Media Watch - Farm to Table & Featured Article - Facing Death on A Farm
FarmToTable.org is an exciting sustainable agriculture and cuisine website that provides educational content as well as product sourcing information for chefs, food professionals, and the public. Participating farmers benefit from a dynamic online marketing tool, while food buyers gain access to the freshest, healthiest local food sources available. In addition to sourcing info, FarmToTable.org features food news from all over the globe, terrific articles on sustainable agriculture and cuisine, and tasty recipes.
Who's Behind Farm to Table?
Farm to Table is a project of Earth Pledge (EP), a NYC-based nonprofit that produces print and Web projects, and hosts classes, lectures, and special events to promote sustainable cuisine and sustainable architecture. EP's aim is to make access to this information readily available, thus increasing the demand for sustainable products and enhancing the viability of small, eco-friendly farms.
Just In New York?
Though the education, articles, and news on the site has a national focus, you will currently only find New York State farmers on FarmToTable.org. However, the good news is that fundraising has begun so that Earth Pledge can take the site national, allowing farmers from anywhere in the US to connect with chefs and consumers nationwide. If you are interested in hosting a fundraising event for FarmToTable.org, please contact Alison Tozzi at Along with farmer profiles, restaurant and market info, and up-to-the-minute news, here's a sample of the kind of educational content what you will find on FarmToTable.org...
Facing Death on A Farm
I was 14 years old, and in the eighth grade when Antoinette died. My brother Sean and I sat close by, companions to the old pet guinea pig as she took her last breaths. I remember sitting up late, tears smearing the ink in my notebook as I dutifully finished my homework. Mr. Ruland required that we record our daily thoughts and experiences in a journal that we'd hand in at the end of each week. Between sobs, I scratched away at the essay that became my on-site therapist. The next morning I felt shy about turning the work into many feelings had been recorded. But there was no time to tear out the pages and start over, so I handed it in. The following Monday, Mr. Ruland handed the journals back. "Geez Hayes, living on a farm, I thought you'd be used to that by now," he said.
People ask me all the time about growing up on Sap Bush Hollow Farm. I tell them about all the places we played in and all the different animals we learned about as kids, the delicious homegrown food I learned to grow and cook, and the tight-knit community we've always relied on for friendship and support. They often say, "that must be wonderful, but I could never do it." By it I don't think they mean manure management, helping ewes deliver their lambs, or herding the cows to new pasture. I think it is about death.
As hill farmers, the physical make-up of our land is unsuitable for intensive crop production; it would quickly erode our precious soil. Our chosen role in a viable and sustainable food system is to produce and harvest livestock -- chickens, turkeys, cattle, and lamb. Death is an unavoidable and integral part of our livelihood. I will never be used to it, whether I'm letting go of a beloved pet or taking livestock to slaughter, I know of no responsible farmers who are. If we could get used to death, we wouldn't make sound decisions about our animal's lives.
Some farmers keep their children indoors, pulling the curtains when a slaughter is about to take place. Our parents never hid death from us. I have early memories of the pungent odors; the confusion caused by watching the life flow out of another creature. These are some of the many hard truths of food production. Along with livestock realities there are many unintended deaths: the winter lambs who suffered too much from the cold, the newborn chicks accidentally crushed, the old dogs whose time had come, the cats caught in a neighbor's trap, the farmers who are pinned under tractors that have rolled over on a steep hillside. The demise of any creature, whether intended or not, is painful and disturbing. Though I'm not religious, I always find myself uttering prayers for each one, quietly appreciating what they have provided.
As livestock farmers, death is an undercurrent in all the decisions that we make on the farm. We are directly responsible for our animals' quality of life. This means manipulating our lambing schedule so that lambs can be born out in the fields in late spring, rather than in the barn during the cold, dark days of February and March. It means creating spaces for baby chicks to move about freely, moving animals to fresh pasture every few days, and keeping guard dogs with the livestock to protect them from coyotes. It means minimizing our reliance on large machinery, reducing the chances of a tragic accident. When it's time to harvest an animal, it means taking every care to keep them calm and relaxed, and to keep the process as quick and as painless as possible. It's a matter of honoring the difference between death and suffering. If we are "used to" anything, it is the idea that whether we are humans or animals, we cannot control our time on this planet. We can only control the quality of our time.
It's been 13 years since we laid Antoinette to rest. She was not the first animal we watched pass, nor the last. Death will never be something that we get used to; that would undermine our regard for all life, including our own. My husband Bob and I have decided to continue farming at Sap Bush Hollow with my parents. We understand that we cannot be responsible stewards of life if we are callous about death. Our sensitivity is what leads us to keep vigilance over the one thing we can control--the quality of life.
Written By: Farmer Shannon Hayes - Shannon is a chef and farmer with a Ph.D. in sustainable agriculture and community development. She writes about food, farming and rural living for Graze and Farm to Table. She is also currently working on a Grass fed cookbook. Shannon grew up on Sap Bush Hollow Farm where she still works with her parents, Jim and Adele Hayes, and her husband Bob Hooper.