Sunday, January 8, 2012

Buffy Goes to Temple

This is Buffy.... for Brie, she's a fluff ball of fun. But today, she had a mission: to serve as an ambassador for sustainable backyard farming.

I packed up our dear Buffy, along with her girlfriend, Lady Gaga, to visit with a bunch of middle school kids at Temple Israel's Hebrew School, and enlighten them on the many benefits of keeping chickens.

The kids loved visiting and petting the girls, while I shared stories about raising them from day old chicks, bragging about their quirky antics and delicious eggs.

Ms. Prinz, the teacher, invited me to speak on the virtues of sustainable living through organic gardening and chicken keeping, and she related this back to her curriculum and Judaic principles. In her note to me, she wrote,

Sustainable farming is a Jewish value in the following ways:  Jewish tradition teaches us to respect God's creation, and to manage the resources of the earth in a way that preserves them for future generations and respects the integrity of each discrete part of  God's creation. 

Carrying the Girls
We think of God in the simple act of eating, and the laws of Kashruth, (i.e.the rules for butchering animals, and for preparing and serving meat),  have to do with respect for the animals from which we take our food. Indeed, orthodox Jews do not even mix natural materials (wool, cotton) in making clothes, as a sign of respect for the animals and plants from which they are taken.   

Animal husbandry is handled at length in the Talmud.  One of the only ways Jews are allowed to "work" on the Sabbath is by seeing to the comfort of their farm animals.  Cows must be milked, for example, regardless of whether it is Shabbat.  I don't know if you are aware of it, but religious Jews do not wear any animal skins (e.g. leather) on Yom Kippur, as a sign of atonement.

Most people go through life eating meat and wearing clothing without giving a second thought as to where their food and clothes came from.... for observant Jews, rules and rituals serve to remind them of their responsibility as stewards of the earth, and to heighten their sensitivity when it comes to consumption of animal products. We could all do with a little more of that. 

Coming face to face with a food source today helped make this message real for these kids. One asked me, "Do you eat chicken?" 

"I'm a vegetarian," I smiled. So did Brie. "But," I added, "we love their eggs."

"These chickens are our pets. They have names. And they are sentient beings." After seeing bewildered expressions, I explained that "sentient" means chickens are aware, they feel, they have compassion for one another. In fact, I mentioned that mother hens cluck to their baby chicks before they are hatched, and the chicks, still inside their shells, cluck back. And that they show distress if one in their flock is harmed.

"Wow." The children were both surprised and impressed.

During the talk, I encouraged the students to raise some of their own food, whether it be a tomato plant on the patio, a few potted herbs, or go "whole hog," like we did, with chickens and a veggie garden. 

And they could sign up at our town farm, yes, Wakeman Town Farm, for a Middle School Farm Apprentice program, if they wanted a unique after school activity that's all about sustainable farming.

Buffy, safe at home, enjoying another game of "Cabbage Tetherball."
After the car ride home, I carried the crate with Buffy and Lady Gaga up to rejoin their sisters. The girls rushed out to greet them, soft, happy clucking echoing their reunion. 

No doubt, they chatted amongst themselves about their day's adventure. 

After all, it's not every day that a chicken gets to have a religious experience!