Chicken Day is here. We went to the Putnam Farmer’s Co-op to pick out the birds a couple days ago.
Putnam is an old Connecticut mill town in “The Quiet Corner,” the Northeastern part of Connecticut now famous for antique shops, formerly where textiles were made. My grandparents–the Canadian side, not the Irish side ironically–owned a liquor store on one of the main roads before my grandfather died very young. My mother was two years old.
A Sunday driver passing through any of these mill towns sees a mixture of old architectural beauty–bricks crumbling into rivers and streams–and gentrification. Many mills have been recycled into businesses and high-ceiling condos in towns that really want to make a comeback. Each mill town is separated by large stretches of farms gaining momentum as America learns to appreciate it’s food and gets to know our farmers.
I’ve traveled the region extensively photographing these treasures. They’re stunning, majestic–the focal point of an era long past. If I look a little closer, I see the ghosts of workers who gave their dreams, their health, and three generations of their children creating the throw-away culture we enjoy today, the men and women who–if you look closely enough at the old photos–had eyes deadened by repetitive work in hundred-degree conditions with very little chance of escape outside of Sunday factory baseball, church, laudanum, or beer.
Those ghosts should be long gone. They’re not. They’ve simply moved overseas. If you’re quiet and look very, very hard, once in a while on a bright, sunny day, you can see the outline of a child textile worker searching for his future among the piles of bricks and scars on the quaint New England landscape. All the other workers are in China. You see, our desire for cheap things never quite leaves us.
I still think of these people as I drive along the old roads that connect these towns. I think of them sometimes when I drink mid-day coffee. The coffee break was invented in Willimantic, Connecticut, about twenty minutes southwest of Putnam. I could’ve given a complete citation fifteen years ago when I was a hard-core historian gunning for my Ph.D but not today.
Legend has it a textile mill owner discovered giving the child workers juice and a muffin helped their work productivity. The “coffee break” wasn’t generosity. It increased the bottom line.
Declan didn’t care about these stories. He wanted to hold chickens and buy a duck. I said no to the duck. What does anyone do with a duck?
He said he’d sneak in a duck with the chickens.
“I’ll notice,” I said. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. I can tell a duck from a chicken.
“Those are geese,” the co-op owner said.
“Well, we’re not getting a goose either.” Nice save.
I’ve been quasi-homesteading for a while. Chickens are the next step. I say “quasi” because if I ever had a tough winter, there’s a store down the road. Pioneers would’ve died.
If I homesteaded for real, I’d have to do without things. My May garden is full of hope, but by June, I’m killing things en mass. I could never survive if I were homesteading, or even if I were one of those authors doing a social experiment nobody ever really lives, “For 30 days, I’m going to eat off my land.”
I’m skinny enough.
This year I tried hard, though. I really think I’ll have something to eat besides lettuce, cucumbers, and enough zucchini for a horror movie.
If I homesteaded for real, I’d have to build a barn or have a quilting bee. I don’t have enough friends for a quilting bee. We had an old barn when I was little. My mom said I couldn’t get a horse or cow. I now know why. They eat a lot and ruin the lawn.
I could get goats. There’s a girl across town who makes amazing goat’s milk soap. I could try to copy her if I had a barn, but she’s got a monopoly on that stuff already. I guess I’ll stop at chickens and pretend to be a real homesteader.
If I say things like “manure” and compost once in a while, and post a recipe for zucchini, you’ll believe me. These chickens will give me enough farming street cred–I’ve kept them alive for two days now, which means I’m well on my way to success, even though I’ve ruined three greenhouses and don’t have a cow.
And in case you were wondering, this isn’t saving me any money. I have sort of a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” relationship with my DIY and “homesteading” projects. They never save any money, and I never look at the bottom line.
Meanwhile, I can’t wait to eat my first egg. The second will be pretty good, too… and on and on until eggs become the protein equivalent of the August bushel of zucchini that a starving man wandering the desert would run from screaming.
Maybe I’ll write a cookbook. “The Fake Homesteaders Guide to Choking Down Way Too Many Zucchini and Eggs” which means these chickens are research. Either way, I invite you to come over to Poser CSA and pick some food for your BBQ.
Just leave the chickens behind.