It’s not a secret that I was not a fan of farming when Brandon and I first started dating. Well, let me rephrase that, I love to eat, so I guess I’ve always been a fan of farmers, but I never wanted it to be my profession. And I made it clear to Brandon that it could be his thing, but would never be mine, but honestly, it being his profession scared me too. A steady paycheck, retirement plan, and insurance is a nice thing. Brandon farming on the side was more my speed.
But even beyond that, I was like most people – love the animals, hate the process it takes for them to be my food. I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to know about it. I definitely didn’t want to participate in it.
I was sharing this with a group called Lutherans Restoring Creation a few months back. Brandon and I had been asked to share about our farm during one of their monthly meetings. Towards the end after the more formal “presentation” they were asking questions. I had shared earlier during the zoom call my normal spiel about how I didn’t grow up on a farm, wasn’t really into it and oh my goodness look at me now kind of thing. One woman asked, “Sarah, when did it all begin to shift for you?”
My normal tendency is to not allow for any silence and just answer, but I stopped for a second to think and the realization I had was amazing! I told her, “I can tell you the exact moment the shift began.”
So a little backstory. Before this event, which I wasn’t even on the farm to experience firsthand, occurred after Brandon’s first and maybe even second batch of chickens he processed on the farm, of which, I’m not sure if this detail needs to be stated, but I had nothing to do with those days. I ate the chicken, of course, but I wasn’t there for the actual processing. I didn’t want to be.
So, fast-forward, Brandon has this person coming out to the farm who has called him and is interested in purchasing a goat. Brandon could tell from the phone call that this man had a strong accent, which wasn’t uncommon for those who came to the farm to purchase goats to be from outside of the United States originally. Brandon said he had a really hard time understanding him, but was able to set up a date and time for him to come out and see the goats we had available. When they arrived in their Toyota Camry, Brandon quickly figured that this goat was likely not leaving the farm alive but wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to play-out.
In the car was a man, his son, his wife, and two daughters. The father and son get out to greet Brandon and see the goats. They walk over to the small corral Brandon has the goats in, and they identified the one they would like. Brandon works to catch the goat, and anytime he is able to grab it, and it makes a sound of distress, the father tells Brandon to let him go. When Brandon tells this story he says something like, “I wanted to tell him, ‘hey Jack, it’s still my goat you haven’t paid for it yet, don’t tell me how to do this.’” But thankfully he didn’t. The father then asks if his son can catch the goat.
Once they get ahold of the goat, and keep it calm, the father motions towards this beautiful tree in our pasture and begins to ask Brandon a question. Again, there’s a bit lost in translation, but Brandon finally figures out that he is wanting to process the goat there. On the farm. Under the tree. Right then. Brandon, somewhat reluctantly, agrees and goes about some other farm chores while always remaining close to watch, not out of distress but curiosity.
When Brandon called to tell me all about this, it was amazing. “Sarah, it was so cool. They laid out a blanket, they removed their shoes, they prayed over the goat, and it was the most peaceful slaughter I’ve ever witnessed.” He shared with me that the wife and daughters joined them under the tree and they had a picnic, a celebration of the gift together as they continued to cut up the meat to take home to eat.
A little bit later, the father came to Brandon to thank him and offer him some tea they had brought. He shared with Brandon that they were Muslim and because of an upcoming holiday, they were searching for goat to feed and celebrate with their family. He and his son were studying at the University of South Carolina, living in a small downtown apartment, and this experience and this meat was a simple reminder of home, their tradition, and their faith. Brandon asked lots of questions and they talked for over 30 minutes.
Brandon’s mom that evening said, “oh my goodness, we’re not going to tell Sarah about this are we?” And Brandon said, “Are you kidding me?! This has culture written all over it, Sarah is going to love this!” And I did. The reverence that was shown to the animal, the intimate understanding of where their food comes from, the desire to hold onto something some would say is so old fashioned or barbaric, was stunningly beautiful to me.
That is the moment I really felt a shift. A shift in my desire to learn more and be more hands on. I still didn’t want farming to be my job at that time, but that’s when I really began to understand the importance, the gift, the beauty in knowing where your food comes from, to truly give thanks for the hands that had prepared it, and to desire to care for creation, from the earth worms up.
Later, after this event, Brandon and I would attend a conference where a speaker (who was previously a vegan and now a butcher) shared, “The best way to honor the life of an animal is a good life, a good death, a good butcher, and a good cook.” We hold onto those words every day and I always hold on to, in the back of my mind, the first time that I ever witnessed, through Brandon’s retelling, of that on our farm. We may never meet that family again, but I have so much I have to be thankful for because of them and their story.
Tomorrow we will process around 60 chickens. It is never easy to take the life of an animal, and as Brandon says, “the day it becomes easy is the day we know we need to get out of this business.” But tomorrow will also be reverent and stunningly beautiful. These chickens that we have raised since chicks, that we have fed, watered and moved daily, these chickens that have nourished and fertilized our pasture through their poop, will now nourish our bodies and those of our customers. I’m still going to keep my rain-boots on, but we will be standing on holy ground.