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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring: Part of the Cycle of Life

All of my Real Farm Wives of America bloggy pals are celebrating spring today with posts themed "Cycle of Life." After all, who understands the cycle of life more than those who live and work in agriculture. Tending to life's beginnings (plowing, planting, birthing, hatching) and endings (harvesting, milking, butchering, processing) are the essential components of life on a farm.

Before I tell you about how I learned about the realities of the Cycle of Life when I was a kid, I want to share with you the first signs of spring at our house: The inaugural flower of the season. Seemed appropriate to share this today, since I missed out on Wordless Wednesday this week.

As I've mentioned before, I grew up on a small farm. While my parents both worked full-time in town to make ends meet, they both obviously appreciated life on the farm--or at least faked it pretty well. They both grew up with parents who farmed, and wanted the four of us kids to grow up understanding and appreciating where our food came from. And participating in the process.

Even when we were little, we'd help gather eggs, which we'd wipe off with rags in the kitchen, and package up in bulk cartons to deliver to the local grocery store. (PLEASE NOTE: I am NOT as old as this makes me sound. I want to point out how much agriculture has changed in a very short amount of time. This was not uncommon practice in small towns in the 1970s!)

I learned even more about chickens when time came for butchering some of the birds for meat. Now, I don't think my parents did this themselves, in the side yard by the house, because they particularly enjoyed it. They did it out of economic necessity.

Let me just say: Take a moment to be thankful that Modern Agriculture has made poultry neatly wrapped in cellophane available in our grocery stores or farmers markets at an affordable price. Because that was when I learned that food production can be ugly and is not for the faint-of-heart. Wringing necks and plucking chickens is, fortunately, something most of us do not have to do ourselves any more. But it was part of life.

I guess that early exposure helped me understand that this had to happen for our family to eat--not much different from the time spent in the garden planting corn and cucumbers and greenbeans, which later needed to harvested and canned or frozen. Similar story for when it was pig-processing day at my grandparents' house. This was the cycle of life.

The fact that we spent time feeding and caring for the pigs and chickens, and later cows and goats, on our farm helped us understand the value of life. These animals had to be cared for as best we could. They were to be fed and watered every day before we, the people, ate. Caring for the animals came first--even before homework after school. They weren't pets, we had those. These creatures were valued even more for what they provided to our family in the form of food and income.

My dad felt strongly that we understand this was serious business. While the chicks were cute when they were little and yellow (hatched in the corner of my parents' bedroom in an incubator), they had purpose. He reinforced that message when I started raising rabbits. They weren't pets. They were a source of food, or a few bucks if we sold some at the sale barn.

That's why dad made me butcher my own rabbits. Yeah, those cute little furry creatures I had cared for myself. I still remember Dad telling me, "This is circle of life. If you're going to work in agriculture, you have to know how it works." He wanted to raise strong daughters, who could provide for themselves and who respected their resources.

I think he succeeded. Not sure I realized it at the time, but I do now.
Thanks to my dad, I have perspective that I think a lot of folks today are missing. Not that I think everyone needs to butcher their own food to appreciate it. I do think finding a way to be involved in this cycle of life can make a person more aware of--and grateful for--the food we eat.

Happy spring, everyone!
Be sure to stop by and visit the other Farmwives!


  1. Great post! We used to butcher our own beef until just a few years ago. Not sure I could do the rabbits, though, even if I do like their meat! I'm a bit of a wuss I guess.

  2. I think your Dad was right. We used to say, "Never name anything you eat." BUT I don't know if I could butcher a bunny. I did have a pet buff orffington rooster for a pet. My grandma thought it would die because it was sick. I asked for it, so she said, "ok." Bet you'll never guess how long that chicken lived??????? I was married when it died of old age on the farm. It was about 14 years old.
    Have a lovely weekend.