Monday, February 21, 2011

From Pig to Pork

Carefully wrapped in brown paper packages and frozen in the chest freezer of the red barn are beautiful cuts of meat labeled SHOULDER, RIBS, and FRESH BACON. As I look at the parcels of pork and think of the wonderful meals to come of them, I look back to the day of the slaughter, and think of how this meat got here in the first place.
I remember staring through the crack in the door, watching as Beth and Josh wrestled a 200 lb. pig to the ground and slit its throat with a sharpened kitchen knife. The late morning sun beat warm on my back, though the temperature was still cold enough to keep me breathing clouds of steam while I looked on at the scene of the slaughter.
Once the pig had been stuck and ceased its struggle, its front and hind legs were tied to a long pole, and the three of us hefted the weight of the inverted carcass down the path and up the road to the garage, where a gambol hung from a pulley and sat next to a large butcher block. We lay the pig out lengthwise across the table, then hosed it down with hot water and proceeded to scrub the bits of blood and hay and mud from its body, in preparation to skin the animal and remove its organs.
With all the certainty and precision of an experienced surgeon, Beth lifted her sharpened blade and made her first incision down the middle of the pig’s chest and belly, revealing the yellowish white layer of fat just beneath the skin. She tied a piece of twine around the pig’s tail and anus, to protect the meat from being contaminated by any errant fecal spillage which may occur while removing the pig’s intestines and other internal organs. Then the two of us set to work removing the tough skin from the rest of the body, careful not to cut too much of the fat away from the meat. The warmth of the animal's body was enough to keep my bare hands from freezing as I worked, but the chill of the air carried with it a bite that kept me reaching for my gloves whenever I had a chance to warm up.
Eventually, the pig was hung upside down by its rear tendons, hooked into the wrought iron gambol, naked, except for its head and its hooves. Beth made a deeper cut into the abdominal cavity, exposing the vast system of organs beneath the surface. She collected them all neatly and gently into a wheelbarrow, cutting away tissue as she worked, then finally removed the head, hide, and hooves with a meat saw and wheeled them away into the woods to be scavenged by coyotes. The meat remained, suspended and now sawn in half, to spend the night freezing by the light of the moon.
The next day, the pork was cut into smaller pieces and wrapped into the familiar brown paper packages, to be frozen and then eaten over the course of the winter. But that night, we ate fresh liver with some adzuki beans and sautéed cabbage. I have never been much of a fan of liver, but this time, having watched it get cut from the chest cavity of the dead pig’s carcass only hours before, I couldn’t resist. I must say that it was delicious. Thank you, Pig.

Friday, February 18, 2011

If Alexander the Great grew a garden...

Each time the calendar pages roll back and a new month is upon us, we find ourselves in a cyclical flurry of flyering efforts here at D Acres Permaculture Farm & Sustainability Center. Hitting the streets, if you will, to reach the masses, spread the word, and, well, simply let folks know what’s happening here on the farm over the course of each month.

Just a few weeks ago we were so engaged. Upon asking permission to hang a flyer in one of our less-frequently-visited venues, our man on the mission was told no. The justification being that everyone in the business was already sustainable; the explanation being that everyone had gardens and chickens.

Excellent. Our work appears to be done.

Perhaps. Overlooking the formidable scope of such a statement, it does seem to raise the question: What does “sustainable” mean? Is it just gardens & chickens? I suppose all I can do is offer my own definition. And yes, my conception of sustainability includes gardens, hens, and even roosters that crow when the sun is hours from rising. But to me, sustainability is also about a regional economy, and diverse & local food production. It is about health, it is about education, it is about local resources and functional art. It is about community relationships of mutual support.

Please understand, this is my own definition and nothing more than that. Tell me, what would yours include?

I think for me, it really comes down to local networks…and within that I would specify food and economics. So here at D Acres, for example, we’re in the midst of compiling our fifth edition of the Pemi-Baker Local Goods Guide. Showcasing area farmers, artists, and second-hand retailers, thousands of copies of the Guide are published each year and released to the public on Memorial Day. Distributed throughout the seasons to residents and visitors alike, the Guide connects local producers to local consumers. We are actively looking for new listings to include in the 2011 edition, as well as local businesses to advertise in the Guide: please give us a call if that’s you! 603-786-2366 or

There are local connections and community systems all around us – “us” being D Acres, yes, but also being the inhabitants of the Pemi-Baker region. Local Foods Plymouth, for example, is an online farmer’s market connecting Plymouth-area farmers to all of us who need to eat: Or, meet Eddie at Plymouth’s Café Monte Alto who recently entered the “local” niche of the beverage market – along with Six Burner Bistro & Mark’s Eatery. Having added D Acres herbal tea blend to Café Monte Alto’s menu offerings is a heartening commitment to the local foods movement – locally-grown, organic, herbal tea is something you can’t get at Dunkin’Donuts or MickeyD’s. Swing by the café and show your support - order some D Acres herbal tea today!

Now, this is going to seem tangential, but hold in there. We recently made a new acquaintance here at the farm whose military past pops up from time to time. One exchange in particular fixated on Alexander the Great’s successes in strategy and tactics. Trying to understand the mindset of a man who voluntarily chose to cross the Alps with a horde of elephants is a bit much. Despite History 101’s fixation on this fact, however, the man’s success, apparently, came down to? His Macedonian Cavalry. Naturally.

Well, here at D Acres, here in Dorchester, here in the Pemi-Baker Valley, our community is our Macedonian Cavalry. We may all have a different perception of sustainability, but if we are to progress beyond an unsustainable system to one of cooperation, collaboration, local support, and mutual benefit…if we are to achieve a regional economy, a distinctive regional culture, a vibrant local food system…well, then we must look to our neighbors as our most valuable assets. For it is our neighbors with whom we will learn with and share in new ways of doing things – or perhaps of old ways of doing things; it is our neighbors with whom we will grow, support and maintain a local economy.

So whether you want gardens or chickens, (or elephants); whether you want to buy local tea at the Café, or eggs from a nearby farm, or art from the town around the corner: join us. Join us in a community bounded and bonded by strong handshakes and mutual support. Join us in making the very many definitions of sustainability a reality.

as published in the North Country News