The day of chicken harvest is always one of mixed emotions. There is nervousness, discomfort, sadness, pride, but overwhelmingly there is a sense of reverence, a word that we use often as we prepare ourselves for this community work. We feel reverence for the birds that are giving their life to sustain us. Reverence for the process of providing food for our community. For me, it’s also a reverence for the campers and counselors that allow themselves to be a part of this powerful morning.

On the day of chicken harvest, Mike Tholen, our farm manager, read campers the following passage by John Burroughs, reiterating the importance of connecting to the world in which we live.

Burroughs writes:
To see the fire that warms you or, better yet, to cut the wood that feeds the fire that warms you; to see the spring where the water bubbles up that slakes your thirst and to dip your pail into it; to see the beams that are the stay of your four walls and the timbers that uphold the roof that shelters you; to be in direct and personal contact with the sources of your material life; to find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to find a quest of wild berries more satisfying than a gift of tropical fruit; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wild flower in spring – these are some of the rewards of the simple life.

So often we are too removed from our food to know the people, the work, and the preparation that brings food to our plates. Participating in chicken harvest connects us to the realities of our food and where it comes from. The experience is profound for all involved. It encourages us to come together and support one another through an experience that is both emotionally and physically demanding.

After the last bird was taken through, the community gathered together to reflect on the morning’s work. Several campers expressed the feelings they had during the process. One camper shared, “As I set the bird down, it hit me. This is the same animal that I was holding a few minutes ago. I could hear it, feel it breath. I held its eyes to calm it. Now it is food. It’s an amazing transformation to see. It was kind of an epiphany.” Another camper in the midst of the harvest expressed a feeling of empowerment knowing that he was learning a skill that would allow him to be more self-sufficient.

At the heart of chicken harvest, and our farm program as a whole, is the desire to connect people, young and old, to the plants and animals that nourish us and to understand the many roles we play within our food system.

Please watch our video Challenge by Choice for a more in-depth look at our chicken harvest.