Week 32: Final Reflections

This is the end of one journey but the beginning of another.  My time here at the farm has felt brief but as I consider my final reflections the experience seems profound.

The nature of Pepperfield effortlessly introduced me to a new collection of connections.  As a result, I met local producers, food and hospitality providers, community leaders and countless others.  Each one, touching on my journey and – knowingly or unknowingly – leaving a lasting impression; each new connection fostering the growth and development that I sought for so long.  Decorah was, and still is, a receptive, welcoming community that took me into the fold without hesitation. This last 32 weeks threw me into the active social scene in Decorah. I attended more parties and social gatherings than ever before.  Likewise, the people of Decorah have created something special: a progressive, loving community aware of each other and their surroundings. Similarly, it was this same community that acted as the conduit for so many unique culinary adventures.  But it wasn’t just food centered experiences that occupied my time.

During my time here I encountered work (and play) so fantastic that it’s hard to recall all of it.  But I do remember how fast it all started. Within months of arriving I had already secured a few jobs around town.  And soon after, even more. I saw the whole gamut from weddings to parties – and trust me everything possible in between.  Meanwhile at the farm, I was busy working away. Nearly 150 varieties were represented in our grow out this year and I had a hand in each one.  Farming isn’t an easy job and by the end of this season I had amassed some pretty impressive figures. In a two acre garden I managed to haul over 8300 pounds of manure, transplant 2577 times, plant over 4139 seeds and mulch 2863 square feet of ground.  This was exclusively the work I completed; these values would be much higher if tallied for the entire farm. My point is, I was quite busy. Simultaneously, I was still able to enjoy the nature around me. I took on foreign tasks like foraging for mushrooms, slaughtering a chicken and eviscerating animals to be used for eating.  The combination of experiences were truly rewarding as a person but also as a chef. (I can’t nearly cover everything from this season, but you can check out the happenings of all 32 weeks here!) Moving forward I will cherish these experiences but also everything that I learned in the process.

At its roots, coming to Pepperfield was always about learning.  From the beginning, my purpose was to learn how to grow food from the ground up.  Likewise, I hoped to take some time to myself and readjust my mindset. As I look back at what I learned at Pepperfield, it’s hard to imagine that I managed to learn all that I did.  Each day brought lectures from botany to esoteric philosophies challenging me on all fronts to observe, learn and retain. As a result I made one of the most profound discoveries of my life: food is a means of connection.  Not only does it unify us as people, but it brings us closer – physically, mentally and spiritually – in one way or another, no matter how abstract. And, as I explored these possibilities of food, I began to feel awake, alive and almost transcended.  

What started as a quest to slow down evolved into something even greater; changes to my body, mind and spirit, began to materialize.  Then, I began to achieve a more relaxed lifestyle. The tension, built from so many years of pain, anger and frustration began to melt into a serenity within that I can only describe as internal compassion.  I became aware of my choices and their consequences; I found peace with my mistakes and shortcomings. Similarly, I began the process of forgiveness with myself and began to reach out to share this with others in my life.  I felt an immense amount of liberation as I began to identify the origins of my problems and charted a new course to resolve them. I may be leaving Pepperfield, but I hope to continue feeling as creative, relaxed and motivated as I had previously.

Don’t forget, we’re on the road for the next week touring various BBQ shops across the nation.  More info on that tomorrow from the road. Stay posted, stay hungry (but not for to long)!

Creating and Maintaining Cycles in Food

When you go to the supermarket and gaze out over the pasture it is, on the surface, beautiful. Bright red, perfectly round tomatoes and bushels of corn in tight rows in their bright green husks sit on the shelves.

