Monday, June 4, 2012

On rabbit hunting with the ladies and other lessons learned at Green String Farm

I'm on a 13-hour train ride down the California Coast, leaving Petaluma after a great 3 months at Green String farm.  Long trips like this are a great opportunity to reflect.  I went to Green String hoping to learn skills that I could contribute to my Peace Corps experience, and I certainly think I have.  But the experience has also been more than that; I've learned a lot about myself and about life that goes beyond technical agricultural skills.  And this brings me to the title of this post.

At the farm, we had lessons every afternoon on a variety of topics.  These could range from classroom lectures on soil science, to hands-on lessons on how to use a scythe or sharpen pruning shears.  About two weeks ago, we had a gun lesson, using 22s for some target practice.  The next day, we learned that the farmer who runs the internship program was losing the land that he has worked on cultivating and restoring for the past 30 years.  It was difficult for us to see him loosing a significant portion of his life's work, and several of us wanted to show him our support and appreciation for how much he had given and taught us.  One of the other two girls in the group came up with the idea of the three of us applying what we'd learned in gun lesson to catch and prepare a rabbit stew for him.  He'd talked often about how he hopes that we all develop confidence during this internship, and we thought doing this might illustrate that we had.

A few days and a little additional target practice later, we headed out to the artichoke patch at sunset with one pellet gun between the three of us.  Two of us, ironically the two vegetarians, each shot a rabbit before it was too dark to hunt any more.  Then we took them back to the house to skin and process them, removing the innards and preparing the meat to be cooked.  The stew was cooked and served a few days later.  The three of us had been talking about doing a "girl's night" for most of the internship, and we laughed about how when we finally did do something together it was a hunting trip - more of a typical "guy's night" activity than the massages and girl talk we'd originally talked about.

As my brother said when I told him I went rabbit hunting, "That's pretty much the least Bethany thing you could do!"  It's true that I never expected I would go hunting.  But the whole process felt right - like it was in fact a "Bethany thing."  Why?  Even though I am vegetarian, I do occasionally eat meat.  And I will be eating quite a bit of it in Benin.  More than that, I would happily cook a meat-based meal for a friend.  So I feel like I should be willing to kill animals if I'm willing to eat them or cook them for others.  It seems like we are so separated from our food, and our meat arrives in neat little plastic-wrapped styrofoam trays.  Getting it to that point is an involved process, starting with the animal living their life, then being killed, skinned, gutted, prepared, and cooked.  I think it's important to understand and take responsibility for the whole process if I'm going to eat the results, or share them with someone else.

When I was a kid, we didn't know anyone who hunted.  I thought that hunting was wrong, but ok if someone really needed to do it to feed themself or their family.  Subconsciously, I saw purchasing meat as more right than killing a wild animal.  Now I think the opposite; it seems more right to eat an animal that lived a natural life than one that was raised for meat in a small cage.  It wasn't necessarily an easy experience, especially since the rabbit I shot ended up being younger than I would have chosen.  But it was an experience that made me think and grow.  I'm glad I did it.

Not everything I learned during this internship was quite as weighty or thought-provoking; some of it was just new skills or experiences.  Who knows which ones will end up being important in Benin.  Here's a list of some of the things I did at Green String that I'd never done before:

1. Made a wooden plate on a lathe
2. Milked a cow
3. Built a canoe paddle
4. Made a leaf-shaped copper plate
5. Grown and harvested my own potatoes
6. Cut grass with a scythe
7. Driven a tractor and ATV
8. Collected fresh eggs that are still warm for my breakfast
9. Helped skin a sheep
10. Plucked and prepared a rooster for stew
11. Sharpened knives and pruning shears with a whetstone
12. Made compost tea
13. Bottle-fed baby sheep and goats
14. Regularly used a pickaxe for various tasks (removing root suckers from fruit trees, digging holes in concrete-like soil for transplanting, etc)
15. Bud-grafted citrus trees
16. Pruned an apple tree
17. Transplanted tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, and other plants, both in the greenhouse and outside in the field
18. Spoke spanish on a regular basis ("we need to harvest chard" is something like "necessitamos piscar acelga.")
19. Made paneer and ricotta cheese from scratch
20. Poached an egg
21. Regularly cooked food that I harvested moments before
22. Gave cooking demonstrations in front of an audience
23. Chased over 50 renegade chickens down and tossed them back into their pen by moonlight (and did the same thing with smaller numbers of chickens multiple times by daylight)
24. Knit a hat that involved a cable pattern (and three that did not)
19. Made jam out of green plums
20. Turned a compost pile
21. Made and attached a new handle for a shovel
23. Caught a swarm of bees, put them in a box, and transported them to a new hive
24. Eaten honey straight from the honeycomb

The list could be much longer.  If there's one thing I've gained from this experience, it is a greater confidence in my ability to figure things out that relate to farming, to fix things that are broken, and to jump into whatever needs to be done.  And I've had a great time as well!  Now, on to the next.

 Me with the bee swarm


  1. Wow, Bethany! You are a model of curiosity, focus, and the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of making a difference. KUDOS!

    All the best to you!


  2. Well done, Bethany! Sounds like you're well prepared for an ecology posting with Peace Corps.

  3. Thanks Becca and Nathan - it's been fun getting ready, and hopefully it will be just as much fun using what I've learned!