit for the Hollygrove Market simply called “Roast Beast: A History of Animal Husbandry from Snout to Tail,” a fundraiser for the non-profit where they serve a whole pig.

Hog Roast


Southerners aren’t afraid of a whole hog, laid out on a table in the open, to be eaten by hand. But let me tell you, I had never experienced such a thing in my life. I got to eat the jowl.
Tail!

Tail!

These pigs aren’t going to get cooked whole as I had previously planned. I want to try every different part of them, and I just can’t eat that much all at once. I still hope to share the meat as much as possible, and have lots of bbqs, but I want to be able to know how the chops, hams, ribs, bacon, belly, jowl, feet and tail all taste. And I don’t have the energy for all of that in one day. A pig raised on fine cheese and baguette leftovers isn’t something to be squandered; I want to savor it as much as possible.

So, I’ve got all that sorted out, but now I just have to arrange the killing and butchering. I know these animals, and so the prospect of things not going smoothly or quickly makes me queasy. A good farmer should provide everything an animal needs to live a life free from fear, and I think I have done that. I have given them excellent food, an adequate shelter, and a chance to forage and run around. They have provided me with entertainment value, and soon, sustenance.

Food Trough Pillow

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The pigs have moved in, and they have chickens for housemates. I set up a corral made out of used pallets in the backyard, so that it also functions as a chicken run. The chickens have been taken down a peg; they have to sneak good food (cheese and bread) when the pigs will let them. At first they seemed puzzled by these weird creatures, but now I think the chickens are enjoying their farm company. They’ve actually been laying eggs more regularly, and have stopped their early morning screeching. They sometimes eat food off the pigs’ backs – maybe one day they’ll ride around on the pigs’ backs like the birds that travel on the back of hippos. Well, probably not, but it’s funny to visualize.

Anyway, the pigs are growing and eating at an alarming rate. They’re getting about a five gallon bucket of food waste every day and I think I’m going to have to find a way to increase their rations. Nearly everyone I know in the food service industry here in New Orleans is helping me save food scraps for them, but I’m going to have to ramp up the scraping. The whole goal in raising these pigs for my own consumption is to take a waste product (leftover or unusable food from restaurants) and turn it into a high-end, consumable product (meat for me and friends).

These pigs are moving beyond the cute phase and moving quickly into the smelly and gluttonous phase. They are quite entertaining to watch rooting around, making snorting/squealing noises, or just sleeping after a rigorous morning of eating. But, I have to say that these are the first animals I’ve raised that I (so far) don’t have reservations about eating. At this point, they may be putting on almost a pound of weight a day, and all I can think about are the chops, ham and bacon that is effortlessly being produced. I can’t help but notice, every time I look at the pigs, that they’re getting nice shoulders, rumps and bellies. They are so stout that they remind me of giant sausages with four legs poking out. I look at the pigs and I see meat.


Now I know that may sound callous to the animal-lover (I do count myself among that group, even though it may be hard to see beyond the the fact that I’m going to eat my pigs). I respect their personalities too, and I’m glad that they have some space to root around in the dirt, nap in the sun, and just in general, be pigs.

They like to be scratched a lot and they like to rub up on anything coarse to scratch themselves on, and they come straight at me with their dirty noses every time I enter their pen. But I had no idea that seriously, the way to truly let a pig just be a pig is simply to give it as much as it possibly wants to eat.

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Pigs love cheese!

I have to apologize for my absence from the blog world, but I have several confessions to make. First of all, I moved to a different house in another neighborhood. The idea of starting over seemed exhausting, and I have to admit that in some ways, I thought of retiring. And then I received a death threat as a comment on one of my blog postings about killing rabbits. And then I lost two entire litters of baby rabbits. So, I have to say that I have had enough black moments in my urban farming adventures lately to seriously shake me, but I now feel bold enough to start over, to proclaim that I will not be silenced by anyone who values rabbit-life over human. And now that there’s a new litter of baby rabbits, and I’m cautiously optimistic that maybe this litter is stronger, and maybe the weather will be kinder.

So, instead of retiring, I got pigs. Yes, pigs. They’re not at my house yet, but this week they will be moving into my backyard, with the chickens, rabbits, new citrus trees and vegetables.
Piglet

And sometime in late March or early April, we will be having a very big barbecue.

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I changed the name of this blog because I am back in New Orleans and it has made me realize how a garden can inspire people, help you make friends and establish a sense of community with your neighbors.  An edible garden is meant to be shared, not tucked away and hidden from view behind a fence.  In the process of planting Brussels sprouts, onions and Swiss chard in my front yard, I have reestablished a connection with many of my neighbors as they come home from work, or walk their dogs (and one cat who walks itself with a dog).   Urban farming is important not only for catching up on neighborhood gossip, but also for reducing our dependence on oil – seriously.  According to the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, the average American meal travels 1500 miles by the time it reaches your plate.  I don’t want Australian oranges when we get better-tasting Satsumas here!  I know all the information on how being a vegetarian reduces your carbon footprint by half, but I was a vegetarian for 7 years and it didn’t really suit me.  After working on a ranch and eating a lot of homegrown meat, I came to the conclusion that I don’t have a problem killing or eating animals, but I do have a problem with how they are conventionally raised.  And I think that if you’re willing to eat it, you should also be willing to ensure that it was humanely raised and killed. 

After lots of travel and experimentation, I have concluded that being a moderatarian/locavore suits me best.  I’ll eat anything in moderation (hopefully meat just 2-3 times per week) and try to eat mostly local food.

So I’m trying to ramp up my farming capabilities.  Since fall and winter in Southeast Louisiana are absolutely the best time of year for growing edibles, I’m hoping to have a wide variety of greens, peas, and beans for this year’s Thanksgiving feast.  Last year, I had a relatively good garden and I kept two chickens for eggs.  But this year, I hope to at least provide an entire meal for myself and guests from just local and mostly backyard/front yard food.  That means there will be no turkey on the table for us this year, but there will be duck and it is coming straight from my yard.

One week ago, I bought 10 Muscovy ducklings from a man who sells farm-raised meat at the Crescent Ctiy farmer’s market.  Ten!  He said I had to buy all ten so that his duck would start laying again.  Initially, it was an overwhelming proposition but they are cute little fuzzballs that have settled well into my backyard.  Much more entertaining than chickens, these ducks are constantly preening and bathing and flapping their stubby little wings; it is hard to envision any of them on my table in 6 and a half weeks.  Especially since I will be instigating the killing, gutting, cleaning and cooking.  But the Thanksgiving duck project has commenced and we will see how it goes.

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