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My childhood was spent in a semi rural area that is now suburbs of Virginia Beach. I was typical of a child of that era that was not raised on a farm. Produce came in cans or fresh during farmers market season, meat was wrapped in butcher paper or plastic from the meat case at the grocery. There was no thought as to how it was raised, where it came from, or how it got to the grocery.
At some point, my Dad and I did start a small garden, but not too successfully at first.
After I finished college and was out on my own, I began to become more aware of what was in our food, concern about packaging waste and harm and the treatment of animals for food. I bulk shopped for beans, rice, and grains from a local food coop, using my own jars and canvas bags. I quit eating meat, but living in the city at this point, still bought eggs from commercial markets.
My husband was raised in a city with a similar food upbringing, but he is an ardent meat and starch man. I reintroduced meat into my diet because I didn’t want to prepare two different meals and because we started a family and I didn’t feel well versed enough on nutrition balance to think I could raise children without animal protein, though we ate smaller portions often added to stews, goulash, pasta sauce with beans or vegetables making up the main part of the meal.
As a working Mom, convenience food sometimes slipped in our diet but was usually short lived as I returned to preparing food from scratch, generally baking our bread as well.
Never in my wildest dreams could I see myself where I am now. As we approached retirement, we discussed having a mountain home on 5 to10 acres. Mostly woods with space for a garden. We found ourselves instead on a 30 acre farm with a pole barn and no house. The house was built, the large garden started by Son #1 and family during their part in construction continued to be used and providing a good portion of our produce. I read Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and became even more committed to eating locally, eliminating more and more items that are processed or trucked in to the grocer. My concern about the treatment of animals raised for meat, milk, and eggs drove me to buy only meat from local farmers, humanely raised on grass not grain, eggs from local farmers that often free range their hens, and milk products from a local dairy. As I was paying $4 a dozen for eggs and $20-25 for a humanely raised chicken and having 30 acres of land of mostly pasture being mowed for hay for other local farmers, I ventured into raising a few chickens. Like most new chicken raisers, I bought what was cute or laid pretty eggs. The flock has evolved to a dozen heritage Buff Orpington hens and a rooster with the goal of the flock becoming self sustaining. Son#1 asked if I would raise some meat chickens, that he would “do the deed,” though I was a Biology major/teacher before becoming a school counselor, I didn’t think I wanted to participate in this process. Then I watched him process a deer, helped package it for freezing and decided that I could become involved. The first meat chicks were all of the cockrells and hens that weren’t fulfilling their end of the deal. The first batch we did, I spent most of my time in the kitchen doing finish plucking, packaging, and freezing. The entire process revolted me and I couldn’t eat any of them.  In fact, I returned to eating much less meat, eating only the sides and salads that I was preparing for our meals, but enjoying our eggs and local cheeses. The next batch, I could more fully participate in the process. Now I could do most of the steps in taking a bird from the coop to the table but I might make as mess of the inside cleaning as I haven’t done one. I know where these chickens were raised, what supplemental feed they are fed. I know how much coop space they have and how it is kept. I know how much free range, true free range time they get, and I know they are raised well and humanely killed. I still don’t eat much meat, but when I do, I feel better about where and how it was raised and treated. If and when Son#1 returns to our area to live, we will raise our own pigs and cows too. And they will be treated kindly during their lives as well.

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