Report: First Week in Balsam

I’ve been working as an intern at Balsam Gardens for a week now. It’s an organic vegetable farm that also raises chickens and pigs and we have 200 laying hens for eggs.

It’s not exactly apparent, but there is approximately a ton of kale in that field

There were several times last week when I thought, “Never will I ever have a farm!” and I wasn’t sure I would make it at all at first, but I’ve adjusted and remembered how to sweat.

I sit on that upstairs porch at night

There’s a field of spring mix and the greenhouse. The building is across the street and is our neighbor’s garage. The picture does not do any kind of justice to the incline of his driveway. I swear it’s nearly vertical.

The work is good. So far I’ve harvested, washed, weighed and packaged bok choy, kale (endless amounts of kale!), and spring mix. I’ve planted tomatoes, and pruned and suckered older tomato plants, and put in stakes and twine around them. I thinned out the radishes…um…Every evening I go and collect the eggs and clean their nesting boxes, then clean and sort the eggs. We have really good laying hens. They lay huge eggs with a deep yellow-colored yoke.

They are suspicious of me

She thinks she’s a rooster or something

She is on top of a nesting box. Pretty ambitious for a chicken.

When you enter the laying hens’ paddock, you are immediately surrounded by hens who peck incessantly at your shoes and legs. I was told they think the grommets on boots are food. But that doesn’t explain why they go at my legs. It’s like a very weak massage.


Hey, Lady

This is what it looks like when you approach the paddock. They all come running towards you, making a big racket of a sort of cooing. It an elongated thing: “Baaaawwwk.” The combined force of 200 chickens bawking makes for a curious choir.

Our laying hens make the biggest beautiful eggs I’ve seen or tasted. I tired to show the range of sizes they produce. Most are a nice large egg size. This one is “medium,” and there are only a few of those every day.

This is a “jumbo.” They are about 8 of those everyday. They are so big. The jumbo one are double yoked.

I collect about 180 eggs everyday.

Lots of eggs

Oh. And Friday we processed the broiler chickens (different from the laying hens. No one eats the laying hens). That means we killed, cleaned, weighed and packaged them. The night before we went out to their field with headlights and caught them while they were sleeping/sleepy and put them in crates. That was pretty fun. Chasing chickens in general is pretty fun. We move all the paddocks once a week so the animals get fresh grass, and last week I got to move the laying hen’s paddock with one of the other interns. It’s quite a process. Once we had the new paddock set up, we connected it to the old one and herded the chickens into it, but there were about 20 hanging out in the trees refusing to move. So we had to catch them! I love the laying hens. They’re silly.

Anyway, the processing, which was no simple task for a 10-year vegetarian. The following details may not be for the faint at heart. There were five of us on this job. One at a time the chickens are put into this metal cone contraption, upside down, and the neck is cut with a scalpel in two places. It’s the quickest way. They die instantly. The worst part is a few seconds after – I don’t know exactly what’s going on anatomically, but I know it’s caused by the nervous system – when they’re for sure dead, and they’ve been still, and suddenly their bodies start to violently twitch and rattle and jump around in the metal cone. It’s startling. So then they’re dunked in the scalder to loosen the feathers. Into the de-feathering tub – a curiously amazing plastic thing that spins the birds, and these protruding rubber things catch the feathers and shoot them out the bottom. I was next in the receiving line and it was my job to preen them – to get any feathers the de-featherer didn’t get – rip off the head and cut off the feet. I wasn’t able to behead them though. You just pull really hard. But the neck feels so weird and slippery. I was very grateful to the other intern who ripped them all off for me. I think I’ll be able to do it next time, but just seeing the whole process and handling them at all was enough for my first experience. After I was finished with my job, they were gutted, and put in barrels of ice. I’m not sure how long it all took. We processed 194 chickens. I think we  got started around 9am and finished cleaning up before 2. We ate lunch. Then we packaged them. A few at a time dry out on a rack, get a plastic bag clapped closed, then it was my job to dunk them in boiling water to shrink wrap them, weight them, put the sticker on and write the weight. Later we packaged the feet and the livers. It all sounds worse than it actually is. The weather was prefect the day we did it; cold and raining. We have tents – like the ones over picnic tables – over our processing setup. So it was bad weather to be working in the field, and processing chickens when it’s hot sounds so much worse.

This is where we wash vegetables

Another sink and packaging stuff on the shelf

Steven built his own storage refrigerator. It’s just that AC unit and walls of insulation stuff. It works really well, except that now we need a bigger one.

spring mix field

All the pigs lined up for me, for the shortest second. Hey, Pigs!

Good pigs.

This is Little Boy Kitty giving Little Girl Kitty a bath

Little Boy Kitty is very affectionate. Little Girl Kitty is starting to warm up to me.

They are too cool

That’ll do for a first post. Right now I’m sitting on the upstairs porch, watching the full moon rise. The moon is so bright up here, you can barely see the fireflies. It’s past my bedtime. I think the clock on my blog is messed up. It says it’s 3:06 am, but unless there’s been a time warp, it’s really 11:06 pm.

I captured the moon! What moon is it? …It’s the Strawberry moon, in keeping with the Algonquins. Strawberries are harvested in June, you see. The Europeans called it the Rose moon.

Turns out these photos are pretty small. You can click on them to make them big. But I think it takes too long. I can’t figure out how to make them bigger within the blog, without redoing all of them. So next time I’ll put them in “large.”

This entry was published on June 7, 2011 at 4:46 am and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

6 thoughts on “Report: First Week in Balsam

  1. Cara on said:

    There is definitely something wrong with your computer as it says you are also 2 days in the future! Is there something you forgot to tell me about that farm? Love the post though and the pics are wonderful. Didn’t take too long for them to load as larger images. Hope you’re enjoying it!

  2. Cara on said:

    Or perhaps there’s something wrong with the blog as it is not June 6 at 3am……

    • I’m pretty sure it’s the blog. My computer is right. I hope. My computer says it’s june 6 at 10:59. I don’t know where this blog is in time and space. Maybe I can fix it? I’m blogging from the future! I’m glad you like it! I think that it’s just the internet here that is slow. So if everybody else can load the pictures easily, that’s awesome. Thanks, Cara! I hope you’re doing well!

    • By june 6, I meant June 5. But I think I fixed it? My blog was in the wrong timezone, but I beckoned it over to this one. Did it follow me?

  3. Elizabeth on said:


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