Driving along Rt 119, I passed this sign outside our local Agway. It immediately sent me back to days of spring rides home from Agway, on the broad backseat of the family car, balancing what looked like an over-sized pizza box with punched out holes. The box would be full of newborn chicks. They made a quiet scrabbling sound with tiny toenails against cardboard.
For a kid who grew up in rural Connecticut, spring chicks were part of the ritual. Some years my father would raise them in our own incubator — a contraption that looked like a giant glass-domed popcorn maker and emitted a suphurous primal goo smell. Have you ever done the chick-hatching thing as an experiment? At 21 days exactly, shells would begin to crack and the chicks would push their way into the world, fluffing their feathers as they made their debut. But other years, it was the box of chicks.
The half-inch holes in the box top were just big enough to pat the tops of soft yellow heads or touch a fingertip to inquisitive beaks. The chicks would not become pets, but for that short ride home from Agway they were a child’s delight. When we arrived home, my father would open the box and I’d get a chance to hold one, these fluffs of life that weighed less than my breath.
Did they meet a sad end? Well, they eventually became a Sunday dinner after spending a nice life wandering our backyard, delivering clutches of eggs, roosting in individual wooden nests inside a hen house and safe from maruading raccon and fox. I was fortunate to grow up with the best of free range.
Knowing what you eat is a respectful way to be in this world. Living in Groton means we have local farm stands that raise their own chickens, pigs, lambs and steers. Places like Blood Farm in West Groton (a family name, not a description) are a foodie’s delight but also a back to basics farm-to-butcher source. There are some good free-range options such as my all-time favorite eggs, The Country Hen, readily available in large markets.
I have tremendous respect for my vegetarian friends. I’m not there yet. But if we all had a chance to touch a chick’s head and hold a breath in our hands, we might be willing to really shut down factory farms and agri-brutality.
It’s Spring. Chicks are hatching. I was glad to see the sign because I’m far from perfect and I need the reminder that styrofoam and film wrapped meat is handy and cheaper but the big picture price is way too high.