These are the standards. Who would want to eat a ribbed tomato or one shaped like a pear? (Especially if it were green, yellow or black.) I had an interesting discussion with David that resonated heavily with me. Commercial agriculture has mastered the art of satisfaction. Through enormous marketing divisions and years of research they know what “we”, the consumer, want. Let’s talk about the “tomato”. Rock hard, brilliantly red, smooth and spherical. Even the challenge of year round availability has been overcome. Varieties have been crossbred for certain characteristics – texture, color, and anatomy – to make transportation, appearance and harvesting easier. Crossbreeding only solves a few of these issues though, it fails to address the issue of growing seasons. But fret not, commercial agriculture has cracked nature’s code. One of the primary reasons the tomatoes from conventional markets are as hard as the packed soil they’re grown in is because of a clever trick: sometimes on the vine, others “freshly” picked, the “tomatoes” are force ripened by blasting the fruit with copious amounts of ethylene gas. This is a byproduct gas that fruits and vegetables produce once picked; it is the reason fruits ripen quicker when placed in a paper bag. But this forced process is far more removed than the one that takes place on your kitchen counter. The fruit, still unripe, go through the desired colored change but the flesh, bred additionally tough for transit, isn’t at its peak and stays locked in a state of un-ripeness. Enjoying that “tomato” in January? That’s how it’s made; that’s how the cycle starts. Conventional supermarkets – Walmart and company – have a bountiful produce section placed conveniently at the front of the store. As you walk in these bright red rocks – “tomatoes, strawberries, peaches” – placed among the palette of other colored smaller rocks catch your eye. It doesn’t even take a purchase, the brain begins to recognized this monstrosity as a “tomato” or “plum”. Come back in the winter and there is the “tomato”, gleefully shining its red brilliance, still looking identical to its earlier counterpart. But supermarkets aren’t solely to blame; restaurants do it too. How many times have you ordered a hamburger out of summer, or in it for that matter, served with the classic, lettuce, “tomato” and onion? That “tomato”, and iceberg lettuce for that matter, are the same thing, tasteless, failed imitations of a beautiful, natural product. But by proliferating this idea of a standard – tomatoes that look a certain way and available year-round – consumers begin to develop expectations; these push out the other possibilities.

Another example of this concept is with corn. The genetic diversity of the available corn in the markets is practically nonexistent for the same reason as tomatoes; a different set of characteristics dictate this but the results of such reinforce standards and expectations creating and perpetuating the cycle. The corn in stores is a hybrid version of other species bred to be incredibly sweet – and that’s it. Commercial agriculture has taken something that used to sustain ancient civilizations and turned it into a cob of sugar with little to no nutritional value. But who would enjoy the taste of a less sweet red corn? Who cares that there are other species that provide far more nutrition? So the cycle continues; uber-sweet corn breeds the next generation of corn eaters with contorted expectations of what corn should taste like; “tomatoes” are expected year round even if it means they taste like shit. The expectations are set, the standards are reinforced and the expectations continue.

But we deserve better food than that. Hundreds of species of these common fruits and vegetables occupy our planet. Some cultivated, others preserved and some rampaging wild through fields and forests. Each unique species provinding some unique trait or characteristic; exciting textures, ethereal flavors, numerous health benefits, longevity of storage and the list goes on and on. Maybe I hold as bias, but after tasting a real tomato it is impossible to go back. It is our job, to tear down these standards and begin to promote real food; to recognize that seasonality, bioregionality and biodiversity are far more important to genuinely good products, that benefit not only the consumers but the planet that these consumers occupy. It’s is a challenge. The proliferation of the “tomato” can be blamed equally between commercial agriculture and the consumers that enjoy – if that can even be said – them. Expectation of certain standards will continue these cycles. Avoiding these products, tempting as they might be are crucial. We – maybe not you directly, but our culture, desires and people – are the center of this; we were the start, and we can be the end.

One of my goals is a “devotion to creating a healthy, knowledgeable, compassionate and sustainable future by teaching the [people] about food…and conscious consumption.” I strive to create content that helps challenge the food paradigms. And by reading these posts and joining the Pans and Perspective community you are too! My hope is that next time you go to the store, restaurant, maybe even a friends home, and you see a “tomato” that you share these concepts. The future of good, real food is within our grasp.

Eating Better than Kings and Queens

The fawn pate wasn’t just a delicious item. It was something sacred, unique and provoking.

It brought ingredients together in a way that highlighted their individual value but also the value of their sum. It was rich, creamy, delicately smoky, laced with fruity notes with undertones of onion. The prevailing flavor, a slightly gamey profile that exploded on the palate creating a dance of flavors that were earthy and ethereal at the same time. The pate was a complex beautiful example of the possibility of local food; sourced almost entirely from the farm, shared with its farmers and neighbors, providing enjoyment, energy and nutrition for future plantings and harvests. It helped make future creations possible.

