Category Archives: visitors

Tanning hides

Sorry most of my posts lately have been all about events and actions, not necessarily deep thoughts about urban farming or poetic day in the life portraits of GhostTown Farm, but I’m feeling more action-y lately, so bear with me. Soon I’ll pull up the rocking chair and tell you some yarns. For now, here’s another potentially amazing upcoming event–please let me know if you are interested!

Though the wonderful auspices of UC Berkeley’s student group, SAFE, there’s a movement afoot to host a hide tanning workshop at GhostTown Farm. How appropriate.┬áBut this isn’t going to be some quickie session like the turkey-killing class, this involves a tw0-day commitment. And potentially camping in our lot. Or sleeping with the goats in the goat house. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

1. The class will be taught by Tamara Wilder, an absolute authority on primitive skills. Her business is called Paleotechnics, for Christ’s sake.

2. Remember how I said I have a million bunny hides in my freezer? Tamara said we can tan those. Each of the class attendees can have one of my million pelts to learn how to tan!

3. Remember my cool friend Jim who has goats? He said we can use on of his goat hides to practice tanning. For when we get bored of the rabbit.

3. There’s only room for 16 people

4. Tamara’s going to show up with all her tools (things like scrapping beams) and we 16 are giving her $100 EACH to take the class, which I said, spans two days.

5. This is not for the faint of heart. I’m imagining lots of dangling meat parts and stinky goo. And rubbing.

6. This will all go down either on April 11/12 or April 18/19. Do let me know which dates work best for you! But remember–it’s $100 and will span two days! If people want to stay the night or pitch a tent, I’m sure we can figure something out. There will be farm chores in the morning!

7. I am so excited to learn how to tan a hide!!

UPDATE 8. Please RSVP to agrofoodecology@gmail.com with subject line ‘Tanning’ and the best weekend for you (April 11 or April 18) so that they can pick the weekend with the most interest.

Teaching turkey

In 2005 I killed my first Thanksgiving turkey.

Since then I’ve killed quite a few more, written articles about it, even took part in a turkey harvesting photo shoot (I’ll never do that again, though I loved the photographer, when he asked me to step to the left just before I cut the turkey’s throat, I realized art and practice sometimes shouldn’t meet…) My experience raising a turkey takes up a whole section of my memoir about urban farming. Turkeys–because they are part of Thanksgiving and our American heritage– make great metaphors.

This year was very special in that I got to share the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the last three years with some students. Did you know there’s an urban agriculture class at Berkeley? Lucky undergrads get to grow their own vegetables, learn about international urban ag, and visit local farms. I gave a lecture/presentation to the class one day and then had them come out for visits over the past two weekends.

The first weekend, my friend J graciously offered us three roosters. The neighbors had complained and she called me out of desperation: “can you kill these roosters?” she asked. I walked her through how to do it herself. She listened patiently and then asked again: “can you kill them?” I forget how hard it is the first time.

So she brought the handsome fellows over and the class, with my help, dispatched them. We used the loper method, which I think is fast and humane. Of course we burned a little incense and said our thanks to the birds. The students were great. None of them had ever killed an animal before (on purpose at least) but most of them ate meat and so they wanted to face it. One of the most curious and best entrail cleaner was a vegan! He wants to become a veterianarian, so this was like a lab for him. Awesome. While I showed the students how to kill, pluck, and clean a rooster, I thought of all the people before me who shared this knowledge with me. It felt great to share in an experience I find very anxiety-producing yet full of life and love at the same time.

J took one plucked and cleaned rooster home and gave me the other two. I braised mine. Delicious in a rooster pot pie made with a wee bit of leftover lard in the pie crusts.

The next weekend, just yesterday in fact, it was time to say goodbye to Archie 2 and Edith. The class came out again (different students this time) to assist. Killing a turkey is a bigger deal than the roosters. They’re big. They’re full of life-force. Their feathers are so large, their bodies are so warm. The males have some special parts like the beard and the snood which add some level of mystery to the birds. I hadn’t realized how fat Archie #2 had gotten. He must have weighed 25 pounds! Edith was much smaller, only a bit bigger than the roosters from the previous weekend.

The students gathered in the garden. I had set up workstations: the plucking table, the cleaning table, the dipping area. We stood near the killing area, which featured a pair of enormous lopers, incense, and a bucket. I retrieved Edith from the backyard first. We burned incense and I described her life, which was going on two years. She never did hatch out any baby turkey poults, and for that I was sad. But she had a good run, enjoyed bossing the chickens and Archie around. But now it was time for her to go. I gave her a kiss, then a student loped her head off. It’s nice to have someone around who didn’t *know* the turkey. We plucked her and cleaned her entrails. Her gizzard was happy and full of rocks and grains. She ate well, that’s for sure.

