By Abigail Henson, Slow Food chef, educator, and activist
Ah 2020, the year that sounded so futuristic and full of hope until we were jolted into all of the best practices of the past.
For Slow Food enthusiasts, this was the year. CSAs sold out, canning became mainstream, and everyone and their mother was trying to figure out how to bake a loaf of bread. So, it was not by coincidence that after nine months of hiding from COVID on a very large couch in a very small apartment, we happened upon a homestead in Lafayette.
After a lengthy search, we traded in dress-up and downtown for more space and three chickens. The chickens were introduced to me by the previous owner, Paula, who along with her partner Mike had taken an admirable amount of time designing the 4-acre, turn-key campus complete with an apple orchard, plum trees, asparagus patch, rhubarb, horseradish, and sprawling rows of concord grapes. It was, quite literally, a dream come true. The gift of immediate responsibility in the form of a trio of chickies turned homesteading “someday” into homesteading now.
We were essentially handed a homestead with training wheels, and just like learning to ride a bike, it came with its own risk of bumps and bruises. Our adopted chickens were belovingly named after coffee terms. PSL (Pumpkin Spice Latte), burnt orange and feathery footed played the role of the matriarch to twins—Java and Jo, short for Josephine. Josephine quickly became my favorite, the smallest and mightiest of the three, leading the charge out the gate each morning, squatting next to me like a cat to be pet, and hopping onto my wrist to perch for snacks.
I got used to visiting the girls at dusk to lock up the coop, wishing them goodnight, and thank them for their eggs. One night, my ritual of counting three feathery lumps stopped abruptly at two. I glanced at the roost, then raced to the pen-Josephine was missing. I tore through the prickers, and searched the paths with no sign of her, returning home defeated to report, “Josephine’s gone.”
I theorized through the tears about strong winds, and larger birds of prey, but a tattered wing in the brush discovered the following day proved my partner Maurice right. It was the fox. We had seen one just a few days prior, licking his lips at the edge of the clearing, with a side glance. I had been warned … Recounting the story of losing the chicken I loved the most resulted in more than one “too close” to my food comments.
As a champion for local food, this concept had never occurred to me before. It’s true, for some, food is more enjoyable without the emotional ties of grief or guilt. But when you cast those things away, you cast away the most rewarding one: love. Nothing beats the sweet and simple symbiotic relationship of caring for something that nurtures your tummy and your soul in return. To me, that has always been the lure of homesteading. Just like any investment, financial or emotional alike, there are risks and rewards. So here we go homestead … what happiness and what heartache lay ahead I do not know, but somewhere in between there is the comfort of home and growing into where our hearts now live.
Abigail Henson is a Slow Food chef, educator, and activist. Her new food venture, Farm Girl Juicery, opens later this month in downtown Syracuse. Connect at farmgirljuicery.com IG|FB @farmgirljuicery