We gathered, seven of us at different times, to enjoy. Each leaving impacted in some way if nothing more than satiated. It destroyed stigmas about eating liver and opened new gateways for consumers of the myriad of possiblities of food. We shared conversation, thoughts and reflections that may have never surfaced. Ellis rightfully stated, “Even kings weren’t served fawn pate”. Something that provided superficial humor but also a deeper discovery. We were transcended beyond royalty; being able to create, share and taste something more valuable than any mountain of gold or gems. We had no responsibility other than to enjoy it to the fullest with no fear of judgement. We provided a purpose for an accident, a mistake. It was the transformation of death into the birth of something new.

Beyond the food is an idea; concepts, recipes and traditions all swirling together as if in a pot to create a greater understanding of our past and glimpses into our future. This food brought us together to share and enjoy. It was indifferent our differences and beliefs, acting as a medium for new connections and the creation of unique experiences.

I am humbled to have worked with such ingredients. Even moreso honored to have been given the privilege to do so. Pepperfield – the land, the people, the idea and experiences – has provided me with a memorable gift that I may never receive again. But I am satisfied, having eaten better than a king. To me it’s not just food, it is life.

What is Village Fire?

Last week I indirectly participated in a unique event. My capacity was significantly food related by I still witnessed many amazing things at the event.

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Village Fire is an annual four day event that takes place in the driftless region of Decorah Iowa. It is an “intergenerational” gathering of individuals who come together to sing, dance and create. Each day as I walked from my car to the kitchen I observed basket weaving, wood carving, percussion and song circles and much more. When I first signed on to help cater this event I had been warned that this crowd was unique, that was an understatement; a plethora of dietary restrictions, openess to all things – nudity, LGBTQ and more – people in wizard shirts, just to name some of the traits I witnessed. I began to get a better sense of the demographic as I spoke to the volunteers and participants.

People had come from across the United States, California to the Appalachians, some had biked – to conserve fossil fuel use or even just because of the enjoyment of the sport – many people camped out on site and everyone was genuinely kind. They were the kind of people who promoted their psychic abilities, got lost during a conversation only to stare deep into your soul and ate honey of spoons rather than put it in their tea. They lived on sustainable farms, cooked off the land, prioritized reducing environmental impact and sought to better themselves in the body, mind and spirit. (Oh wait that’s me, but I wasn’t alone.) Needless to say, I fit right in, and much to my surprise I loved it. I was able to share my stories and experiences here at Pepperfield as well as my Food Philosophy to a crowd that was very receiving.

Village fire was such a valuable experience for me on so many levels. It gave me new insights towards my future in food. I worked with some fantastic people in a great environment and thoroughly enjoyed myself. As I mentioned in the week 10 post there were even a few times where the kitchen felt busy. The atmosphere came alive and it was a living example of Stress vs Pressure. I went through a perspective shift of what the kitchen environment was (and what it could be). This was in part due to the awesome chef I worked with, Ruth Hampton. She too has a food philosophy, chants and recites mantras while cooking and shares some of food ethics as well. (I have an interview scheduled and I am very excited!) I also began to see new parts of myself and what I hope to achieve. Sharing my Food Philosophy to a receiving audience was so rewarding. I was promoting something that, not only am I passionate about, but sharing a set of beliefs that I truly stand behind. I experienced many of the same sentiments I encounter when I share my stories and these beliefs with you. This whole event left me more awake, refreshed, excited and very optimistic towards the future.

I can’t fully explain what the event was with just words, hopefully this will do it some justice.

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Learning What it Really Takes to Make Food: Substitutions and Compromise

Hundreds of years ago the colonizers spread across America and put down roots, both literally and figuratively. Agriculture was their life: crucial to their survival but also demanding nothing short of total participation.

I have been contemplating this topic for nearly a week. It manifested during the days following this post. I began to realize the amount of work – labor, effort and sheer strength – required to produce an acre of food; it was astounding. Fertilizing with compost, tilling, weed management and pest control had the potential to impose upon each second of a farmer’s life. In colonial times, I’m certain it did. Even with families of six to eight children the work was perpetually incomplete. Over time, the advent of agricultural technology helped eliminate the need for so many physical bodies by replacing them with mechanical ones instead. My purpose of coming to Pepperfield was to learn where food came from, but after this last week it has evolved slightly. My understanding of food is one of a conventional sense where, even organic, products are mass-produced with massive tractors and combines. Each task completed in mere seconds by robotic behemoths rather than the the hands of a person. My real purpose had more depth than that; sure I came to see where food comes from, but the honest truth is that how we grow food at Pepperfield is not really the way. We have simplified processes and sacrificed time to create something that transcends conventional agriculture. But we too make sacrifices and compromises, although very different.

