Tag Archives: Casey O’Leary

What are you, Chicken? (local grub)

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the epic tale of one vegetarian farmer’s travels into the world of “humane” animal slaughter

by Casey O’Leary, Earthly Delights farmer

My ideology seized me the night before, as I sobbed and blindly transferred the girls from their usual roosts one by one into the plastic dog carrier that would be their final sleeping quarters, fumbling in the dark until my shaking hands would poke a startled squawk and give away their otherwise stone sleeping bodies. Finally sixteen, tucked away, or so I thought, and tucked myself away then, too, dreading the morning.

Upon opening the coop to the usual morning ruckus, a single set of orange wings burst out in search of sunshine and food amidst the sea of black chickens. This old girl had eluded me in the coop last night, and I tried to catch her this morning, to seal her fate with the others of her generation, who had grown too old to lay much and were going to serve as our first foray into the other side of livestock management. Yes I, the former vegan turned egg lover by the good humor and genuine farm contributions of these very same birds, was now going to (maybe) try my hand at ending their lives. I told myself it was a necessary part of raising laying hens. I told myself they had lived very wonderful and happy lives, that their suffering would be brief, and we would know once and for all whether we could in good conscious raise and care for, in all stages, a flock of laying hens.

The single orange bird flapped and ran from me as if her life depended on it. It did. After fifteen minutes of diving into the muck trying to catch her, I named her Lucky (the only one of my girls with a name), and returned to the task of the day.

Our helpers (or, rather, teachers) weren’t due to arrive until 10:00, and I decided the doomed hens deserved a last meal of tasty grass and clover, so I busied myself fencing off a little yard near where the killing would take place, so they could graze contentedly until their untimely end would come.

At 10:00 sharp, Ramon pulled up in his big truck, helping out of it his 86-year-old mother, Miren (mee-DEN), and her sister Mercedes. The two elderly Basque women, clad in colorful aprons, rushed for us, much like hens themselves, hobbling and flapping and squawking their hellos. Miren proudly brandished her favorite tool for this project, a long, sharp knife she had brought over from the Basque country. Ramon slapped Marty (my farming partner) on the back with a hearty hello, while the ladies clucked on in a dance between English and Spanish about how excited they were, how long it had been since they had helped butcher chickens, what a beautiful day it was for this.

“Ay, Ca-See, ¿Como te sientes hoy?” Miren asked me. I told her I was very nervous and maybe wouldn’t want to help at all. She swatted me on the butt, muttering, “Yes, si, si, difícil…la primera vez…”.

We led the three of them to the spot in the grass where we had set up a table with a propane stove and a big kettle. They ordered us to bring more buckets for guts and feathers, sealing my reluctance to participate into a terrified hiding while the first few girls met their fate. Slowly, I crept out to peek, thinking mostly of Miren and Mercedes, of how wise and comfortable they were, how capable and kind. They saw me watching and called me over to where they sat on stools plucking dead chickens. I watched for a moment, not even able to recognize the birds in their adept hands, soggy masses of feathers that did not resemble in the slightest the girls I had loved and cared for the past years. I sat down next to them as they expertly cleaned each tiny, bony bird with tiny, bony fingers. My large hands felt awkward and uncomfortable as I tried to pluck the stiff tail feathers, but the sisters assured me my work was satisfactory.

Ramon was teaching Marty how to slaughter a hen the way they do it in the Basque country, holding the girl between his elbow and waist, slicing her neck, and holding her as she bleeds out and dies. This extremely close contact, cradling the bird as she dies, seemed to me a very tender and gentle way to do it, and certainly a more personal one. No axe-length distance to this method. I glanced quickly at the girls remaining in my makeshift yard, worried they sensed what was coming. They did not. No idea. They were just walking around, pecking and scratching, like every other day of their lives. That made me feel a bit better.

As we sat and plucked, Miren and Mercedes inducted me into the beautiful mindset of farm women, who understand completely the connection between live and animals and food on a table, and all the unglamorous but essential steps along the way. The three of us women working in a circle, sharing stories about life, love, language and culture, is now etched as one of the fondest memories of my life. Although they did not dwell on it, the gravity and tragedy of what we were doing while socializing was tenderly present, as one of them would casually glance over at the pen of hens-in-waiting, shake her head, and mumble, “pobrecitas”, poor little things, then return to the whirr of feathers in front of her.

We slaughtered fifteen birds that day, and each soup made with one of them is deserving of a commemorative tale of its own, infused with all the stories of the life and death of the bird. And while I am still by and large a vegetarian, I do respect the place well-raised and well-slaughtered meat has at a loving, healthy table. I feel so grateful to have experienced the transformation from animal to food the way I did, instead of the way it almost exclusively takes place in this country, in huge factories behind closed doors that keep a kind-hearted population supplied with meat they would never buy if they saw the way the animals lived and died. Thank you to all the chickens who have given me wonderful eggs and meat these past few years, to Ramon, Mercedes, and Miren for sharing their beautiful skills with us, and to all of you who make conscious decisions about what you choose to put in your bellies. Bon Appetit!

