This week was full of various tasks, so I’m laying out this blog post a little differently than the others.
I was one the “Garden/Kill Floor” people, so most mornings this week, John (another intern) and I set out to garden. Gardening isn’t my forte, but last year I spent quite a bit of time in my family’s raised beds weeding and working the soil. Up until that point, I didn’t think I liked gardening. However, my garden work over the past year (at home and here at Polyface) has changed my mind. Spending the early mornings weeding was a delightfully relaxing way to start the day. Plus I’m getting better at using a broad fork!
I’ve also discovered that garden work brings out a deeper, more contemplative side in people. This week, I had the privilege of working with a couple other interns one-on-one in the garden. Our discussions ranged in topic and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them each a little bit better.
I also relish the silence and peace of the garden. Don’t get me wrong, I love driving down a field on a big tractor, the engine singing loudly. But there is something so restful and quieting about a morning in the garden. On Thursday, John and I hardly said a word to one another as we pulled up weeds. I learned that there’s a time for everything. Talking was great earlier in the week, but the simple quiet was beautiful that day.
Before coming to Polyface, I’d only been stung by bees 2 or 3 times in my life. This week, that changed. On Tuesday, I was working in the garden with Tim (another intern) when some bees started buzzing around us on one side of the garden. We both tried to ignore them as we worked, which is hard to do when they are flying around your head. I tried to tell myself that if I ignore them, they’ll ignore me. When they got super annoying, we’d walk away for a minute or two and then come back. Well, we’d been putting up with these bees for a while and I was walking away from them when I heard buzzing close to my head. That’s when I realized that one of the bees was caught in my braid!
To say that neither of us was too happy about the situation would be an understatement. I ran over to Tim, pleading with him to get the bee out of my hair. The bee eventually freed himself but was so angry by that point that he stung me in the arm. I didn’t know if he was the only one or if there were more around me, so I ran. I hurdled down the road to another garden bed with a sprinkler running. I ran through the sprinkler and stood in its path for a couple minutes. Shortly thereafter, my arm quite stinging. A very wet, slightly humiliated Ashley headed back to work with a very amused Tim. I can’t blame him, I’m sure my fight and flee from the bee was quite a sight.
Then, on Friday, I was at one of the rental farms picking up stacks of old baling twine. The grass had grown up and around the twine piles, so it was a little tricky to pull everything up and out. As I was yanking at a section of twine, I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my arm. “Ouch!” I exclaimed. I looked down as another bee landed on my leg. Then Eric (the apprentice manager) yells, “Bees, run!” and everyone books it out of there. No one else got stung and the remainder of that pile was cleaned from a safe distance with the tractor. So, two stings in one week, one in the right arm, one in the left. What are the odds?
I was in charge of prepping the kill floor on Wednesday and Friday morning. First, we scrub down the equipment with soap and water (this includes the tables, chill tanks and scalder). Then we ensure each station has the tools they need (knives, gut buckets, pots for hearts and livers, tub for the feet, etc.). I also had to check the knives and sharpen them. Hunter (another intern) gave me a short lesson on how to sharpen knives. I enjoyed learning how to run the machine and how to tell when a knife is sharp and ready to use.
This week I also had the opportunity to work more on the kill side of things during processing. My job was to take the bled-out birds from the kill cones and place them in the scalder, 6 birds at a time. The scalder is a large metal tank filled with hot water (140 degrees Fahrenheit). The chickens are placed in the scalder on a platform that rotates the birds in and out of the water for about 60 seconds. The hot water loosens the feathers making the chickens easier to pluck. After the scalder stops automatically, I’d throw the birds into the plucker for 45-60 seconds or so. I know when they are done when the tail feathers are gone and the yellow skin is off of the legs and feet. As I’d take the birds out of the plucker, I’d pull their heads off. After that, I’d grab a knife and cut right into the leg joint to separate the feet from the thigh. We sell the feet, so they are placed into a tub of cool water. Then the chicken goes on to the gutting table. It was fun to do something different than my normal gutting or QC position.
On Thursday, Eric took a team of interns to one of the rental farms to clear some overgrown pig fence. I was in charge of using the machete to clear the larger brush out of the way so Tim could weed whack all the grass and smaller vegetation behind me. I ended up working my way through a 5-foot-tall thistle forest, hacking away at the prickles before they could tear into my skin. It was rewarding to look back at the path we were carving through the brush. It must have been how Lewis and Clark felt as they were making their way across the country.
Before lunch on Wednesday, Joel asked for some helpers to unload a couple wagons of hay before the rain hit. The sky looked ominous, so the whole team ran to the hay barn and started unloading and stacking. Joel explained how to stack everything sturdily and we all hurriedly worked. As the last bale came off the wagon, it began to pour. We stood on the stack, sweaty and breathing heavily, smiles brightening all our faces. Mission accomplished.
One thing has intimidated me for quite some time: backing up trailers. At home, I never really drove any trailers and didn’t get much practice in backing them up. Coming here, I knew I wanted to get better at this important skill. On Thursday, after filling up the Eggmobile with feed, Ashleigh told me to back the feed buggy into the shed. Okay. So, I started backing the feed buggy into the opening. Thankfully, I had Tim and Emma to help guide me back into the slot. And guess what? It went super smooth! Now I can’t wait for more backing up opportunities!
There’s my handful of random stories for the week! What a fun and fantastic week!