Farming in the time of the settlers involved many more hands. Each tasked with completing a fragment of the puzzle to create a larger, beautiful picture. Horse and plows tore through the Earth to loosen the soil before manure – collected from the farm itself – was placed on the land by hand. It was then turned into the soil with a spading fork by a person. Rows were furrowed and trenches were dug with hand tools, not machinery, before seeds were sown piece by piece with delicate care. The ground was moved over the seeds to give them a new home and a potential for life. Water used for irrigation was pumped from wells by cranks that required a human’s touch. Once everything was in place the same eyes and hands watched and waited vigilantly to combat both weeds and pests. No Round-Up, no electric fencing, just dedication and a desire to survive.

At Pepperfield we form a team, albeit smaller than our pioneering counterparts, to reach the same goals. Our horse – aptly named Troybuilt – is a bright red roto-tiller that turns the task of preparing ground from a day’s work to a few short hours. Our three goats and dozen chickens produce our manure for compost and fertilization but we still haul in more from a neighboring farm. Again our red horse turns this “black gold” back into the Earth where it sits as a vein of nitrogen and other essential nutrients. With shocking authenticity to the settlers, we still furrow our rows with hoes and dig seed trenches by hand. We walk the rows hand sowing seeds with the same delicate care that these heirlooms received so many years ago. The trenches are filled and seeds are covered in the same manner before being watered. This time though, our electric pump draws the water from the well through hundreds of feet of hoses strung across the garden. Electric fences are set, organic pesticides of various powdered plant matter are dusted on crops and we too watch almost as diligently as our colonial counterparts for the first sign of life, weeds or seedlings; each strip is carefully purged of weeds as they surface by hand or hoe.

The modern systems eliminate the need for many children or a team of farmers. Tractors pulling massive disks can loosen acres of soil in mere minutes. Petro-fertilizers are spread far over the required amounts as yield insurance; a faster, simpler and cheaper process that allows the step turning fertilizer into the Earth to be skipped entirely. Seeding apparatuses are dragged behind the same tractors planting hundreds, if not thousands, of seeds in a single pass, no furrowing required. Irrigation is made simpler by rolling sprinklers that create a cascade of water down onto these seeds. As they spring to life, petro-chemicals are sprayed – although not always if the GMO seeds have genes that repel potential pests – and weeding is managed much to the same effect.

Over the last 8 weeks, I have grown, just like the plants, at Pepperfield. My understanding of agricultural systems increases each day and I am beginning to identify the various input substitutions that are made on many different levels. Each day brings new surprises and thoughts to contemplate. The environment promotes this physical and mental expansion and offers living examples of natural processes. At Pepperfield we practice food production as close to its original roots as possible, still considering needs to maintain an efficient but low impact system. I believe that it is one of the reasons I enjoy Pepperfield so much. It isn’t preaching or practicing unrealistic methods to achieve a goal. But rather managing tools and techniques to create a wholesome product. These practices promote a key element for a prosperous future, in farming or life: Learn the complexity of a system and manage and manipulate it with compromises and sacrifice to reach a personally satisfying result.

Check out what you may have missed this week here!

Never Give Up, Just Try: Planting the Future through Perseverance

The simplest, maybe easiest, approach to dealing with anything is to not try. Surrendering is appealing to some because it requires no further effort. This can be compounded if the fight or battle against or with someone or something repeatedly ends up unsuccessful. Striving to actually “do”, whether it be in life, work or any other capacity, requires an investment. It might be financial, but more often it is time or energy oriented. One of the most strenuous elements of combating an issue or goal is to maintain a path of advancement. Simply, to try. I have always revelled in the feats of humanity. Each time I witness something amazing – cars in space or an egg cooked, then reverted back to its raw state – my belief to “Do my absolute best even when facing adversity because I can do anything as long as I try”, becomes even stronger. Humans have the ability to do anything. But that’s not to say there aren’t physical and mental limitations.

