It’s that time of the year. A few leaves still cling to the branches, afraid to make the jump. Night pushes its luck each day, seeing how much more darkness it can get away with imposing. The temperatures fluctuate from nipply to sweaty, but only because it’s impossible to know how to dress. Autumn is well underway and it won’t be long before the first snowfall insists we are done for the year.
The garden has been stripped. Aside from a couple of rows of lettuce that I planted last month and a handful of scrappy leeks, the only things growing are weeds. Good intentions dictated that cover crops would fill the spots where veggies used to thrive, but other priorities such as barn renos and seasonal craft fairs slammed that window of opportunity shut. I’d feel bad had procrastination been the culprit, but there just aren’t enough hours in a day. Likewise, our planned riding ring construction and walipini dig will probably move down the list to become next year’s projects. Soon the ground will freeze, rendering earth-related projects difficult to impossible.
The things that have to happen before winter comes knocking are not as daunting as they were, but there is one thing we have to take care of that I’m not looking forward to -the pigs must go to freezer camp.
In the spring, in keeping with our ideals, we purchased two bottle lambs and two piglets with the idea of raising them to market weight and filling our freezers with meat. The sheep got off lucky. We hemmed and hawed about whether or not to keep the ewe for breeding. Once Troy named her Stella, she was pretty much off the hook. Chopper (as in “lamb chops”) was freezer bound until a woman came by interested in purchasing him as a stud for her own flock. Knowing we could buy lamb from John across the road, we took her money, saved ourselves the hassle, and decided it would be just as acceptable to fill our freezer with meat that was just 150 meters less local but raised on the same principles as ours.
The pigs, however, won’t be so lucky.
I think it’s ok that I’m having a bit of a hard time reconciling the fate of Edgar and Mitchell. I’ve gotten to know them a bit, despite having made efforts not to get attached. I remind myself that they’ve had a good life, eating bucket after bucket of apples and treats from the garden; moving from one fenced spot to another again and again, digging for grubs and pulling up roots until the once-grassy spaces look like bombs went off. I remind myself that the whole reason they came here to live was so that we could know what we are eating, and what it ate. The difficulty in knowing that the animals who will feed us have enjoyed their time on this earth is knowing that you’re ending that animal’s happy days rather than ending the suffering of a feedlot beast. Irony at its most brutal.
It’s an irony that’s made me reconsider my dietary choices more than once. I’ve been a vegetarian before, and frankly, my body didn’t react well. But the big picture takes into account so much more than the life of an animal ( or person). While a boatload of studies exist showing that a vegetarian diet is less harmful to the planet than one that includes meat, I’ve yet to see one of those studies that takes into account how that equation changes if the meat is raised sustainably in one’s own back yard. It’s mostly assumed that meat comes from a huge industrial farm, and fair enough, most of it does. On the other hand, there are also studies showing the negative impacts of monoculture farming ( a method that has taken over the veggie side of industrial farming). It’s a method of growing things that depletes the soil quickly, throwing off the balance of natural insects and micro-organisms in the process. As a result, the soil and plants need more help to grow – more fertilizers, more pesticides, and more water. Not to mention the fossil fuels that go into processing and transporting vegetarian protein substitutes such as tofu and TVP. It doesn’t take much fuel to transport my grass- fed pigs, chickens and turkeys from the fields to the freezer.
No matter how much I work through the hows and whys of food production, however, my final thought always comes down to biology and evolution. We have canine teeth. We evolved as omnivores. It only seems natural, then, to eat meat, and so I choose to raise my own, and eventually send it to slaughter. Call me what you will, an ethically- minded consumer and producer or a selfish, murderous asshole. Just know that my decisions are not reached without contemplation and some pretty heavy soul searching.
Before winter comes blasting in, pigs will be converted to pork chops and hams, and those last leaves will take the plunge. With a woodshed more than stuffed, and freezers loaded with turkeys, chicken, lamb and pork that we’ve produced ourselves, there will be comfort in knowing that we are prepared to make it through the darker months. In the spring, new piglets will likely arrive, the garden (now twice as large thanks to the pigs) will be readied for another round, and the cycle will repeat itself. This is the path we have chosen. Will next year’s killing of the pigs be any easier for me? I hope not. This life we’ve bitten off is as much about appreciating what it takes to make food as it is about the actual making of it. The heartache and discomforts are all part of that appreciation. I’m okay with that.