Britta Gustafson: See you in Valhalla, Drumstick
The Winter Solstice and holiday season is a time to celebrate the new light ahead.
Here we are at the depths of the darkest night before the beginning of a new dawn. I give thanks for the comforts available on the deepest winter days. A warm bath, a hot meal, fresh food. How lucky we should count ourselves if these are easily attained.
I’m also incredibly grateful for the life-sustaining nourishment that comes from animals that have lived a wholesome, happy life.
It is remarkable to experience raising food. It liberates us, requiring us to slow down and immerse ourselves in the now with an understanding that life is fragile, cyclical and worth our utmost gratitude. This is what makes life the most powerful force on Earth.
I wasn’t raised with livestock. My kids, however, are blessed to be growing up in a sustainable farm setting here at the nearby Farm Collaborative in the Earth Keepers and Earth Scouts programs.
Has it really only been about 100 or so years since the times when most children grew up on farms and had exposure to an understanding that chicken comes from chickens, and that we must raise them to become food? At the FarmPark, the animals are integral to our daily rhythm and wellness. I’ve watched, time and time again, how we are one in our communal ability to love, appreciate and learn from the farm animals. And I believe we are better humans for it.
But today, there is often more of a cognitive disconnect. We typically grow up not understanding slaughter, so in turn we fear it and demonize it even. It may even be the reason that more and more people are becoming vegetarians while still eating factory farmed eggs and milk products sourced from animals that are eventually killed.
Eating animals is such a big part of human society, yet we constantly eat food that never really lived. The slaughterhouse, big-agriculture livestock never truly get to live.
At the FarmPark the feeling that our animals are blessings and should be treated well is palpable. It is very deep and humbling to raise and appreciate the life of our food before it in turn nourishes us. Our food is best when it has truly lived. Life nourishes life.
Recently my daughter’s favorite chicken died, this one of natural causes, after living a rich and nurtured life, thanks to the doting affection she received from the kids. This chicken was unique; she lived most of her two-year life resiliently without feet.
In an effort to replace their sense of loss with a cathartic release, my daughter and her close friend decided to pen their memories.
These young emotions, expressed through unfiltered, untainted hearts, provide insight to just how much love farm animals can receive. These animals really get to live before they die. And when children are raised to understand that they also are our food, they can love with gratitude the food that they are growing.
The girls put together an obituary that only two kids who genuinely love their livestock could write:
By Lia G. Hodgson, 10, and Evie E. Curry, 10
Lia: I remember the day we met Drumstick. Evie and I were just walking around in the alpaca-goat area when I spotted Drumstick. I didn’t know exactly what I was seeing. At first, I thought she was asleep. But when the other chickens got spooked and ran she didn’t move, so I picked her up and saw her “feet” (or lack thereof) I said “uh Evie!” And that was the start of an amazing friendship between two girls and a footless-chicken.
Evie: It was Halloween (2018) at the FarmPark and Lia and I were opening up Drummer’s (her nickname) Farm-Fresh Taco Shop, and we decided to dress up our mascot, so Lia ran off and came back with a tiny pair of pink wings. It was a perfect costume for Drumstick!
L: It was a hot summer day at the FarmPark and Evie and I were meeting the new little baby chicks and we thought that we should introduce Drumstick to them. I went and grabbed her, she looked them up and down and jumped out of my arms. At first we were a bit worried, but then she taught them to dig for food and so that was that. She was a nurturer. (Mother hen so to speak.)
E: It was my birthday and we were going to Marble and so we took Drummer. That trip was so amazing that I could hardly put it into words. I mean a chicken on vacation?! All I can say is that I remember taking Drummer to explore the river and thinking … this is PARADISE!!
L: Another time we thought Drummer was too lonely so we took incentive and went all the way out to the big field to get Drumstick a roommate. We had had our eye on a certain chicken who had a limp and so we thought … PERFECT! We took her back and she moved in!
E: I never thought this day would come, but it has always been in the back of my mind. And now it is here. We are saying goodbye to our dear friend Drumstick.
And now we will plant a tree in memory of her and her body will nourish us. No one who knew her will ever forget her.
We love you Drumstick and hope you enjoyed the life you lived.
Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.