About a week ago I witnessed one of the best living examples of trying, more aptly called perseverance. It was a warm afternoon and David and I went to the upper vineyard. Our plan was to plant some new vines to replace others lost to winter kill. I watched as David meticulously planted the new Blue Bell grapes for future harvests. As he completed the series of plantings I asked him a few questions. “How much will these vines grow? Will they double in size?” Looking at these skimpy twigs I was curious how they could ever turn into the massive vines that dominated over two-thirds of the vineyard. David told me that if we had proper growing conditions they had the potential to double, possibly even grow more than that. As I gazed across the vineyard another spark of curiosity ignited within. “How old are these vines up here”, I asked, observing some of the behemoths with trunks thick as my wrist. David pondered for a second and I interjected, “Are they as old as the vineyard?” He quickly replied, “yes”, and followed it up with an explanation. He told me that he put this upper vineyard in about five years ago. Without any inquisition, he also added “These guys” – the vines we just planted – “will take about that much time before they set good fruit”
This is where my amazement peaked. David is 76 and yet he’s still planting vines. He’s looking to the future with optimism that he will still be around to care for them – although I’m sure he will be – and with hopes to enjoy the fruits of his labor. I’d like to talk about David. Author of several books, entomologist, and photographer, although he claims these are just hobbies, teacher, naturalist and farmer, he has lived his life in a similar fashion for its entirety. Even at 76 this season he planned – without any real knowledge of my participation on the farm – to manage his own life and land, the gardens of two of his neighbors, an edible landscape at the local hospital, oversight of a bed and breakfast, with efforts predominantly spearheaded by Ellis, countless donations to local non-profit organizations, and teaching people about growing in body, mind, and spirit. This testament alone demonstrates his drive to persevere: to never give up. But he isn’t a god, just a man. He has made countless sacrifices, which I applaud and respect, to achieve these feats; each carefully calculated to maximize his success and efficiency.

It would have been significantly easier for him to decline these supplemental garden projects; he could have taken a year off with the hospital landscape; hell, he even could’ve just brought me out here as a body for work and kept his philosophies and teachings to himself. (I’m extremely grateful he didn’t) He could’ve forsaken the grape vines and the vineyard and chalked it up as a loss. But that’s not David. Instead he is going “full boar” – one of his favorite euphemisms – looking beyond his daily tasks and comfort to plan for and plant his future.

Pepperfield – but moreso the man behind it – has taught me something everyday, ranging from farming to philosophy. It has given me the chance to be introspective and determine how I plan to live my future. One of the biggest components here at Pepperfield is the work. Laboring for countless hours, hauling pounds of manure and expelling gallons of sweat for a fabulous finished product. A living example planting the future through perseverance. David understands this so well because he has lived it for his entire life. He has seen the conversion of raw physical energy and mental determination transform into a beautiful bounty. David knows how much easier it would be to call it quits and lead a different life. The most intriguing point is that he doesn’t want to. The best part of this lesson is understanding it physically as well as mentally. I have only gotten a taste of David’s teachings and the work involved but each day as I grow, just like the vines we planted, I continue to experience what is like to try. Life isn’t easy, if it was it would be boring. Hard work, determination and perseverance are only a few of the keys to success. The biggest proponent is you! Next time you want to quit or surrender, don’t. Just try, strive to achieve more, plant those grape vines: plant your future.

Stress vs Pressure

Merriam Webster defines these as:

Stress: n. A physical, chemical or emotional factor that causes inner strife, unrest or imbalance
Pressure: n. The constraint of circumstance; the burden (or oppression) of physical or mental distress
I believe these two words have always seemed synonymous. So much so that I used them interchangeably. As an individual immersed in the culinary industry for nearly a third of my life I can attest to an environment laden with both. But it is crucial to note that, while similar, these terms are different. Stress derives from the unknown or uncontrolled, exterior factors, although not exclusively, whereas pressure is the application of these factors, that can occasionally create stress.

The expectation to complete a task quickly, safely and comprehensively is a mainstay. “Sense of urgency”, as it is more often referred, is a characteristic demanded from anyone in the food industry. This creates situations or tasks where any participant will feel pressure. But when verbal abuse or physical provocation are applied as a motivator or disciplinary action, the same participant will feel stress.