Next came Archie#2. Enormous. My arms ached carrying him from the backyard to the front. We usually have heritage breeds but Archie looked to be just a Standard White. He had grown so so fast. After some kind words (but not too many, he was heavy!) the Berkeley instructor held the turkey’s feet, I hugged the turkey’s wings, and a student loped the head off. As the life-force drained out of the turkey, I accidentally let go of his wings which caused (I later found out) a horrible jolt to the groin of the instructor. Oops! It’s dangerous out here on GhostTown Farm, I reckon. Sorry N! The plucking and cleaning proceeded as normal. Archie had a gizzard the size of a softball and a crop the size of a football. No wonder the chickens are always hungry competing with that guy!

The students lingered in the garden after all was said and done. It was a sunny late November day. The bees were out, the greens were so bright. It was hard to tear ourselves away from the moment, when things felt so real. I felt a little proud that I could show someone something I knew how to do. That finally, I have some knowledge that can be passed on, remembered, used, and hear stories about where that knowldege led other people once they knew too.

I brined Archie and Edith. I think I’m going to deep-fry Archie. Edith, as her age dictates, will be braised.

Late afternoon addition: Can’t find anyone to deep fry the turkey. So I’m turning to Chef Edwards and he will be smoking the turkeys all day long tomorrow!

Farm Tour

Pant, pant. Lord, just saw the cover of my book, coming out in June. Purdy cute. But top secret.

So, how does October 19th work for you farm tour people? We’re going to do a honey extraction. High noon. Be here: 665 28th Street, at MLK and 28th. We’re the lot next door. We’ll do a tour then extract (weather willing). Bring seeds to swap if you’ve got a favorite. I’ve got some good Speckles lettuce…

Oh, and article in SFgate.com this week by moi.

Urban farm tour

I’m feeling frantic with the “end of the summer”. I want to have a tour and do a seed swap (newly inspired by Heather Flores and her event last night for slowfood). I’m thinking late September. Who’s into it? Which Saturday?
Also, I heard CUESA is putting on an urban farm tour! September 12. They’re going to Alemany and a farm in East Palo Alto. Here’s the ticket info.

Virtual farm tour

Sorry for those of you who missed the last farm tour. It was nice to meet some new folks and see old friends. I’ve got a gun to my head to finish a writing project, so there won’t be a tour in August. Plan on a Friday in early September.

In the meantime, here’s the farm report.

The bees I caught last year are doing really well. There seems to be lot of activity, though I was worried about the queen’s laying pattern last time I did an inspection (which was awhile ago–I hate bothering them). The swarm caught this spring in Alameda has died out. The queen never started laying and it all went to hell. I partially blame myself because I had this really jankity brood box with very funky frames.

The garden is in that awkward mid-summer phase where the greens are done but the tomatoes aren’t quite ripe yet. Luckily there is something to eat because it’s summer apple season. One of our neighbors comes in and picks them, which pisses Bill off, but I’m resigned–and even a little supportive–of the lot pillagers. Times are tight in the ghetto and the more fresh food I grow, the healthier the people around here will be. In a nod to my hippiedom, I’m growing corn and sunflowers, crops I usually don’t pursue. However, I have a reason! I do like sweet corn. And, the goats will very gladly eat the corn stalks. So it’s a multi-use plant. Similarly, goats like sunflower leaves and seeds.

The chickens on the deck are getting big, and I’m almost ready to set them loose outside with the big girls. They’ll get their asses kicked, but after a day or so all will be well. They’ve been flying off the deck and into the street, which is no good, so I’m getting motivated. The big white fella is Edith’s soon to be boyfriend. By the way he’s been puffing up lately, I’m fairly sure he’s a male.

Finally, the deck rabbits are getting plump from eating the windblown apples. They’re approaching their 3 month old birthday, which means it’ll be time for rabbit rillettes soon.

Swing on by: Friday

Howdy.

The farm gate will be open on Friday, from 3-6pm. Stop on by! I’m hoping to see some of the folks from the conference and make some new friends, and see some old pals.

The farm is at 28th street and MLK in Oakland. Look for the bright mural on the abandoned building–the farm is behind the green fence on the corner. I’ll be weeding in the garden.