FARMGIRL ANGST: My Own Sphere of Influence


It is rush hour. The geese come off the field of corn stubble and set back down in the adjacent pond. Two swans are leaving. I watch them gain altitude and momentum as they fly south over the water. They then bank left to head east and fly right over the farm. I love to hear their wing beats. From the opposite direction, a pair of blue herons on the approach, lumbering overhead. When they see me they croak and stagger upward before their final slow descent into the pond. The last few chickens are running for the coops while the guinea hens congregate but linger outside their house. They won’t go in, but chase and socialize, until it is truly dark. I stand here every night waiting for them to quit their antics, a long piece of bamboo is my staff. I can try to corral them, wanting to speed the finite routine along. Or I can be patient, stand by and watch the sunset as the birds gradually concede to night. It is also antirush hour.

I don’t like thinking about politics. I do not know the answers to the problems the politicians have to solve. I am not qualified for that job; I can barely manage 10 acres. I vote; I try to help hire the right guy. I much prefer to focus on birds and work, and worry about my own sphere of influence or impotence. Let them ring their hands over atomic war, I was put on this earth to fret about late blight.

The Internet makes it harder for me to separate my so-called church and state personas. I got an e-mail that directed me to a Web site where I should read about a bill in the senate, S510. The nail in the coffin of the small farms and farmers, one byline read. Sharing zucchini will be illegal. Get involved, call your senator, a vote is imminent.

The Food Safety and Modernization Act is a response to lingering problems of bacterial or other contamination somewhere in this country’s massive food system. It will give the FDA improved powers of oversight and make ordering a recall on food less difficult. New regulations (yet to be written) will go a long way when it comes to keeping infected, preformed patties—made with cows from 20 different states—off the supermarket shelf. Proponents of S510 say this legislation is long overdue; the government hasn’t updated food policy in decades even as modern agriculture has gone from dairy herds with pet names to bovine cities with computer chips. Chickens (and eggs) are raised by the millions in tight quarters without table scraps or real sunlight. Plenty of vegetables come to your table having never touched or been touched by dirt or rain. And our elected officials have their eyes on the future, when global population doubles, and we won’t be able to afford mistakes in this towering nutritional complex. I called my senator, begged her not to take a one-size-fits-all approach, thought of angry mobs with pitchforks.

And then it was back to things I presume I have more control over. A few days before Thanksgiving a guinea hen managed to strangle himself in the bamboo hedge that is alongside their coop. A freak accident indeed in such a well-known area of their range, but a lucky one, too, as I lift the bird’s lifeless body from its demise, I had wanted one of these. Contrary to what a lot of people will lead you to believe, butchering a bird is simple and, provided you are careful, not gross. The polka-dot feathers swirling in the wind, the sharp silver knife, a neat pile of entrails, maroon blood, pretty much an ordinary day otherwise.

Marilee Foster farms and writes in Sagaponack.