Old McDonald Had a(n Organic) Farm

For many of my friends when I was growing up, Saturday mornings meant hours of cartoons and lazing around the house as the way to kick off the weekend. With gigantic bowls full of Smurf Berry Crunch and Count Chocula settled in their laps while Pound Puppies and My Little Pony played on the screen in front of them, the other kids in my class at school followed the adventures of animated characters, Saturday after Saturday while their parents tried to catch a few extra minutes of coveted sleep. Not in my family. Saturday mornings meant weekly chores, as weeknights were filled with sports practices (my more coordinated siblings had volleyball, track, baseball, etc,. while I hung out and read my book in the bleachers), piano lessons (a time which I wished I could curl up with a book, rather than plunk away, literally deaf to painful cacophony of wrong notes) and club events. That left Saturday for cleaning the house and taking care of the animals. And animals we had! Over the years we had a variety of outside critters including (but probably not limited to) cows, llama, chickens, pheasants, rabbits, dogs and cats. The llamas, as amusing as they are, created one of my least favorite Saturday morning chores- stall mucking! There is just nothing nice about hanging out in a shed with a pile of poo, a wheelbarrow and a pitchfork. Nothing at all.

But, the point isn’t that I hated hauling llama dung from one pile to another, but that I grew up not in a city, but in what most Americans would consider rural America. (I must admit there are *way* more rural areas of the US, but for the majority of people in the States, they’d consider my house as being in the countryside.) With cornfields across the road, canals both along the side and behind our place and sugar beet trucks rumbling by in August, farm life was always close at hand. So, when I got word of a local organic farm outside of Chengdu, I must admit to having a less than ecstatic reaction to the possibility of a community trip out there on a Saturday. I had enough early mornings in the cold to not need another one, just for the fun of it. I was the only one feeling less than enthusiastic though, so plan it I did!

And, I must admit that despite the damp, cold air, I had a great time! The farm we went to is a certified organic farm, about an hour outside of downtown Chengdu.  Converting the Chinese measurements to American, I think the farm was about 100 acres, which is a lot of space to be farmed by hand. They grow all sorts of organic produce, as well as raise chickens, ducks, goats and dairy cows. The young ones along for the outing especially liked the two-week old baby goats, which were climbing all over the barn! (Okay, not just the littlest members of our entourage. I also loved them! But, keep in mind that I am a sucker for nearly all animals. I want to touch them all, whether it be the biting monkeys of Thailand, the goofy elephants of Malaysia or pig-like capybaras of Argentina. The goats were adorably fuzzy and wrestled around like puppies. I was tempted to tuck one into one of my many layers to bring back to Chengdu! I’m sure my ayi wouldn’t mind cleaning up after his cute little messes, right?)

The one thing that I was absolutely not impressed with at the farm was the ridiculously sized spiders! At first, I didn’t notice them at all, but once I focused my eyes between the trees, instead of beyond them, I suddenly became aware of a disturbingly thick web strung from tree to tree to tree. Had I wandered off the main path at all, I would have become ensconced in that thick white webbing made by spiders the size of my hand. Training my eyes to look at the web, rather than through it, I quickly realized that between each set of trees were a dozen (or more) large spiders, hanging out in the crisp autumn air, enjoying the spoils of their large nets.  When I asked one of the farm workers about them, he told me not to worry; they were small right now since it was nearly winter. In the summer, they apparently grow much larger and fall from the trees. He again assured me that I had nothing to worry about. The bites hurt really bad at first, but quickly go numb. (Um, I think that is death setting in and one *should* worry about post-spider bite numbness!)

The fall chill in the air made our outdoor lunch of hotpot all the more fabulous, as we warmed ourselves with the broth steam as we waited for the locally produced veggies to cook in the milk-based broth. By early afternoon though, we were all cold through and though and there were no complaints when I started to usher everyone back to the vans about half an hour early. Cold noses, fingers and toes were ready to head back to Chengdu, where at least for me, I hopped right into a steaming hot bath to thaw my bones after a frosty morning in the countryside.

Rewarmed, I finished the day off with a nice big bowl of Corn Pops (from Thad, via Singapore) and an episode or two of Bones. It isn’t quite the wished for Saturday morning show of my childhood, but definitely better than time spent with llama poo!

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