Sunday, April 11, 2010

Crop Mobbing

Friday afternoon as the markets slowed down and the grain brokers came back to the office after spending the day on the floor of the CBOT, I was cornered by one of our grain brokers.  Rumors have been running through my firm that 'Joanna was raising chickens'--and this guy hunted me down.  "Really?!" he said, "I thought that all was a big joke!  But I've been thinking about raising them myself?!"  I'm shocked and delighted all at once and the conversation begins:  "I mean, how shocking is it that this is the first generation in the history of humanity that doesn't know how to grow it's own food?!"  "Yes and since that bothers me and I want to do something about it, I've been named the crazy one on the desk?!"

I've been running into a lot of kindred spirits lately.  Turns out, raising chickens in Chicago has two reactions:  there are those who are shocked, appauled, disgusted, incensed that you would DARE to do something that dirty in their backyard. "What are you going to do with all that poop!!" is the most common question.  My answer: I'm not intending to pick every last piece of it up with a ziplock baggie. (no offense to the dog lovers out there but honestly, it seems like a funny logical block)  The other response is one of comraderie.  I'm finding more and more folks who have been thinking about composting/buying local/cooking more/raising chickens even.  And my chickens, have become the avenue for having these kinds of conversations. 

I ran across this NYT article in mid-February and immediately thought-- is there anyone in Chicago doing this?  As a periphery member of the AUA I am slowly finding more and more ways to meet like-minded folks who are passionate about knowing where food comes from and who are interested in helping the traveling between there and here.  So... a few weeks ago this thread was posted:

    *Kismet Fruit Farm*, a 6 year old fruit farm, needs to salvage raspberry
    shoots and canes and strawberry crowns from their previous farm site.
    Their commitment to support community food production anywhere,
    aligns them with Cob Connection for this great opportunity for our
    supporters  - to go home with the fruits of their labors.

    Most of the digging work will be done by tractor, so mostly we will bend,
    collect, and organize while we talk, laugh, sing and get to know each other.

    In exchange for your hard work and eagerness to get out of the city and onto
    a farm this spring, you will be fed dinner, breathe fresh air, and share in
    the bounty!

And so I did.

7 am on Saturday morning Trodimon and I went cruising up to Western Michigan to help.  As it turns out, Kismet has been sharing land with a pair of established farmers and needed to move crops from the land-share to their own land.  Land owners Joan and John were there to help, much to Kismet's surprise.  There seems to be more going on in this relationship but since we're there to pick canes and crowns, we save our questions for later.

Joan and John are the kinds of farmers that look like a postcard: she's out there in a skirt, a SKIRT in the fields! in a dress that looks delightfully homemade.  His grey beard grazes his chest as he bends slowly to pick up the canes left by those without such a careful eye.

We talk about my chickens and how to preserve eggs in a crock for your pantry in the 19th century manner with a kind of limewater something.  We talk about my one failed attempt at making mozzarella from scratch and her goat cheese made from her three momma goats.  "Oh we have 9 babies that are just one month old, would you all like to come and see them?  Sure, you can come see the whole place-- our solar panels and wind turbines and everything."  Joan & John's bread and butter is their organic blueberry farm but they also have a team of oxen for maple syruping, three momma goats for milk and 15-ish chickens (it's hard to keep track when they keep having chicks and turning up on the dinner table).

They have lived off the grid since they moved onto the farm 30 years ago.  Wind and solar power the electricity for the house.  Heat comes from wood that John mills from the trees on the land.  They are building a beautiful new farmhouse and John is milling all of the wood for flooring, wainscotting, porches, the list goes on.  They're incredible people.  Like-minded, doesn't even begin to describe it.  Through the tour of their farm, I'm realizing: you are precisely the people that I'm changing my life to be like.  I'm not able to live off the grid or make all of my own goat cheese, but I'm learning lessons in home preserving and raising chickens and talking to the farmers that I'm buying from because of people like you.

It's a funny thing when you imagine a life that you're trying to shadow and then find yourself meeting those very folks.

All this to say, I just wanted to show you all what their life looked like.  No, I don't think I'm ready to move to a nineteenth century farm house.  But I do want to live a life as responsibly as Joan and John.  I want to be proud of the life that I'm living and take ownership of what I'm using.  I want to live in a way that creates conversation and inspires other people to do the things that they've been thinking in the back of their minds.

We returned home to grid-powered apartments and a fridge full of store bought food.  I think we even ordered out pizza because we were both too tired to cook.  Baby steps.  We brought back strawberry crowns of our own for planting.  This summer, as my strawberries fruit, I will make jam and when the blueberries are in season, I plan to make a run up to Joan & John's to pick my own and chat with Joan about the very best kinds of blueberry preserves. 

Any and all are welcome.


  1. Have you read Made From Scratch? check out Jenna's blog at she is the author and a 20 something graphic designer/homesteader out east!

  2. I don't know how I missed this one. Excellent as always and if you are every looking for company on these adventures please call me!