Author Archive | Laura Field

CONFESSIONS FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE PECKING ORDER

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Everyone has their own unique place or environment where the best version of themselves suddenly shines through. As a kid, mine was always the farm.

By 6 years old, I could stand up to an ornery goat without getting charged. At 8 years old I could take a blow from the spurs of the meanest rooster and cuddle the aggression out of him. At the farm, I felt like the Steve Erwin of goats and chickens: able to handle anything. At the farm, I felt like me.

Unfortunately this feeling had a way of fizzling out the second I walked through the doors of my eighth grade. That specific year, every girl in my class decided that I would be the one they chose to bully.

In school it didn’t matter how comfortable I was staring down an aggressive goat because in the face of a mean 13-year-old girl I cowered like a chicken at the bottom of the pecking order. The meanest of roosters has nothing on the viciousness of eighth-grade girls.

It began halfway through September. Brittany Johnson was the ringleader and I rarely spotted her without a group of girls hovering around her. On the bus she would snicker to her friends about me, calling me ugly, stupid and, most commonly, “dumb blonde.” These comments traveled to the classroom where the rest of the girls soon joined in.… Read the rest

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Heavenly Chicken

The Great Chicken in the Sky

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The height of my religiousness peaked at 12 years old, right about the time my favorite chicken got mauled by a fox. Back then, going to church and praying was as much a part of my Catholic school curriculum as social studies. I wasn’t a fan of either.

The night the fox attacked my Brahma hen Tweety, I decided it was time to use my super duper prayer training skills to convince God that Tweety should survive the night. It never occurred to me that God might have more important things to do than salvage some weird little girl’s pet chicken, but rationality wasn’t one of my stronger points. So, I stayed up the entire night, praying to God through a mess of tears and snot.

As much as I begged him to work a modern miracle and heal all of my bird’s wounds, Tweety did not recover. I still had to go to school the next morning and give the bad news to my best friend Tessa. I told her that the bird she and I had spent so many hours giving chicken manicures to had, in fact, died. I pretended that I forgave God for not making my chicken a priority over world hunger and global poverty.… Read the rest

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A FEAST WITH BEASTS

Oxen Make Great Dates at Shaker Village Dinner

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“The peaches in this vodka better be free range and grass fed,” I said to the man behind the picnic table, laughing at my own joke. He chuckled and handed me an ice-cold glass of local organic peach-lemonade vodka from the outdoor tablecloth-covered bar. I took a sip. The drink was a perfect end-of-summer concoction, and a mix so delicious, God himself might be serving the same exact thing in Heaven. It was September 2013 and I had been asked by Edible Berkshires to have dinner and give my editorial opinion about dinner in a field!

I stood on the grass outside Hancock Shaker Village and watched the crowds of people gathered near the long, narrow dinner table centered in the Shaker gardens for the renowned Outstanding in the Field (OITF) Farm to Table Dinner. Within an hour, over 100 guests would be served some of the highest-quality local food from surrounding farms by top local Chef Brian Alberg of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge.

The event was said to be run like a culinary circus, a group of people traveling the country on a bus, organizing, hosting and setting up the tables and chairs for each dinner.… Read the rest

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THE LAST TALE: A Chicken Tooth Fairy

Not a Poultry Experience

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At 4 years old, most children have the luxury of losing their first baby tooth in some uneventful yet exciting way, like biting into an apple or discovering their tooth at the bottom of a bowl of Lucky Charms. This initial surprise is usually followed by shrieks of excitement and the thumping of feet running up the stairs to shove it under a pillow.

I was not so lucky. In fact, on that eventful afternoon in the summer of 1994, as my 5-year-old, chubby-cheeked self crouched picking dandelions among the chickens, my first baby tooth was not lost: It was stolen.

Who, might you ask would be such a heartless culprit as to strip a child of the magical experience of losing their first tooth? The culprit was no person. My “tooth fairy” was, in fact, a very insensitive Plymouth Rock rooster that apparently didn’t give a damn about childhood magic.

It’s not that I wasn’t used to handling chickens. In fact, up until that point, I, Laura Field, had spent my entire life playing in as much chicken dust and dirtiness as any good mother would allow their little girl, before getting hosed off and ushered inside for supper.… Read the rest

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The Last Tale: Mother Hen from Birth

Memories of Getting Away With Fowl Play

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When I was 6 years old, my mother washed my mouth out with a bar of Dove soap and sat me on the bathroom sink, soap mustache and all, to think about what I’d done.

For the third time that week I had smuggled one of our baby chicks, bullied by the others, into my bedroom for extra attention. An hour later, the poop stains on the rug sold me out, and there I was looking up at my mother and willing myself to be sorry.

“Have you learned your lesson?” she asked sternly, hands on hips. I sighed and looked at the ground. “I will never ever do it again,” I said, cracking a smile. Then I blew a Dove soap bubble into the air and, before the both of us, it popped.