One of the greatest satisfactions for any chef is executing a service with no mistakes But, just like pitching a no-hitter, the level of synergy and teamwork must be superb. Chefs who have experienced and executed such a night knows the feeling. Metal is clanking, burners roar; in some kitchens the communication between stations can be almost deafening, while in silent kitchens, the work and focus creates its own noise. The pressure to execute a perfect night is perceived by all participants. To some its anxiety, others adrenaline, but at the core each person is striving to achieve the same goal. Inevitably there will be mistakes and its how they are handled that really matters. A plate comes back, the steak is undercooked: the pressure is felt by that section to, with a sense of urgency, produce the same another dish to correct the issue. But when the section is hounded for the steak by anyone – who more than definitely understands the reality of cooking food and its time constraints – the pressure dissipates and is replaced by stress.

It’s seldom that anyone pushes as hard as possible. Some strive to do their best but when the pressures on, even their best can be outclassed. It’s one thing to, through various practices, push someone to give more. It is something else entirely to attempt the reach the same conclusion by creating stress. I previously believed that I enjoyed stress; the butterflies in the stomach, mind accelerating to its terminal velocity of processing, and heartbeat racing, sometimes far above healthy levels. But after much consideration I realized i was wrong. I really enjoy those sensations but they really are derivatives of pressure. I don’t enjoy frustration or anger, spite, contempt, toxicity, and pettiness: all components of stress.

These observations aren’t only relevant to the food industry; I have concluded they apply, more generally, to life. Next time you encounter a situation that makes you feel pressured, persevere. But recognize when pressure – and that fine line quickly fades – becomes stress. I believe pressure really comes from within and stress comes from external factors. Pressure can be used as a tool or motivator, but stress is nothing more than a distraction – a distinction that I have failed to make for a large part of my life, but now recognize and won’t forget.

My Chicken

This post may have disturbing content to some.
The night’s sleep was interesting. I had about three separate episodes of dreams where I was late to get up. One of them I found myself back in Rhode Island and after glancing at the time I knew I wouldn’t make it back to the farm. David had expressed that he wanted me ready by 8.00am. We had a busy day but our first farm chore was lengthy. Before feeding the chickens and checking for eggs we needed to grab a rooster.

I held the old wooden door as David slipped in and plucked the white bodied rooster from the mass of birds. Disapproving squawks resonated through the valley. David eased the door open, rooster tucked snugly under his arm, and walked across the pen. The cool morning breeze rushed through the valley catching the budding walnuts and burr oaks creating a whooshing that resembled the ocean. Was I still dreaming, back in Rhode Island? David inverted the bird, to much of his disapproval, and placed him snugly in a metal funnel shaped apparatus. He turned toward me and held out the worn wooden handle of a knife, one that his father had used in his lifetime. With a quick gesture towards the bird he told me, “You’re up.” David grasped the bird’s temples and exposed it neck so I could get a good view.

The rooster was calm, as calm as any inverted bird with its head sticking out of a metal cone could be. The breeze pushed the earthy aroma of manure into my nostrils and the valley – song birds still asleep – was almost silent. I’ve never seen fear in an animal, but I am confident that the rooster wasn’t scared. David drew and invisible line with his finger to show me where to make my cut. With him holding the birds head still I made a swift cut deep enough to severe the artery. The exsanguination took no more than a minute, the crimson blood flowing steadily out of the bird’s body. After the flow decreased to a slow dribble the body seemingly came back to life. David had forewarned me about this; it wasn’t the animal struggling to live, rather the cells, starved for oxygen, going into shock. As the bird went through its final throes, I turned away.

Once all the life had drained from the rooster we took it inside. David had put a pot of water on the stove, now at a rolling boil. He plunged the bird into the pot for about 60 seconds and removed the bird handing it to me. After a quick demo, I plucked the bird, removed the feet, and, with David’s help, eviscerated it. Once extracted, I placed the warm offals in a small dish to be used later. I asked David how I should process the meat and he gave me a fabulous answer, “It’s your chicken, you do whatever you want.” He was right, it was my chicken. I quickly butchered the bird just to separate the parts to make them cook faster. After a quick sear, I dropped the meat into the soup and let it simmer for a few hours. I used the bones for stock. The offals – liver, heart, gizzard and testicles, which I found to be delicious- and meat in the soup. The remaining pieces of meat clinging to the bones were cleaned and I gave them back to David for his dogs. All told not a single part of the bird went to waste.

