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Dances with chickens?


Quest to eat locally grown is almost a romantic adventure



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November 14, 2007
Of all the people I know, I'd have to say my friend Dee has the most demanding gig. Up by five, she substitutes a Red Bull for a Starbuck's. Out of the house by 6:30, I often imagine her as a rally racer. She executes an hour-and-a-half of perfectly timed short-cuts, turns, and straightaways through mile roads I rarely travel, unless visiting one of the assorted doctors we seem to have collected in our middle age.

As a senior-level accountant, Dee's career is punctuated by an annual rotation of fiscal rituals— month-ends, quarterlies, year-ends, and an occasional audit. Auspiciously for her, they all conspire to keep her in overtime, and I don't think she ever returns from her daily migration much before seven, sometimes eight in the evening.

I admire Dee's loyalty, to her work and her friends, and the efforts she makes to stay in touch. Ever the multi-tasker, she calls me on her way home, and I'm instantly privy to her life on the go. "I'm going to be pulling in here to fill my tank now," or "I'm at Kroger's looking for those darn rice crackers." Once, mid-conversation, she abruptly announced, "I'll have a number three please, with a Coke." I was momentarily bewildered, until I heard the indelible speaker-voice instruct her to drive to the first window. Of course, I secretly hoped "number three" was a plate of locally-grown Brussels sprouts.

Our emails to each other confirm and reconfirm monthly dinner appointments, sometimes made two weeks in advance and most often for a Wednesday or Thursday night. Like legions of wives across America, trying to keep the flame alive, we usually reserve weekend nights to be with our busy husbands. But once in a while, we can be persuaded to mix it up a little.

"I know it's late notice," she emails, "but Don has to study, and I have a coupon to use. How about Somerset on Saturday afternoon?" Ah, that marvel of all malls! I haven't been for at least a couple of years, since deciding to step off the consumer grid. I've pledged not to buy anything new to clutter my house or my closet, but I'm thinking I could use a little something-something about now.

I click to reply. "Yes, I'd love to go, but can't until much later. We're picking up our chickens in the afternoon."

Chickens? We had long anticipated our visit to John Eldracher's Farm outside of Yale. Fresh poultry is available there on butchering day and the following day only. If we didn't go on Saturday, we'd miss the brief window to experience that farm-to-plate freshness with at least one of the birds before freezing the rest. Down to our last store-bought chicken, we were excited to finally make the transition to locally-grown.

Dee and I made plans to meet for dinner instead, and while my fashionista gal pal browsed designer labels at one of the most exclusive emporiums around, I shopped for chickens. John Eldracher, a tall, affable fellow, raises poultry in his chemical-free fields using portable pens. His farm is on Yale Road, made conspicuous by several small, sequential billboard signs, a bit reminiscent of the roadside ad program once made famous by Burma-Shave. PASTURE. RAISED. CHICKENS. FOR. SALE.

Being outside on the ground, his chickens get plenty of fresh air, sunshine, moisture, bugs, insects, and vegetation—and lots of exercise scratching around for food. We loaded the trunk with just four buxom, pale-pink specimens, individually packaged. Not a minute out of the driveway, I regretted not getting more.

"Let's turn back!" Kevin's tone matched his firm grip on the steering wheel.

"No, we still have to figure out freezer space. If we have room, we can always come back."

He was right. If a person could romanticize their encounter with farm fresh chickens, it seems that I had done just that. These chickens had allure. I already longed for the day we would return for more.

"Well, did you get your chickens?" Dee quips.

"Did you get your sweaters?" I quip back. We laugh.

Apparently retail therapy means different things to different people. Like two buoyant schoolgirls, with no curfew and no early chores, we talked for hours that night.

The subject of eating local came up.

"I've read your columns," Dee begins a little tentatively. "I like them, but I'm still unclear. I mean, I know you mention some places, but how do I get started? Where do I go?"

It's early November, so I can't exactly send her to the nearest farmer's market, the one-stop convenience shop for us local eaters. And she's a busy lady, with hardly enough time to assemble a Manwich, much less traipse around the counties looking for fresh, local ingredients.

Her time constraints seem complicated, almost insurmountable to me. Yet, her interest seems genuine— and I know it's something she may cultivate in small ways, on her own and in her own time.

For now, I tell her simply, look for the signs. You can't miss them. Sometimes they'll say 'Pasture-Raised- Chickens,' and sometimes 'Farm Fresh Eggs'. Other times you'll see them for 'U-Pick Blueberries' or 'Wildflower Honey,' or maybe even 'Catnip Here.' The signs may be big or small, painted fancy or weather-worn. Off slow country roads, or swift paved lanes. Just listen for the faint whisper that tells you to stop, or beckons you up the drive, or begs you to turn around because you've gone too far. Stop for something you desire, or something useful to you, or simply stop because you're curious. Go where the signs are, and follow where they take you.

Contact Cynthia and share your local food adventures or feedback at

ccpnewcentury@aol.com

or 810-724-2615

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