In one corner of Oakland’s second Eat Real Festival, the annual Jack London Square celebration of locally produced food, the very scrappiest of the sustainability enthusiasts challenged the public to take the movement home. And they didn’t mean starting an herb garden.
Instead, these local farmers and butchers paraded out animals, both alive and not, urging consumers to look their food in the face.
“Your great-grandmother probably went out and killed a chicken for dinner every night,” said Novella Carpenter, author of the food memoir Farm City, who was selling produce at the festival and talked about her chicken culling demonstration — that’s humane slaughtering and cleaning — scheduled for Sunday. “What we do is get people in touch with their meat,” Carpenter said. “The demonstration is to empower people, but it’s also to remind people of our heritage.”
Chickens, goats and bees all made an appearance Saturday, as did many of the local food movement’s best-known personalities. For those who want to get in touch but aren’t quite at Carpenter’s level, David Budworth was on hand with a lower-key alternative. Budworth, aka Dave the Butcher, chatted with a crowd of 300 to 400 people about the evils of factory farming while he and his colleagues from Avedano’s Holly Park Market butchered a goat.
On a stage in the festival’s “Urban Homesteading” section, Budworth suspended the newly dead, skinned animal from an anchor-shaped hook attached to metal scaffolding. He deftly broke it down into sections and explained each step, all the while encouraging the crowd to move away from mass-produced “boneless, skinless, chicken breasts” and try something different from their local butcher — like goat.
“A lot Americans don’t eat goat, even though it’s lean and protein-rich,” he said, and placed his hands on the animal’s hindquarters. “And they won’t eat tongue, for example, but they’ll eat this,” Budworth said. “It’s a lot of mental stuff people need to work through.”
Later, Budworth talked about the recently invigorated local food movement. “People are moving away from the whole 24/7 Safeway thing that was so popular in the ’70s,” he said. “People have been wanting to source more locally in the last few years.”
Budworth is happy to help, whether by butchering meat for his clients or teaching them to do it themselves. Avedano’s offers monthly classes that teach basic knife and butchery skills, that Budworth says “will help people break free of their fear of this.”
For the less carnivorous animal enthusiast, Eat Real provided ample information on rearing chickens for eggs, goats for milk, and on beekeeping. Ken Kirkland and Mario Klip manned an impressive booth designed to walk the urban farmer through each step of housing backyard chickens. Kirkland, owner of Woolly Egg Ranch, provided a vast selection of the birds, which customers were able to purchase on the spot.
Kirkland’s chickens put the red hen that graced barnyards of yore to shame — today’s urban farmer has gone designer. These “heritage birds” come in a variety of colors and sizes, sport froufrou plumage, and cost $15-$30 a pop. According to Kirkland, the more familiar White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds are bred for mass egg production and can range from difficult to downright mean. “The heritage birds breeds are not as productive but are better backyard birds,” he said. “And the eggs they produce are better than store-bought eggs. They’re all different colors: green, champagne, speckled, brown, and pink.”
Naturally, these couture chickens need couture housing, and that’s where Klip comes in. As the owner of a small business called Holland Hen Houses, Klip says his motivation was to give the urban farmer an alternative to the unsightly chicken coop. In 2009, Klip started selling his “attractive, European cottage-style, locally-made hen houses” to the public, and thus far, he said, business is booming.
“Chickens are very popular, especially in this area,” Kilp said. “I read somewhere recently that it’s the fastest growing hobby in the U.S.” And though he’s doing business stateside, the Netherlands-born Klip paid homage to his homeland by naming different cottage models after Dutch cities and artists — “Utretch,” “Amsterdam” and “Rembrandt,” among others.
Once you’ve purchased your chickens and made them a home, one looming question remains: What next? Heidi Kooy, who lives in Excelsior with her husband, two children, two goats, two chickens, a dog, a cat and a rabbit, has the answer. At her “Backyard Chickens 101” presentation, Kooy addressed everything from vaccination to chicken feed, and she was frank about the downsides.
“You have to do some pretty gruesome things,” she said. “I’ve had to stick my hand up a chicken’s backside. But it’s not that bad, really!” Kooy also addressed the legality of backyard farming. “You can only legally keep two chickens in San Francisco, but the city is on a complaint basis,” she said. “They’ll only bother you if someone complains about noise or smell. So, the key is being on good terms with your neighbors.”
Frankie and Jeannie Morrow, who gave Eat Real’s presentation on goat milking, said they’re on such good terms with their neighbors that many of them help care for the couple’s six goats in exchange for milk. Why? “It’s the closest thing to human milk,” Frankie Morrow said of goat milk’s health benefits. “It’s easier to digest, and it makes it easier to digest other food, too.” The Morrows also make goat cheese and ice cream, but say the rewards of goat ownership extend far beyond food. “Because goats have been with us since the dawn of time, we’re really comfortable around them and they are really comfortable around us,” Frankie Morrow said. “We think of our goats as pets. Each one has a distinct personality.”
Marina Shoup, Vice President of the San Francisco Beekeepers Association, added “escape” to the list of benefits urban animal rearing provides. “It slows me down,” she said. “I get to pay attention to forces greater than my own.” That tone of deference was palpable in the language and attitude of every Eat Real vendor and presenter, especially the ones working with living creatures. Responsible animal ownership set the tone for the day, as did a focus on proper care, preparation and respect. Heidi Kooy put it plainly, “If you’re not sure about this, don’t do it,” she said. Or, if it’s just the final product that appeals, start with a trip to your neighborhood butcher shop.