We dined the following night on my chicken and it was amazing. The rooster had such a strong ‘chickeny’ flavor, that when I mentioned it to David he jested, “It almost tastes like rabbit.” He wasn’t wrong. I have never been able to make a dish from an animal I knew; something I processed from the beginning to end. As a chef it was one of the finest experiences I could have asked for. As we enjoyed the meal I fully understood what David meant: “It’s your chicken.” I certainly felt like it was.  If anything my dreams that night may have been an indication of my apprehension. I had asked David, when he first told me the plan to slaughter a rooster, that I wanted to participate. I wanted to understand a process of the food system that happens hundreds of miles away from any kitchen. From start to finish I felt a myriad of emotions. I was nervous that I wouldn’t deliver a swift death; anxious about the killing itself; remorseful that I was taking life; but most of all humbled to be able to witness and participate processing a chicken from start to finish in a humane, responsible and respectful manner.  But not just any chicken: my chicken.

The Purpose: Why I Came to Pepperfield Farm

This notion, titled above, began and evolved before my arrival at Pepperfield.  From its inception this trip was intended to expand my knowledge of food. I desired to learn how many of the products I use on a regular basis are created. I had interests in acquiring some of this knowledge for both future applications and to begin to further develop my respect for food. One of my goals was to participate in all the steps – intensive labor and intimate care – required to propagate plants, specifically fruits and vegetables, and animals. Being in the industry for the last seven years I believe that I began to lose sight of some of this. It’s easy to become disconnected from food when its acquisition is boiled down to a basic interaction; rather than going to a store or market to look at products, I would just pick up the phone and place an order to one of the purveyors. I wanted to correct my mindset: food doesn’t just come off the shelf or off a truck. This trip was also to act as my sabbatical. I noticed, unfortunately later than desired, that my environment – high stress and pressure – was beginning to transform me into someone else. For better and worse I developed and grew, learning a lot about myself and the world around me, at the expense of my happiness and that of my co-workers and acquaintances.

As I took the 1600-mile drive across the nation my brain began the transition. A combination of reading and thinking helped me realize that I wanted to make changes in my operation as a chef, but as an individual too. Subconsciously, this was where the refining of my food philosophy commenced. These thoughts perpetuated even further during my brief stay at my uncles for Easter. I prepared the evening’s meal and shared my methods and thought processes with anyone interested. But it wasn’t until the actual meal that I began to observe the potential growth I could achieve. Sitting among a lawyer, theoretical physicists, writers, a naturalist, and a clergyman, all new acquaintances, the evening unfolded into discussions about food, politics, religion and philosophy. I remember saying to my uncle, “I don’t think I ever have participated in conversations stimulating as those.” I realized I was in an intelligent environment where I could learn about topics and ideas about food and life that never had occurred to me.

But that wasn’t the end. The next day I drove out to Pepperfield and began to settle in. I was given a warm greeting, with some delicious snacks, by David. We proceeded to talk for the rest of the day about my history and what I hoped to achieve while here. I told David my goals – same as detailed above – and left it open ended by stating, “I don’t know what else I want to learn, I’m here to take it all in.”  The week that followed was where my ideas about my future, both at Pepperfield and in life, were rocked to their core. David asked me brilliant thought provoking questions that caused me to delve deeper into my conscious than I have previously. He has made me question my beliefs, the natural – and unnatural – universe, my predispositions, strengths and flaws, and my capacity in the food and hospitality industry. My understanding of what I hoped to learn began to broaden and my mind has never been more open.

I expect my purpose for coming to Pepperfield will continue to evolve, like it already has. I am excited to learn about the intricacies of food through direct participation and learning to develop a legitimate understanding and respect for everything that is responsible for the creation of food. I’m thrilled to begin the process of defining who I am and identifying who I hope to become. And anxious with anticipation to see what my future holds. I have felt more relaxed, grounded, open and happy then I ever have. I have concluded that my only real purpose is to – as the Pepperfield mission states – grow my body, mind and spirit.

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