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The tree down the street (local grub)

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Down the street is rooted a relic adventure
Sown with a relic hope of prosperity
When planting a fruit tree was thought to be
a gift
for children’s children…
annual abundance,
precious sweetness amid unknown hardship

oh grandpa, how you tried…

In a few weeks, it will begin to bloom,
White blossoms garishly splashed over old, twisted bones
In an absurd blasphemy of the prudence of age,
And then the leaves,
Shinier, more modest,
Respite from the relentless sun of a desert summer day
Performing its yearly miracle again,
Without permission,
Without request,
Save the planting of that seed so many years ago.

Through the warming womb of summer’s green air,
Fruit grows plump and heavy, tugging at branches
Like sagging breasts on an old farm woman’s still-strong back,
Sugars swelling and multiplying inside.
They’ll burst out the tiniest nick in its delicate skin
And drip onto the asphalt below.
The ground used to drink this nectar,
Before the street
And the sidewalk

Oh grandpa, how it cried…

You dreamed of sticky kid hands and faces gorging amid twinkling leaves on summer afternoons.

You dreamed of steaming kitchens stocking this extravagance for desolate winter evenings.
Summer’s abundance in winter,
You dreamed…

oh grandpa, how you’d cry…

Now the fruit falls unpicked
Onto an un-walked on sidewalk
As speeding cars carrying downtrodden seeds
Zoom by without notice.

The lady in the house emerges once a week to grumble and bend,
Back
stiff, knees
stiff, body
stiff, soul
stiff, shaking out
stiff corners of a black plastic bag,
Scooping up your dream-treasures
Sealing them out with the trash

Oh, grandpa, how she tries…

But the world is different now.
Treasures don’t exist in supermarket cans;
Instead, we watch pirate movies on TV

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Lori, Casey and Amie making pear butter

Farmer Casey
A native Idahoan and dirt-worshipper with a passion for plants, this is her 3rd season as a market gardener and chicken co-conspirator, and her first as a beekeeper. She also runs a place-based landscaping company in the Boise area. For fun, she likes to make things out of things she grows (tomatillo salsa, elderberry wine, turnip art, etc.). Visit her in the garden, at the market, or weekly through her subscription farm.

Earthly Delights Farm is a subscription farm growing the old-fashioned way (with compost and chemical-free) in 1 acre of NW Boise dirt. Farmers, chickens, volunteers, bees, and worms work passionately together to grow a wide variety of hand-crafted veggies, fruits, herbs, and flowers, which we share with our members.

Volunteers always welcome
Veggies and eggs in exchange for work!…

earthly delights farm
greenSheRa@hotmail.com, (208) 284-3712
3801 N. Tamarack Drive, Boise, ID 83703

Local Grub located in Garden City, Idaho

Sustainable Omelets at Local Grub
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On a quick weekend trip to Boise, Amy and I arrived early Sat. morning and tossed our sleeping bags out in the backyard of our farmer friend, Marty Camberlango. Along with Casey O’Leary, he is co-founder of Local Grub, an urban farm that provides fresh vegetables and promotes sustainable living in the Boise community. Imagine waking up to the sounds of clucking chickens, Marty’s radical work ethic, and no blinds to block the sun’s welcomed intrusion. As your senses become attuned to the environment, a realization occurs—you are cradled in an omelet womb. The eggs still have not left the warm undersides of chickens. Squash plants greet you with bright yellow edible blossoms, and tomatoes are so red it would make a model’s lips quiver with envy.

For those of you who cannot envision the garden experience, think about Wal-Mart. It is the end of the month. You just got your paycheck. Being responsible, you paid the minimum on your credit cards, and with the money left over, you head to Wal-Mart. Recall the feeling of excitement when you walk through the sliding doors, with all the elements needed for consumer happiness at your fingertips. Now you understand the garden. At Local Grub, with the exception of cheese, all the elements for the perfect omelet are at your fingertips.

Besides vegetables fresh with morning dew, there is another side to the sustainable omelet—the war effort. Bush has pointed out that evil-doers are interested in destroying our food supply through bio terrorism. This type of warfare can come in many forms. The terrorists might increase the chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics that already poison our conventional food supply. Girls are already maturing at earlier ages. Imagine babies being born with beards and pubic hair—these ugly adult babies would certainly demoralize our country. Another form of bio terrorism might be to totally wipe out the food supply. If there is a mad rush on TV dinners, does the government have enough frozen TV dinners to feed the nation?

Should people do more to support the war on terror than buying recyclable magnetic ribbons to slap on hybrid SUVs? There is a way to secure our food supply from the terrorists who want to destroy happy chickens and nonviolent tomatoes. During World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt promoted Victory Gardens, sustainable living on the home front to help the war effort.

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According to Wikipedia…Victory gardens, also called war gardens or food gardens for defense, were vegetable, fruit and herb gardens planted at private residences in Canada, the United States and United Kingdom during World War I and World War II to reduce the pressure on the public food supply brought on by the war effort. In addition to indirectly aiding the war effort these gardens were also considered a civil “morale booster” — in that gardeners could feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown.

Victory gardens were planted in backyards and on apartment-building rooftops, with the occasional vacant lot “commandeered for the war effort!” and put to use as a cornfield or a squash patch. During World War II, sections of lawn were publicly plowed for plots in Hyde Park, London to publicize the movement. In New York City, the lawns around vacant “Riverside” were devoted to victory gardens, as were portions of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Marty and Casey are true American heroes!!!!!!!

Local Grub market garden
Wednesdays 4-7pm
19th & Idaho
Boise, ID
localgrub@gmail.com