Twelve years later, freshman year of college, I sat in my Honda Civic directly outside my dorm and called my floor mate inside. “Pat, I need to sneak in something onto the seventh floor and could use your smuggling experience.”

Pat, being something of a party animal, was very good at sneaking prohibited items right past the nose of the front desk staff and up into the dorms.… Read the rest

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SEEDS FOR CHANGE: Cafeterias offer Healthy Alternatives

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The local and orga nic movement is gaining momentum. Th e increasing healthy options at local grocery stores make it easier for parents to ensure that their children eat well in the home, but what about when the kids leave for school?

That’s where Aleisha and Brian Gibbons come in. Th ey have created Berkshire Organics SEEDS (Sustainable Education Every Day for Students), an organization that purchases food from local farms at a wholesale cost and delivers it to schools at the same price.

“School lunches have been dominated by processed foods such as pizza and chicken nuggets,” says Aleisha Gibbons, co-founder and board member. “The schools want to re-introduce fresh, local produce, but their obstacle is accessing it at an affordable price.”

Gibbons and her husband Brian founded the organization to provide Berkshire County schools with easier and more aff ordable access to healthy, local food each week. They had already forged the farming connections and acquired access to storage space and delivery vehicles through owning the Berkshire Organics Market on Dalton Division Road in Dalton, Massachusetts. Because they run both the nonprofit SEEDS and the for-profit Berkshire Organics Market, juggling both aspects has proved challenging.

“At one point we were losing money because our time was being taken up by so much of the SEEDS programs,” says Brian .… Read the rest

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A Rare and Simple Gift

Connections at the Shaker Farm

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If you ever give small children a chance to name an animal, you will discover that they have an utter disregard for gender-appropriate names.

Every year during the Baby Animals Event at the Hancock Shaker Village Farm, we give children the opportunity to name a lamb, calf or chick. The result is delightfully unorthodox. Newborn animals have become “Batman,” “Cinderella” or, my personal favorite, “Mr. Superfluffy.”

It matters not to the little boy with the freckles that the baby chick he named Pecker should never be spoken of again. Nor does it matter to the blonde little girl that the bull-calf she named Princess Catherine will grow into 2,000 pounds of testosterone.

In their minds, both children have made the animals their own, and thereby have established a connection between their world and the world that provides wool, milk, eggs and meat—a world that all too many children this day in age have no familiarity with. This is where I come in.

Having lived at Shaker Village for several years now—I say “lived” because this is not work to me—I have witnessed moments that are “special connections.” Numerous families stroll through the barn and, though they do not live on farms, many older folks approach me with a flash of nostalgia in their eyes and tell me how the smell of hay and manure brings them back to their childhood on a dairy farm.… Read the rest

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THE LAST BITE: The Story of the Ugliest… Chickling?

Brooding over what it means to be a chicken

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Photo by Laura Field

A certain type of hen is about as useful for egg laying as a porcupine is for cuddling. This hen will monopolize a single nesting box for months at a time and lay next to nothing for eggs. If you happen to be another hen who wants to lay an egg in that box, too bad, you’re out of luck because this primadonna chicken doesn’t give a damn about your feelings or your problems. The only thing she cares about is doing whatever it takes to hatch the few eggs underneath her, no matter how long she has to sit. I’m talking, of course, about The Broody Hen.

Each spring I find about one broody girl in the flock. The morning that my sweet-tempered Diane glared at me from inside her nest, fierceness dancing in her orange eyes, I knew she was the one. She might as well have drawn a line in the sand and said, “Cross it. Make my day.” But whether I crossed it or not, her situation was hopeless. Even if Diane did harbor eggs underneath, no rooster lived on the premises to have fertilized them.… Read the rest

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THE LAST BITE: The Chicken Who Wasn’t!

Rogue rooster’s tale reveals an unlikely hero

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James B. was his name. He was blond and beautiful, a rooster with eyes the color of a sunrise and a tail that went on for miles. I was 20 years old and, having raised chickens my entire life, I’d never met one I didn’t like. He was a Buff Orpington, a favorite breed of mine, which I’d often lovingly refer to as the Golden Retrievers of the chicken world.

Unfortunately, James B. was more like the Rottweiler of the chicken world. The B in his name stood for badass, a term which he faithfully lived up to each morning when I would open the gate, pour him his grain and change his muddied water. Throughout the process, he would jump at me, thrashing and flapping until he dug his spurs into my pant leg as hard as he could. Each time I shooed him away he immediately came back for more. Finally, when James felt satisfied with himself, he would back up, cock his head, look me dead in the eye and with the sun shining down on his brilliant golden tail he would lift his head and give out one last rebel yell: his mighty cock-a-doodle-doo

Now James was the one rooster among about six assorted hens, one of which I named Sara, whom I referred to as my little misfit.… Read the rest

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