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.