If I had not a line up of people behind me also waiting to converse with Joel Salatin, and if he had said to me, “Ashley, please tell me how you got here today, because I am so very interested”, this is what I would have said.
In 2005, my husband and I lived on a small 5 acre farm in Armow, Ontario. Population, some people and a poultry barn. We were not planning on farming. But we lived on a farm and something about the little red barn with the blush pink door and the green tin roof just cried for life. Kitty corner to us was an industrial chicken barn, and once you have smelled that smell… you then can also taste it in the meat that comes shrink wrapped in parts on styrofoam platters. Not ever wanting to digest that smell, we decided to take matters into our own hands. We started with a dozen chickens, that we decided to raise for meat.
I remember very clearly, how nervous I was about those twelve little balls of yellow fluff. The ways to prematurely kill them seemed positively endless to me then, and I was overwhelmed. I called and requested an experienced friend come and help me introduce these birds to their brooder (a simple Rubbermaid box). She obliged and supported me through the quick process of beak dipping and lamp adjusting, and if she felt like snickering, she sure didn’t let me know it.
We relied heavily on the advice and expertise of many friends, family and neighbours in those early days. They were right along side us, as we discovered all kinds of new things. The value of the existing asparagus patch in my garden. The incredible path of destruction that trails a tomato horn worm. What the inside of a chicken smells like, and the joy and pride of feeding your own family with sustenance you brought to the table yourself, from start to finish.
Our first chicken tractor began moving around the tiny acreage, leaving bright green rectangles in its wake. The burnt out stationary chicken yard already abandoned for literally greener pastures.
We moved in 2007 onto our current farm, a beautiful little 50 acre parcel. It has a bush, a river, and municipal drainage conveniently located through it. Its soil is mostly clay, but generous friends built us raised beds out of cedar, and our garden now flourishes instead of becoming stunted or drowning. The house is small, but therefore is able to be heated exclusively with wood, even in our harsh Canadian winters.
I can now bring home hundreds of balls of yellow fluff, to go into a dedicated brooder shed, with the help of my two homeschooled children of course. We can process our own quickly and easily, but I was lucky to find small, family run Schefter’s Poultry Processing in nearby Gorrie, and for a surprisingly small fee we access their expert staff and machinery and receive perfectly plucked, parted and vac-packed birds back.
I know my way around a pressure canner and put up a load of produce. I can make a variety of cheeses, and my children know delights of fresh milk. I also raise our own pork, turkey, duck, lamb, rabbit and goat. I sell to family, friends and a really classy local restaurant. I get a huge thrill when I see my name on their menu.
I am just crazy for pasture based farming. Living out here has taught me about my love for labor. I have come to know myself in ways I never thought possible, and I owe my confidence to one man in particular, to you, Joel Salatin, whose writings on farm and family were never far from my fingertips throughout this process. When I read those books for the first time I was gripped. I read huge portions of them out loud to others, to myself. I read them and re-read them. Every time I messed something up, I remembered to be thankful, to simply do it differently next year. The disasters are easier to come by than the victories. Which is what makes the victories all the more glorious.
I am presently at the cusp of new development, with my new multi-use structure starting to come into place. It’s rainy pre-winter season, and my wood isn’t in, and my pens aren’t built, and I’m not at all ready, but I know to be brave. Because it’s like this every year. I can do this.
And I know I can do this, thanks to you.
….however. In real life I think I managed to simply say “thank you so much” about sixteen times, while going pink in the face, and nearly forgetting to take a picture with him, and I would have except the nice lady in front of me (whose picture with Joel I took for her) reminded me.