I did not think I would participate but I was invited by people that I respect and I knew it would be an important learning experience even if I was just an observer. These were my thoughts as I drove down NM 313 through Sandia Pueblo towards Bernalillo and Tierra Sagrada Farm. A few weeks before I had been put in touch with Sage & Andrea, owners of Tierra Sagrada Farm, through a mutual farming friend. They seemed like the farmers I had been searching for.
Tamara Gadzia, a long time supporter of Holistic Management International, owns a few acres with her husband and Certified Educator Kirk in Bernalillo, New Mexico, just a few minutes drive from Tierra Sagrada Farms; this was all her idea. She noticed that much of the ag land in her neighborhood was not in production and through conversations with several neighbors found they were all interested in keeping their land in production, but had various barriers to overcome to do so. Her solution was to create the Urban Edge Project in partnership with HMI. Urban Edge connects homeowners in urban/suburban agricultural communities with eager, self-starter type young farmers who can farm/ranch their land and help to build community around regenerative agriculture in these areas.
My job was to find these young farmers for this first pilot project in Bernalillo. When I first spoke with Sage on the phone, he eagerly outlined their enterprises and techniques and values and who he was reading and what he was hoping to do next. I knew it was a good “fit” and immediately called Tamara to set up a meeting.
Fast forward a couple of weeks: Sage and Andrea are already starting to work with Tamara and Kirk on their property, with plans to expand to other neighbors’ properties depending on how this goes and how the CDC restrictions change. Having made fast friends with Sage and Andrea, I was invited to participate in their first poultry processing that was planned for the coming Wednesday along with Kirk and Tamara and Tamara’s sister, Suzan. Andrea is expecting their first child in September so she didn’t join us in the process, but came out a few times with big smiles and lots of encouragement as she photographed us at work.
Sage is warm, intentional, and exuberant about regenerative farming and all its possibilities. So it was no surprise that when we arrived at 8AM he had an assembly line all set up: the tent where the harvesting would happen, the scalder to loosen the feathers, the plucker to remove the feathers, the evisceration stations with clean cutting boards, knives, buckets and cleaning supplies and three coolers all with incrementally colder water temperatures to quickly chill the birds once they were finished.
Sage led us through the entire process with the first bird. There was so much to learn. He moved quickly and deliberately; you wouldn’t have known it was his first time. (He later said he was so thankful all of us were there to encourage and support him.) After that first run through I created a sign with the evisceration steps to help Tamara and I as we learned the process. And after our respective fifth birds we both had it down; oil glands, pull out neck, remove craw and windpipe, cut backside, pull out all insides making sure not to break the intestines or gallbladder in the process, remove lungs, save heart, liver, gizzard, and neck, make sure inner cavity is cleaned out, spray down with water, place in first cooler of water.
There was a sense of gratitude and reverence in every step of the process. We didn’t plan it beforehand or even really discuss our different expectations around how this was going to be done, but every one of us, in our own way, thanked each bird during every step of the process. There was a calm throughout the day, even when things didn’t go exactly to plan, a kind of expectation that what we were participating in was sacred. A sacrifice of an animal to feed a family.
I had never felt that before. And I’m ashamed to say, even when I was eating meat regularly, I had never taken the time to learn more about how that meat got to my plate. Society had taught me an “ignorance is bliss” mindset where I assumed I wouldn’t want to continue to consume meat if I knew where it was from. This is half true. Because if I had learned about our factory farming techniques, the assembly lines, the medicines, the chemicals, the cages, the filth, the unsanitary and unsafe working conditions for workers of communities made vulnerable, I would have been repulsed and perhaps have never eaten meat again.
But if I had been taught more about the small scale farmer, the way their birds are raised, the time and love that goes into their care and processing, I would have had a deeper respect for the food I was consuming and more gratitude towards the animal that was sacrificed for my benefit. And in that respect and gratitude, I most likely would have looked at meat as something more sacred and special, that one eats perhaps a few times a week, instead of every single day.
After the birds were cooled down, we vacuum packed them and put them on ice and then to the freezer. 30 birds in total. 27 that came out perfect. Three that were the “learning birds” which will be going to stock. All the feet will go to dog food, the insides and feathers went to a big compost pile, and the 27 perfectly processed chickens will feed the community.
I went home a changed person. I don’t eat meat myself, for a variety of reasons, all personal — I’ve actually been vegan for almost five years, and I don’t expect everyone to choose that way of eating. But I do hope more people engage in their local food systems and take the time to learn where their food comes from, who their purchases support, how the animals they eat are raised and how the farmers/ranchers they buy from are working to increase the organic matter in the soil and steward the land they are managing. In the Holistic Management framework all decisions are tested against your values using your Holistic Goal as a guide. For me, my Holistic Goal includes a lot about land health and human health. And even though I won’t be eating it myself, to be able to help provide sustainable and intentionally raised poultry meat as a healthy and nutrient rich food to feed my community is something I can get behind.
Andrea showed up at my door a few days later with my CSA veggies, a chicken as a gift for helping with the processing and a few more chickens I had purchased to gift to some friends. Food has a special way of bringing people together and I want to encourage more dialog about regenerative food systems.
Social change starts at the dinner table and I am thankful to be breaking bread with people who are learning and questioning and exploring how their food decisions impact their own health, the health of our planet, and of our communities.
This was the first of what I hope to be many experiences connecting young farmers with land owners in the central New Mexico region and beyond through the Urban Edge Program.
[If you’re a land owner looking for someone to farm/ranch your land or a young farmer looking to connect with land owners in your community, please be in touch. ([email protected])]