Life Cycles on the Farm
July 22, 2022 |
Keri Toye (she/they) is the Farm Project Lead responsible for animals and compost this season.
Most of the action for Keri is on east campus: the compost pile and laying hens are co-located by design; pigs and broiler birds enjoy their own spaces nearby.
Keri and I toured this part of the farm to bring you insight into their role, learning, and contributions in the first four months of an eight-month position.
Compost and Laying Hens
We began at the compost pile. Here is what Keri says:
When I started, the compost temperature was reading around 120 degrees. Gen Spellman (Farm Production Coordinator) and I have been curating this pile to get the temperature up [so material can break down efficiently.] We have worked together to decide how to improve it.
First thing in the morning, we take the temperature of the compost. We pick up food scraps that were dropped off from the community and bring them in. We cover that with woodchips which help balance nitrogen and carbon.
We monitor ratios of things we add. We turn the pile twice a week with the tractor to aerate and flip in newer stuff. We’ve gotten the pile up to 150 degrees! It’s so exciting.
After celebrating their compost progress, I tell Keri that when I drop my compost there is always one chicken over there checking it out, and I wonder if it’s the same bird every time.Keri’s response illustrates how observation is a critical skill in her role:
I think so. The same chicken roosts on a trailer every night, I find another on the tractor like clockwork. We’ve had issues with them getting out, getting them into the coop, getting them to lay eggs where they are supposed to lay eggs. I’m cool with free range chickens but last week, Jake [Kornfeld, Senior Farm Production Manager] found 4 chickens wandering over by the Winooski River. That is too far. I think they got lost and couldn’t find their way back.
We observe them, see what they do. Some choose to fly into the trees or onto the fence. Gen and I strung orange twine above the fence to keep them from roosting on the fence. It’s helping.
So the chickens eat from this compost pile. Throughout the day we bring food scraps and weeds. The chickens get really excited. Picking at the compost is an all-day thing for them. They go for the grain, too, which gives them the minerals they need.
Someone brings scraps over and a stream of chickens runs over to see what just arrived. While we watch the flock investigate the fresh pickings, Keri brings our conversation full circle to the compost operation.
Ideally we could have two compost piles: a fresh pile and a finish pile. Right now, we are getting a system going, and that’s probably going to take most of this season. Then we can start using the compost on the farm.
We shift over to the carriage barn to visit a flock of broiler chicks. Twice each season, many Health Care Share Members get a whole chicken in their share. Providing protein is an important strategy for wellness; and raising and processing chickens is a significant learning opportunity for Corps Members.I’m vegetarian but I definitely appreciate seeing all parts of this process and being able to give these animals the best life they can have before they go.
I have ideals and values about not killing living things, and at the same time, wanting to feed the community. Especially people who need a specific diet and need clean and organic food. It’s a hard thing to balance in my position, especially since I’m raising these animals.
Let’s be honest, they are here for us; they were born for human consumption. As a human race, we decided to bring them into this life. We have a responsibility to give them a good life before we take it away.
The pigs are always excited for a visit.
I’m here to develop some of the ideals I hold; to better understand myself, better understand society, better understand all the things that go into running a farm and feeding people healthy, clean food.
Chicken slaughter is a big day. With the first flock, we witnessed how the animals were raised in the best possible way, then saw them go in a respectful way too.
It’s full-cycle here. Raising them from baby, giving them an open life – the pigs and chickens get to roam around in a large space. They are not fully free, but once they die they go to the community to be eaten or into our compost system to begin the full process again. When I bury a chicken, I say ‘you are going to be with us throughout our cycles for years to come.’
It’s clear, in walking and talking with Keri, that the Food & Farm experience is multi-faceted. Members are engaged as a community, getting food out to our wider community. Along the way, people doing the work are having deeply personal learning and growth experiences.
Leading and Learning
I’ve killed pests and buried chickens that were killed by other animals. It feels like we are constantly burying things. It weighed on me heavily at first. I’ve gone through lots of phases of emotions and processing death, and life cycles of farming. I’m slowly processing it. I’m asking myself so many new big questions that I probably wouldn’t have had a chance to ask myself unless I was here.
I’m mostly trying to gain as many skills as possible to further my development and create systems that I think work better for the environment, the people, and the animals. Right now, I’m gaining one piece of the puzzle to get there. I don’t know what that looks like yet. I’m going to take this experience with me and go to the next thing and one day, I’ll put all the pieces together.
I remind Keri we hope they will come back and teach us what they learn! That’s what the VYCC community is about – sharing knowledge in every direction. We’re trying to create a space where people can learn and be supported and we can pass on the skills we know. Importantly, this farm operation has been shaped by seasonal staff like Keri:
Jake, Gen and I talk about ideas and what might work. At first, I didn’t know how the farm operates or what was tried in the past. But now I feel comfortable to suggest ideas.
I think the best part about VYCC is I can talk to somebody about what I think may need to be implemented or suggestions I have or complaints that I have. I feel comfortable and respected to have these conversations; in a way where I’m ready to receive feedback, too. That’s strongly facilitated here. Having everyone feel like they have a purpose and a voice is what runs the farm.
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