It Takes a Village

January 7, 2012 § 13 Comments

On Saturday, we kill the pigs. It goes well; one shot each followed by a quick probe of the knife to loose the blood and as always, the shock of the sheer quantity of it, spreading across the frozen ground like unfurling sheets. Ryan and Jocelyn show up, and we spend the next two hours skinning and gutting and sawing and hoisting the halves to hang overnight so they’ll stiffen for cutting the next day. We have lunch. We skin and gut and saw and hoist some more. We are tired and the job is done.

On Sunday, Michael and Kelly arrive at 9:00 and Michael and I carry the halves in one-by-one, dropping them across the big maple butcher block our friend Brian made for us back when we were building the house, ten years ago or more. They are nice pigs; the largest halves are pushing 150-pounds, and carry a good 3-inches of backfat, which we’ll render on the wood stove and use to fry doughnuts (or “dog nuts” as the boys have inevitably taken to calling them), chicken, eggs, and more. The six of us cut for three hours, reducing the halves to manageable bits – chops and roasts, sausage trim and slabs of bacon. We have lunch. We cut for two hours more. We are tired and the job is done.

On Monday, Penny and Fin and Rye and I travel to our friend Pete’s. Pete is the sole founder and owner of a small-batch sausage business and has invited us to utilize his facility on his day off. This is beyond gracious, and of incalculable value to us, for we have about 130-pounds of sausage trim to grind, mix, and stuff into casing. What would take us literally days in our kitchen, with our rudimentary tools, will take only hours at Pete’s. He leads us into the gleaming space, shows us how to work the equipment, and leaves us to it. The boys work the vacuum sealer while Penny and I grind and mix and stuff for four hours. We pause for snacks. We grind and mix and stuff and seal for two hours more, clean, and leave. We are tired and the job is done.

I am as guilty as anyone of perpetuating the almost-trite belief that food can be about more than simple caloric nourishment; that it can be about relationships and community and nourishment beyond the not-insignificant value of a full stomach. But I perpetuate it because it is true, and to the extent I ever doubt this, the processing of our pigs reminds me of just how true it is. It’s not just the processing, for we raise them largely on waste milk gleaned from two neighboring organic dairy farms. Every other day or so, week-in, week-out, I’m in Melvin’s barn, or Jimmy’s and Sarah’s, picking up the buckets of milk they’ve filled for us. It is rare that I do not stay to chat for a few minutes; it is rare that I do not know how they’ve spent their day. More often than not, one of us has a story for the other, some small hardship that further fades in the retelling and the reciprocated acknowledgement that our challenges are rarely much different from each others’. Or some small happiness that grows in the sharing.

Not counting the farmer from whom we purchased the piglets, and not counting ourselves, there were eight people intimately involved in the raising and processing of our pigs. No money changed hands, nor will it. To the extent that debts were accrued and favors granted, they will be repaid and returned in a like manner, informally and in rough equivalence only.

What is the right name for this? Barter? Exchange? Neighborliness? Or simple community? I do not know for certain; perhaps it is some of each. But whatever it is, I have come to recognize it as one of the most powerful forces in my small life, on this small farm, in this small town. And for that, I am exceptionally grateful.




§ 13 Responses to It Takes a Village

  • Diana says:

    Beautiful article! What a great life those hogs had.

    …and thinking of sausage made me hungry.

  • crazymimi23 says:

    I totally agree with Diana, beautiful article! When I was younger this was part of my life. We took for granted the wonderful smoked hams and bacon. I can almost smell it now! I came your way from Cold Antler Farm and I sure hope that you don’t mind my visiting you site everyday from now on!

    Linda from Mississippi

  • Christine says:

    Hi there, first time here, coming from CAF. Thank you for a wonderful story- as an aspiring farmer your words fill me with excitement and inspiration. I’ll definitely be stopping by to read again!

  • polly smith says:

    also from CAF – your story brings tears to my eyes. thank you for sharing and inspiring those of us who want to get back to this ‘normal’ lifestyle.

    your ‘ripple’ is felt beyond your family, the eight people involved in raising the pigs with you, and the farmer who sold you your piggies.

  • Susan says:

    Also here from CAF…wonderful post! I’ll be back.

  • T.Crockett says:

    I can see why Jenna recommended we come by and visit. Your writing is heartfelt and brings the reader along to see all that you see.

    I liked the repetition of “We are tired and the work is done.” It reminded me of the use of “It was good” in Genesis.

  • Vonnie says:

    Hey Ben,
    Yes, neighbor-lyness, community, it is all this. I was thinking as I baked the ham from the pig up the street and ate beans that I canned over the summer from an overproductive harvest my friend gave me as she had too many and didn’t have time to can them…I too am sincerely thankful for my community that allows for such exchange. More and more I sincerely hope folks take to this sort of taking care of each other. It would be a wonderful wave for the future, would it not? Though I saw you over on CAF too, you know I follow ya anyway…Good bacon and pork chops to you and your family! ~Vonnie

  • Ben Hewitt says:

    Thank you, all.

  • Gerard Howard says:

    Awesome thanks

  • […] It Takes a Village by Ben Hewitt. Ben is a Vermont farmer who wrote the book, The Town That Food Saved and Making Supper Safe. Ben lives off the grid and off the land and sends out soulful, insightful missives of his life, family and livestock once a week. […]

  • Victoria says:

    What a difference from wandering into a grocery store and plunking down a few bucks for a plastic-wrapped package of bacon, eh? I prefer your method. Something I hope to get to do this year.

  • Heidi says:

    Also came your way by CAF. My hubby and I try to always buy organic pork from local sources, but never realized the amount of work put into it getting it into manageable sizes for my fridge. Thanks for that knowledge. Amazing.
    And lovely photo you included with the story.

  • […] is long, and I haven’t even got to the sausage making part, though of course I’ve written of it a time or two before. Suffice it to say, we made chorizo, a simple salt/pepper/garlic for drying, maple breakfast (and […]

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