Self Sustainable. Organic. Farm to Table. Appealing words— admirable concepts. But we seldom consider what it entails to bring such belief systems to fruition; how we navigate the road from farm…to table.
Farmer Chris and Sous Chef Adam on Machete Duty
This week at Rancho Santana’s chicken facility our farm and kitchen staff walked that path.
Felipe and Omar Plucking
Melky and Justin Butchering
Hen to plate.
Sautéed Chicken Liver with Radish, Fennel Frond Salad
It’s been awhile since I’ve written a farm update, so, I am very pleased to report we are 20 piglets more populated and—it was our best harvest ever! Our little plot produced four and a half tons of grain. I believe we own it all to pig poop… and Felipe’s herculean efforts.
What 4 1/2 tons looks like.
We were astonished by the benchmark crop. We’d felt behind in its care all year, and we couldn’t find anyone to harvest (Felipe is working and I have retired from field work with its allergens, scorpions and wasps) so the pigs have been destroying and consuming it for over a month. But Felipe, somewhere in the midst of the season managed to lug (on his back) 60, 80lb bags of rotted pig manure about a ¼ mile uphill, to a small field he reclaimed from the scrub this spring. I spread 20 bags on our small tortilla corn field, and even with him hauling the bags into the plot for me, it was still hot, heavy, hard labor. As usual, he never ceases amaze.
Here’s a bit of information about “do it yourself” organics that may surprise you. By substituting the manure we were able to use half the chemical fertilizer we have in the past, but—it took 2 tons of manure, rather than 150 kilos of fertilizer. And, a field that would generally take two hours to fertilize took two days of strenuous labor. Not to mention the months of collecting and managing the manure. Of course, the benefit is less chemicals on our land, in our water and animals. Still, doing it the natural way is MUCH more difficult.
We’re trying a new tactic with the stored grain this year. We put bounce dryer sheets between the bags to keep the field mice at bay. We’re not certain it will work, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed. Rodents do a lot of damage, chewing holes in the bags, making a mess and leaving their droppings in the grain, which the sows do not appreciate.
Gorda and her brood.
Gorda and Minnie had total of twenty healthy piglets. They were very considerate, birthing on the weekend so Felipe could assist. Still, he was tired Monday morning after 12 hours of waiting, crouching, cleaning and acclimating piglets to the teat.
Felipe assists Minnie
Finally— we have a new dog. After so many horrible deaths, I’d decided not to get another dog until I could afford to fence in our yard. But King was in such a terrible situation, I decided he was better off taking his chances with us than living as he was: on a chain so short he was forced to sleep, eat and shit in the same place. We’re taking every available measure to keep him safe. He’s assisting in this effort by never leaving Felipe’s side.
We look forward to another prosperous year at the PDR; this year’s goal: by year’s end, Felipe will no longer need to work outside our farm. Wish us luck 🙂
I fell in love with Felipe for his stories. Years later I realized, as I listened to his mother, whose stories have not been filtered through the knowledge of letters, and are redolent with place, where he’d learned his craft.
We met in Chicago eighteen years ago. He was undocumented, working as a bus boy, I was a server in the same restaurant. As I got to know him, he told me stories of his home town, a tiny village in the Sierra Huautla mountains. To an untraveled Midwestern girl, stories tinged in accent, spilling from a beautiful man lips, made La Tigra sound like the most exotic place on earth.
As he drug the anaconda out from under the mulberry bush last week, I laughed as I thought of my past fascination and naiveté regarding La Tigra. I recalled this story he’d told me many years ago, and I asked him to speak it to me again. I didn’t realize until this telling that the events had taken place where we now live.
The remains of the huamuchil.
When I was a little boy, about six years old, my family was hired to clean peanuts here at the Piedra Rahada, it was owed by my brother -in -law at the time. We were all there, under the big huamuchil that died last year, it was a very old tree even then.
My brothers were bringing the plants from the field and my mother and sisters and I beat the roots with a mocho, the back of a broken off machete, to knock off the peanuts. At that time you could still drink the water from the creeks, when we ran out, it was my job to fetch more.
I went to the place where there is water all year round, between the roots of the big amates and parota, you know the place, all the animals drink there still. As I walked up the creek bed I saw a big rattle snake on its way for water too. I backed away and when there was some room between us I called to my family, “There’s a really big snake down here!” It was about the size of the masaquata I killed today.
My mother came down into the creek bed and when she saw the snake, even though I was pretty spooked by it, she said “Oh that’s not so big! This is what you do. ” She began to look for a big branch. “The stick has to be dry”, she said, “because the venom is like electricity and can travel up a green branch.”
She chopped off a dead branch with her machete. (She still always carries a machete.)She walked up along side the snake, who didn’t even turn to look at her, and smacked it on the head. Dead. She picked it up, went back to work, and I went for water.
Where the wild animals drink.
Soco butchered the snake. The meat was sold as a cancer remedy, and the skin for decoration, unless it was damaged. Damaged skin was used as a preventive medicine for chicken plague. She kept a small piece in their water dish to help keep them from falling prey to illness.
I wondered how Felipe felt about his mother pish-shawing his fear of a large venomous snake.
“I felt good,” he told me,” my mother always made me feel safe, like I could take care of things myself, that there was nothing to fear.”
I can’t think of a better testament to good parenting.
Felipe and a constrictor living 15 meters form our house.
Felipe decided to help me get caught up in the garden. I’ve fallen behind during my recovery. There were a few corners that I haven’t been to in quite some time apparently. This masaquata(anaconda) had taken up residence under my mulberry tree, fifteen meters from the house. Felipe disturbed its sleep and it came at him hissing. He said it scared him. I don’t need a whole hand to count the times Felipe has told me something scared him.
Perhaps you are wondering why he felt the need to kill it though.
Masaquatas are not poisonous, but they do have a nasty bite. They are constrictors and this one could definitely have made a meal of Chupa and Chico(her piglet buddy) who spend much of their afternoons napping in the garden. I also plan to house ducks in my garden one day, so, I’m sorry, but this predator so close to the house was not welcome. Had it been a bull snake, it would have been welcome to stay. We inhabit about an 1/8th of an acre of out of the Piedra Rahada’s 17, the rest is available to wildlife.
No, I did not skin it or eat it. I’ve never butchered a snake, though I’m sure I could have figured it out, snake butchering was too steep a learning curve for the day. Rest assured there are a million other hungry organisms to make use of him.