Monday, August 18, 2008

Ferraro's Funky Farm

Grounded is a good thing for an electrical system, but also important for these "bio-machines" we live in.

How each of us stays grounded varies according to what we have access to. Everyone has the power to just slow down and find their center through meditation. Some do it while practicing vigorous exercise, high on endorphins. I ground myself usually in the very literal sense, inserting myself into the organic cyclical flow of matter entering and leaving the ground right around me.

In my post First Harvest, I described many of the plants that flow through my creek side home, from the cultivated annuals to the trees and vines we have planted by our own hands, as well as the constant delivery of new plants that come to us from the riparian ecosystem. As steward for this small piece of the watershed, I am perpetually called to remove all such organic materials as their maturing renders them food, fuel or yard waste. Of course, there is no such thing as waste, knowing everything has to go someplace, and there becomes what it will be next.

The life style of an urban farmer also often involves keeping some "live stock," domesticated animals that can also dine on some of the organic materials flowing around us. And then, we in turn, may dine upon them. Also their excrement also joins the flow, back to our vegetable gardens, producing food directly for us, with peelings and other garden growth feeding the animals.

Thirty-six years ago, we built the first chicken coop in the flood plain behind our house, and named it "Ferraro's Funky Farm." Free range chickens too often turned into dog-hunted carcasses, so we eventually hardened a 10 x40 ft. chicken run, built of galvanized chain link fencing, with a welded steel pipe arches supporting the heavy wire roofing fabric and the thatched shade organically provided by the molting bark falling from the 80 ft. eucalyptus tree growing through the middle of the structure.

This structure has normally been the habitat for up to a dozen chickens, including, temporarily, a rooster or three. Of course, it seems natural to buy chickens in lots of a dozen, since we know that not long ago, they were encased in egg shells. Our local city ordinance forbids urban farmers from keeping roosters, but as chicks, it is often the case that the sex of some of the new birds will be male. It doesn't take long for the chicken run to become the protected territory of the rooster(s) and biting and generally attacking the hand that feeds you becomes part of the experience.

Luckily, thanks to a wise woman named Emma Prusch, San Jose has a publicly-owned working farm, right off King Road, in the southeast quadrant of the 101-680-280 interchange. This space is the one of San Jose's most valuable park assets, as it provides a place for urbanites to participate in the agricultural process and be reminded of the great potential for food production that this entire valley possesses, now hidden below the veneer of asphalt, concrete and buildings. With many kinds of birds in residence at Prusch Park, it is an natural place to release our roosters rather than harvest them for our dinner table. This usually quickly provides other real roosters for our cocky residents to engage with instead of someone in our family who is trying to feed the other hens or rabbits.

While I do not relish the act of killing and cleaning the feathered animals living with us here at the Funky Farm, I find that raising rabbits for food is a far easier process for putting meat protein on the family menu. A few hours of work skinning and cleaning rabbits puts 10-12 dinners in the freezer, while the discards are buried on the creek banks and return to the nature, as they should.

Raising rabbits and chickens in the same run showed me the basis for the connection of the Easter Bunny and the Easter Egg that are central to the Christian feast, as celebrated in the USA, at least. In the spring, The chickens usually increase their egg production so much that nesting boxes are in higher demand than supply, so chickens will lay eggs almost anywhere. When rabbit hutches are open, they soon possess several eggs, and next there is the appearance that even the rabbits are producing eggs. And the Easter Rabbit-Egg myth is born. One year, I made a video of a white rabbit hopping around some Easter Eggs, which then was edited with appropriate music by my bright son, Nick.

Yesterday, my rabbit population on the Funky Farm increased dramatically, adding 15 furry critters to my pens in one day. But you're thinking: new litters, from rabbits multiplying like rabbits. That would be an inaccurate assumption. What occurred was a neighbor of my friend Frank Schiavo, named Frank Rocca, has a daughter who just turned thirteen, and no longer is interested in caring for her large population of rabbits that had grown in her yard. Her dad was happy to find a willing recipient of this rabbit population, and the possibility of getting some of the rabbits back in a more eatable form than when he delivered them to me.

Luckily, the apples are ripening in San Jose right now and our neighbor John Engel and Karen English on South14th Street had bags of apples on the ground for the taking. This should be a tasty supplement for the alfalfa pellets that were their main staple in their diet to date. Since wild plants are found only in irrigated areas at present, the amount of free food for the rabbits comes mainly from neighbors' gardens and our own during the dry summer months. The alternative is to buy alfalfa pellets at $30/cwt.

Ferraro's Funky Farm has been home to some other critters during the last 36 years. I purchased a dozen pheasants from a huge pheasant farm that used to be located along Summit Road, east of Hwy 17. I also adopted some ducks from Vasona Reservoir County Park, with the Park Rangers blessings, as the amount of duck guano had become a deterrent for park visitors' enjoyment of the lakeside amenities.

We adopted two kid goats one year in the mid 70's, but found a better place to graze them at a friend's home in the Santa Cruz Mountains until they were old enough to butcher. Another goat was purchased live from a farm in Morgan Hill and butchered and barbecued for my Grandfather's birthday in 1978. This year my daughter, Chrysalis, has a friend in Santa Rosa whose family keeps a herd of goats to eat their pastures, converting grass to goats. I was tempted to buy a pair of young goats to eat the winter's vegetative ground cover that grows during our rainfall season between November and April.

The largest living live stock to ever come to the Funky Farm were two full grown hogs we bought from our friends Doug Nelson and Judy Chambers who lived in the rugged hills of Mendocino near Andersen Valley. These hogs had been pretty wild and were hard to keep penned. Their diet was comprised of apples and acorns, both plentiful local crops. Doug finally mellowed out these pigs when he acquired and fed the pigs fermented grape skins from a local wine maker.

Doug delivered two of these special-diet pigs to us, which we penned in our carport until our custom butcher could get to San Jose to kill and process our live stock. Our pigs were quite a surprise when folks would ring our bells at the front gate and get an immediate response of a loud grunt from the porkers. On the early Saturday morning when the butcher arrived, we first discussed the legality of shooting the pigs. They had never been hired to butcher pigs in the city limits before. After deciding it would be OK, they proceeded to shoot and bleed the pigs on the compost pile and then move them to the driveway to skin, gut and cut in half with a giant meat ax, while suspended from a boom on their rig. About this time, my neighbor across the street came out to get his newspaper, but nothing in the paper was as strange as what he was seeing in our driveway that morning. The reward for all this effort was pork that had the most incredible taste I've ever eaten and the normally white meat was tinted pink, probably the result of the fermented red grape skins in their diet.

The Funky Farm is also home to about six cats, some with names and others feral, but friendly enough to cry at the door when feeding time is delayed. We did have two dogs for a time, Tipsy, a black lab with white tips on her front paws, and Sandy, a dirty white terrier that we adopted when our neighbors John and Mandy Hall moved back to Illinois after John was stricken with multiple sclerosis. John and both dogs have since passed back into the earth, but will always be missed and loved.

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jeery said...
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