Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Monday, September 8th
This week, I was assigned to move broiler shelters. As I write these blogs, I feel like I’m always writing about moving the broilers, so if that seems to be the case and I’m being boring, I apologize. I like moving broilers though. The birds are comical and they love getting new grass, so now that I can actually move their living quarters without needing a Gatorade after, the process is pretty painless.
I spent most of the rest of the day with Eric, our apprentice manager, and fellow intern Brandon. First, we took a trailer load of piglets to one of Polyface’s rental farms to put them out into their first pig pasture. One of the fun parts about this assignment is that part of fulfilling your job responsibilities involves sticking around for a bit to watch the piglets to make sure they are settling in and are learning where the fences are. It was pretty gratifying (and amusing) to watch 50 piglets sprint around their new paddock through the tall grass. After lunch, we did the not so glamorous job of taking the Polyface trash and recycling to the town transfer station. Watching people throw out fully recyclable items into the trash bugs me... but such is life. We made up for those wasted recycling opportunities by stopping at an organ factory (the instrument, not body parts) and a local woodworking shop to pick up wood shavings they were looking to get rid of. We use the sawdust in the brooder and under some of the rabbit cages and these businesses are happy to have someone come and take it away.
Tuesday, September 9th
After moving birds, I managed to get myself placed back on the Buying Club load up crew. I love Buying Club load up. It’s so fun. It has been really helpful for me to focus on it, as I’m now able to discern different cuts of meat based on what they look like (not all of them all the time, but I’m getting there) and am learning which items seem to be the most popular. The most memorable order from this Tuesday was someone who bought thirty-five bags of chicken wings, which came to about 56lbs. We were all wondering what one would need that many wings for, but we figured it was a football party or something like that.
We spent the afternoon working on the new portable irrigation system with Eric, mainly moving it to a different spot out in the field as you first enter Polyface’s driveway and hooking it up to a pump. We then went to one of the farm’s pig pastures and cleaned up the fence line with weed whackers and a chain saw. If the fence line gets too overgrown, the spark can be deadened or the wire can be dragged down and then there will be pigs everywhere. We haven’t had a mass breakout yet this season (knock on wood) and it would be nice to finish with a perfect record.
Wednesday, September 10th
I will not tell a lie. I badgered Daniel to let me go on the Buying Club run. Usually Richard, our intelligent and wonderful driver, does Buying Club runs by himself, but I really wanted to see how the drop offs went. Selling things is a strength of mine and I really enjoy it, and Buying Club has been the last remaining mystery of Polyface that I wanted to unlock.
The way Buying Club works is that people place their orders online with the farm. There are several set drop off locations and dates people can sign up for to pick up their food. Buying Club runs are done on Wednesday and Saturday, with Thursdays being the restaurant delivery day. On Tuesdays, whoever is assigned to Buying Club loadup works with the staff at the farm to assemble orders in coolers based on the online submittals. The clients are responsible for bringing their own cooler to the drop off, gathering their food and they then pay for their items with cash or check.
Richard and I went to three different stops and it was interesting for me to see how much organization goes into the setting out of the coolers, eggs, folders with invoices and even where Richard parks the truck. I also enjoyed talking with the different customers as they picked up their orders. As an aside, the guy who bought all the chicken wings that we had packed the day before explained that his beagle gets two raw chicken wings a day and he was stocking up. How cute is that! He must have one happy dog.
Thursday, September 11th
Morning chores were a bit different this morning, as we were joined by a film and camera crew working with the Virginia Tourism Board. They were really nice and filmed/photographed us during chores and throughout the day as we worked on putting corrugated metal siding on one of the farm buildings. I was struck by how the chores and animals I am so used to were so interesting to them. It was good to be reminded of how all this was such a novelty when I first got here. I’m not saying I’m jaded, but I realized I take for granted the beautiful surroundings and the purposeful work. I have a cool job and it is nice to be reminded of that.
Friday, September 12th
We had another film crew with us on Friday. The creator of American Meat, a food/farming documentary, was back and is working on a new project about young farmers. He came with us while we did chores and prepped and reconfigured some of the pig pastures. I think he caught me on film stumbling over a root and am hoping that doesn’t make it to prime time. I can envision it now, a voiceover solemnly states “The future of American farming is bleak.” as I suddenly trip while striding through a field of tall grass. Just kidding.
The rest of the afternoon, we fed some round bales at one of the rental properties to buy some time to let some of the fields grow in before putting the cows out on them. There has been very little rain this summer and Daniel Salatin believes it is a better use of our grass and hay resources to rest these areas for a bit to encourage further growth while the weather is still hospitable. After feeding the cows, we went to the sale barn for my first cattle auction. Daniel suggested we pay attention to the prices along with who bought what. There is some strategy to buying at an auction that I was unaware of and am sure this lesson will save me thousands once Dan (fiancé Dan) and I delve into the beef business.