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COLUMN: A new year in the garden and on the farm

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By Jeneen Wiche

Hope you don’t mind that I take this opportunity to reflect a little.  Another year is gone. I remember my elders marveling over this and how quickly time goes by and I get it now.  I have learned some this year but I don’t necessarily feel smarter; I have aged some but don’t necessarily feel older; and I have made new friends that have taught me that there is always potential, which has made me excited about the rest of my life.
Like many, I have lost a couple of jobs in the last couple of years.  As such, I have decided to tighten my focus on home.  We have the gift of land.  Land means I have the opportunity to grow more, raise more and engage in something I have always found meaningful: nature.  Plus, the farm is very much my father, who died nearly 14 years ago; what he started we continue in our own ways.  
While my perennial beds are still beautiful and well-tended, the mulch is usually scattered about in a slightly unkempt way because there are 37 free-roaming chickens around the barn.  When we first got chickens we were told that they typically hang around where they roost for the night…not necessarily the case as it turns out.  We have found them in the garage, by the lake; under the crabapples by the house; and once even almost ready to cross Connor Station Road (all a distance from their roost).  They are good chickens.
The orchard still yields apples and pears that are most delicious despite the fly speck and an occasional worm hole.  Hey, they are free, organic apples so who cares?  The get eaten fresh, dried for later or turned into shelf-stable applesauce.  The persimmons, figs and pears are all in the dried fruit mix; and the only blueberries left are in the form of jars of jam to get my husband through a year of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  The blueberries remain my cash crop and what I spend much of my time doing from early June through early August.  Needless to say, I am really good at picking berries.  
The vegetable garden is a haven for me, somehow.  I find challenges, creativity, successes, failures and the most amazing food ever.  I think I may be a little obsessed with food, frankly.  I love growing it, preparing it, preserving it and eating it.  Sharing it with other people really is something, too!
So the logical extension in all of this farm and food engagement is putting some meat on the table.  So now I contemplate some meat chickens in the spring to clean up after our pregnant herd of Katahdin ewes.  Two of the most notable accomplishments of the year was acquiring and setting ourselves up to be sheep herders; and our lesson in processing chickens on the farm.  The University of Kentucky’s Sheep Unit has been a truly awesome resource for learning, and we are so grateful to the educators there.  I take this new endeavor very seriously and the simple act of observing our herd for vigor makes me feel good.
And then, just down the road we met some new friends, daughters of an acquaintance, who taught us something I had always desired…to kill and process chickens.  I do realize that this is not a goal of many, but it seems like the responsible thing to do if one enjoys eating them.  While I did not have to do any of the actual killing (Andy engaged in that part of it), the processing came easy after expert instruction from our new friends.  It was not too different than working with a chicken body in the kitchen and the group work was satisfying.
So, I remain committed to every tree, yard, garden, flower, bee, fruit and vegetable … I also welcome some new opportunity in the new year.  The real question is … will I be able to process one of my own chickens and how many tears will be shed when the lambs are ready for market?  
No doubt, though, the meal will be meaningful.