article and photos by Tammy Merrill
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? It is an age old question jokingly debated by the experienced and used to provoke the minds of youth. A paradox in its simplest form, but dig a little and you may get an answer.
A dozen years ago I moved my family from a military town near the Mexican border to a small rural town in eastern Washington. A gentleman’s farm would become our home and I was so anxious to fill the space with real farm animals that I bought 3 chickens before we signed closing papers. We had a farm and farms need chickens! I was simply doing my duty as a good steward of the land, I thought. Honestly, I was in way over my head but there were chickens and even the pre-teen kids thought the chickens were cool.
As all good chickens do, they began to lay eggs and I had the chance to make breakfast using eggs from our chickens for the first time. Scrambled eggs were on the menu, and then very nearly off again after cracking open the first egg and watching the brightest orange yolk I’d ever seen come spilling out of that jagged shell. I called my husband at work and asked if he was absolutely certain we didn’t have a rooster because I was sure we had a fertilized egg?! He laughed. Of course he laughed! He’d been raised out in the country with a garden and various farm animals. I’d been brought up in a number of inner cities apartments & on postage stamp lots that were lucky to have flowerbeds. Did I mention I had no clue what I was doing with this farming thing?
I had a few eggs left in the fridge from my last grocery trip and the difference in the color of the yolks was like going from the soft yellow of margarine – oh yes, I was once a margarine gal – to the sunny warmth of a glass of orange juice. It took a few minutes but my husband managed to convince me everything was fine and we did not, in fact, have a rooster. “Eggs are supposed to look that way,” he said. “Chickens are omnivores, they eat bugs, seeds and anything else they like. What they eat affects the color and taste of their eggs. Its very different than what the commercial egg producing chickens are fed.” This was the first tangible representation I had of food making a difference in anything besides the size of your jeans and it was life changing. If eggs could look and taste that much better, what else would we see a marked improvement in when raised it ourselves? Everything we produced during those next few years would propel another turn away from what I had spent my first 30 years believing about our food system.
The first chicken we harvested for our family dinner weighed nine pounds and tasted like no chicken before. The first pound of hamburger cooked from our steer made me a red-meat eater for the first time in nearly 20 years. Our first turkey had to be cut in half to fit in the oven for our holiday dinner. Everything felt like a first time experience. Not only was my tongue now insatiable for truly good food, my mind was hungrily devouring any thing I could watch or read on the subject. At some point I quit buying canned or frozen produce and learned to can the bounty from the garden myself. I was so passionate about real food and would talk about it at the drop of a hat with anyone who would listen. Food from the grocery just wasn’t the same and farmers markets were now the preferred place to blow my food budget. I loved talking to the farmers about what they were raising and how they were raising it. This was real food, real connections to real people. I was feeding my family very well with food that I had complete confidence in because I was no longer disconnected from its source.
I’ve been fortunate enough in recent years to find myself in some of those conversations as the farmer/producer providing sustenance for others and their families, answering some of the same questions I asked of other producers not that long ago. My favorite question to answer has always been, “How did you get started doing all of this?” My answer has always been, “It all started because of an egg.”
Tammy Merrill is That Chick from the Barnyard, creator of natural soaps, skincare & home care solutions. She manages a small farm outside of Reardan, WA. www.facebook.com/thatchickfromthebarnyard