A few weeks ago my eyes were opened. Without realizing it I have surrounded myself with people who think like me, and when we talk we all know the lingo. I was amazed at haw far some of us are from the typical person in our modern culture in the United States of America. And I realized, probably for the first time, just how daunting starting to do things more naturally and for yourself can be. Sit back and I will share with you the story.
Last year I sold some of my old laying hens to a family on the outskirts of the city where we live. They were not really sure they wanted chickens, so it was a good deal for them. The chickens began laying eggs, and the family was awed by the fact that they could go out and get fresh eggs in their back yard. It became a daily adventure for their many children to search for those eggs every day and learn to help prepare them for breakfast. Later, in the spring, they bought a number of chicks and started a small neighborhood egg business.
Moving on to the summer, they asked me if I would teach them to kill and butcher the old hens. This was a big deal for them in their steps toward becoming better stewards of what they were given. I agreed, and in the fall went out to their house to help kill the remaining older hen (the others had met other fates from prolapse to heat). The children were herded indoors with their very pregnant mother as her husband caught the hen and we strung it up on the swing set. The killing went easily, as did the plucking. As we started cleaning the bird, the couple asked me what to do with the bird now that they had it.
Here is where I started to truly realize how little most people know of farm life. I stopped what I was doing in surprise, and told them they could cook the bird, but that stewing it would probably be best because of it’s age. They looked at me quite blankly and said together, “Stewing?”. So I explained that was just boiling the bird, removing the meat, and cooking the bones into broth. “Broth?” they asked. Yet more explanation was required. By now I had shown them all the chicken innards and was cutting off the feet. I asked, quite innocently, if they wanted to save the feet for their broth. I am sure you can imagine the shock and amazement this was met with, as well as my asking them if they wanted to save some of the organs. They said they had all they could do to learn to cook the bird, so we moved on.
As I was packing my knives and aprons, the lady of the house offered me some produce from her garden as a thank you for my help. I gladly accepted, and we walked out to a wonderful little garden, full of growing things. There were sweet potatoes, broccoli, eggplant, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and a few other things I can’t remember. It was the first garden they had ever had, and I was exclaiming over the bounty as she piled my arms high with food. As the amount grew I asked why she was giving me so much (as I was teaching her how to harvest different things) and she told me that even though they grew it all, they had no idea how to use it! They had, that summer, for the first time in their lives, sliced and eaten a fresh, raw tomato. A neighbor had taught them how to do that. They had never had one before! Let me tell you, that revelation about made me sit down in shock. Then and there I started teaching, but for everything I said we had to go back to a basic beginning that astonished me. Yet, here is what is most amazing. These people were asking the questions. They were trying and doing, not just looking at it as if they couldn’t do these things simply because they never had. They didn’t allow themselves to let their lack of experience stop them from asking the questions or admitting they didn’t know something. I think far too many people are too embarrassed to show they need help, so they just never try, or give up too soon because they needed help but felt foolish for asking.
I wanted to share this story, not because this family lacked experience, but because they are learning. I hope to give the beginner encouragement that you are not alone. There are a lot of people just like you who didn’t have a family garden as a child, who only ate things out of boxes or the drive-through at McDonald’s. I also wanted to share this for those that, like myself, have forgotten that there are many out there still trying to learn the lingo of the homesteader/backyard farmer. When we come across those that don’t know, we should think closely how we word things and explain our activities so that they can learn and not feel like it’s just too much. And we have to remember that simply cutting a fresh tomato and eating it is enough sometimes.