Reflections on Chicken Spirituality
There is a story told of the construction of the great cathedrals of Europe. Someone asked the stonemason what he was doing and he explained the method for building an arch. Someone asked the glass-maker and he showed how he was arranging the colored glass and lead to make a stained-glass window. They got similar responses from all the craftsmen who were more than happy to explain their craft. Then, turning to a man sweeping with a broom, they asked once again what he was doing. His answer was simple and reverent: “I am helping to build this beautiful church for the glory of God.”
When we talk about raising chickens or growing vegetables, the conversation can be much the same. We can talk about how we construct the coops, the non-GMO feed we use, the sprouted grain and the access to pasture and sun that goes into producing a naturally-raised free-range chicken. We can talk about the better taste of the meat and how it is healthier for you than what comes from a factory farm. But like the man with the broom says, there is something more going on here than that.
Let us start with the earth. God gave the earth to all of us as a home. It feeds us, it inspires us, and it is abundant and intended to be shared by all of us who walk here. We have been asked to be stewards of that earth, to care for the soil and the water and the air, for it is not ours to possess, but something “borrowed from our grandchildren” (Chief Seattle).
To raise a free-range chicken is to respect the earth and to live in harmony with it. Choices are made. We choose feed from natural grains that have not been genetically altered. We use none of the antibiotics that are now being banned because they pose a danger to the consumer. We do the extra work to let the chickens roam free in a field to eat grasses and bugs and sit in the sun instead of keeping them cooped up, force-fed, and de-beaked so that they might fatten faster. We have begun to terrace the paddocks so that erosion is controlled and water protected. We have planted hazelnut trees to offer the chickens protection and maintain a balance of the nutrients in the soil. In short, we try to act in ways that will balance, will not harm, will improve this earth we care for.
We can also talk about food. There is something holy about producing good food. Ask a mother or father who labors in the kitchen to place a tasty meal on the family table. Or the monks who bake bread or make wine and cheese. Or many of the countless chefs and bakers who put pride in their work and delight at putting something delicious on the plate. It is about creating. It is about quality and naturalness. Maybe even an expression of love. To raise and care for a chicken, to see it grow, and to know that one has done his or her best to bring something good to you, is sacred. It is to tend God’s birds for God’s people, to feed his hungry. That matters.
Our program is also about justice. All of the producers to date have been Latino immigrants. What can be said of them can be said of most family farmers. Those who labor on the land often receive low wages. Their labor brings food to us but few of the dollars trickle back. We work to develop them as the business owners, the managers. When the costs of raising the chicken are met, the remaining profit is theirs. That is rightfully so. A balance is restored.
So when you hear of “Main Street Farmers Chicken”, this is its origin. This is its story. We invite you to be part of that story, helping to restore balance to the earth, celebrating the Creator of the good things that nourish, and building a Kingdom of justice.
Join us on the farm.
Buy a chicken.
Write a check.
We just want you to share in the beauty of it all.
Bob Kell directs Main Street Project’s training programs and lives in Northfield, MN.