Fun Summer Reading

Who’d have thought that reading about asparagus could keep me up well past midnight! Well, it did just that the night I started Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, the tale of a family who decided to give up long-distance, out-of-season, industrial produced foods for a year. (Do you know that our average food has traveled more than 1500 miles before it reaches our table?) Instead, this family relied almost entirely on locally grown produce and meats, much of which they raised themselves. Author Barbara Kingsolver (who’s also written fiction books I would NOT care to read) writes with wit, grace, and honesty, while avoiding the preachiness often associated with similarly minded eco-heads. (Not to be too hypocritical, I’ll admit that I would probably fall into the “crunchy-con” classification. “Crunchy-con”refers to granola-type conservatives.)

I’m thinking a lot about stewardship these days as that will be one of three character traits we are going to focus on in the coming school year. Modern environmentalists often take things too far because they do not see man as different from other living things. Then Christians sometimes respond by turning our backs on the world God formed instead of remembering that He created man to be caretakers of it. Growing more of our own food and eating more locally produced products is a small way in which we can be responsible stewards, making the best use of what God has gifted us with.

OK – Here’s a funny excerpt from the book. Tim found this particularly hilarious because of the telling way in which men are described.

This is from a chapter which describes the family’s foray into poultry, both turkeys and chickens. The younger daughter, Lily, has a serious love affair with chickens, not unlike my son Peter’s. She decided that that she would start an egg business, though at the beginning she was adamant about only wanting to sell eggs, not meat.

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A few days later she brought up the subject again, wanting to be reassured that our Virginia hens would be just for eggs, not for meat. Lily knew what farming was about, and while she’d had no problem eating our early turkey experiments, chickens held a different place in her emotional landscape. How can I convey her fondness for chickens? Other little girls have ballerina or Barbie posters on their bedroom walls; my daughter has a calendar titled “The Fairest Fowl.” One of the earliest lessons in poultry husbandry we had to teach her was “Why we don’t kiss chicken on the mouth.” On the sad day one of her hens died, she wept loudly for an entire afternoon. I made the mistake of pointing out that it was just a chicken.

“You don’t understand, Mama,” she says, red-eyed. “I love my chickens as much as I love you.”

Well, shut me up. She realized that she’d hurt my feelings, because she crept out of her room an hour later to revise the evaluation. “I didn’t really mean that, Mama,” she sniffled. “I’m sorry. If I love my chickens six, I love you seven.”

Oh good. I’m not asking who’s a ten.

So I knew, in our discussions of poultry commerce, I needed to be reassuring. “They’ll be your chickens,” I told her. “You’re the boss. What you sell is your decision.”
As weeks passed and her future on the farm began to take shape in her mind, Lily asked if she’d also be able to have a horse. … (Author describes Lily’s long-standing love of horses.)

In the time-honored tradition of parents, I stalled. “With your egg business, you can raise money for a horse yourself,” I told her. “I’ll even match your funds – we’ll get a horse when you have half the money to buy one.”

When I was a kid, I would have accepted these incalculable vagaries without a second thought, understand that maybe a horse was out there for me but I’d just have to wait and see. The entrepreneurial gene apparently skips generations. Lily got out her notebook and started asking questions.

“How much does a horse cost?”

“Oh, it depends,” I hedged.

“Just as regular mare, or a gelding,” she insisted. When it comes to mares and geldings, she knows the score. I’d recently overheard her explaining this to some of her friends. “A stallion is a boy that’s really fierce and bossy,” she’d told them. “But they can give them an operation that makes them gentle and nice and helpful. You know. Like our daddies.”

Okay, then, this girl knew what she was looking for in horseflesh. What does an animal like that cost, she inquired? “Oh, about a thousand dollars,” I said, wildly overestimating, pretty sure this huge number would end the conversation.

Her eyes grew round.

“Yep,” I said. “You’ll have to earn half. Five hundred.

She eyed me for a minute. “How much can I sell a dozen eggs for?”

“Nice brown organic eggs? Probably two-fifty a dozen. But remember, you have to pay for feed. Your profit might be about a dollar a dozen.

She disappeared into her room with the notebook. He was only a second-grader then, as yet unacquainted with long division. I could only assume she was counting off dollar bills on the calendar to get to five hundred. In a while she popped out with another question.

“How much can you sell chicken meat for?”

“Oh,” I said, trying to strike a morally neutral tone in my role as financial advisor, “organic chicken sells for a good bit. Maybe three dollars a pound. A good-size roasting bird might net you ten dollars, after you subtract your feed costs.”

She vanished again, for a very long time. I could almost hear the spiritual wrestling match, poultry vs. equines, fur and feathers flying. Many hours later, at dinner, she announced: “Eggs and meat. We’ll only kill the mean ones.”


From "The Birds and the Bees" in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver
2 Responses
  1. JonMelFarm Says:

    Hi Anne,
    I loved the little story about Lily, it sounds like a few discussions we've had here. Hope you're all doing well. Melissa Black


  2. Anne Says:

    Hi Melissa! How are you doing? I was thinking about you just the other day?
    So how's your poultry? Are you still keeping ducks? We have one hen sitting right now which is very exciting. If things go well, the eggs should hatch next weekend, just before we leave on a trip to Maine and Nova Scotia.
    We should get together for a Coke or coffee sometime soon!
    Anne