For those of you who don’t know, HAC has a farm. It is a small farm, in Sandwich, where there is a 44-plot community garden, a 1.5-acre market garden, three goats and 22 chickens. The caretaker, who lives in the Curio House on the property is Jim MacDougall. Jim takes care of the complicated zero-net-energy house, the land, the gardening equipment and various improvements. This year he will be building an equipment storage barn, for example. Jim also has five years of professional experience taking care of chickens and recently attended “goat” school in Maine. Jim, as you can tell, is a skilled and versatile guy.
On Feb. 7, the day before this winter’s big blizzard, Jim was preparing for the animals to be safe and secure. He was disturbed to note that one of the chickens, who had become increasingly sickly during the few days prior, was not eating and could barely walk. He had been concerned for the chicken, but with the storm coming he felt that there was no way that the chicken would survive. With the resolve of a professional chicken farmer, Jim did something that he had done many times when working on a large chicken farm. He put the chicken out of its misery by breaking its neck. Since the ground was frozen, he temporarily disposed of the body in a square plastic compost bin behind the goat house. It was the second chicken that had been lost (the other was run over by a car) and each one was a loss for Jim, but he reasoned only losing two over the course of two years was not too bad.
The farm is an uncomfortable place in the winter. The sky is gray, the ground is barren with the refuse from last year’s crops, making people huddle inside by the warmth of the hearth, and animals huddle in the coop and goat house, sharing the warmth from each other.
The storm, winds and cold came as predicted followed by a second snow storm. After the second storm tapered off, on Feb. 18, Jim was cleaning up the coop and the goat house and went to put some material in the composter.
Farmers know that compost “cooks.” Deep in the center of any compost pile, if it is working as we expect, it is warm. And within that compost pile, the ingredients that eventually become nourishing soil are breaking down.
When Jim went to add to the compost, he expected a little warmth, but what he didn’t expect was a healthy energized chicken! His neck-breaking skill must have eroded over the years, leaving a sick but alive chicken in the protected warmth of the nourishing compost for about 11 days. Jim, who loves his chickens, had fortuitously put the chicken in the intensive care unit of his farm. The bright golden brown chicken, now known as Nemo, is now happy and healthy and back to the business of laying eggs.
Too often, perhaps, we give up on each other, when a little warmth and nourishment may make all the difference.