A friend once told me that she thought that organic and free range chickens taste so much better because the chickens had happier lives. There must be some truth to that, because the organic chickens we bought in addition to our Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) share from Rustic Road Farm were utterly delicious. At the end of the summer, we had occasion to witness the chickens’ happiness when we were invited by Rustic Road Farm for a visit and a picnic. They roamed around the farm, roosted in trees and let children pick them up and hold them.
I must admit, I had never really ventured out into the “country” in Illinois, much to the amusement of my JD, who has family in Sycamore and Courtland, towns about 90 minutes west of Chicago where corn fields are abundant. Rustic Road Farm is just outside Elburn (30 minutes west of Wheaton, a Chicago suburb) and as soon as we arrived for their annual CSA shareholder picnic, I felt peace wash over me. For miles there was nothing but open fields. The farm itself was home to happy goats, many chickens, hogs, and even a couple of sheep. Everyone, residents (2- & 4-legged) and visitors, was happy to be there.
As we strolled around the farm, so peaceful with plenty of space to roam, we saw the beginnings of bright orange pumpkins, the green house from where our tomatoes come, the garden beds with the purple peppers, squash, onions, and a small apple orchard.
The menu that night was a roast pig, organic coleslaw and baked beans which we enjoyed while listening to a live blues band. We just had to bring a couple of chairs and the beverage of our choice. It was a peaceful meal; eating in our lawn chairs against the backdrop of the setting sun and free range chicken coops. Every once in a while, the farm dogs would roam among the guests’ picnic scavenging for goodies. A few times they succeeded, getting some of the roasted pork and bun for themselves.
Before we ate, we toured the farm. They have so many goats, and I couldn’t stop taking pictures of them. I must have at least two dozen pictures of goats in various poses and interactions with children.
The event board at the entrance said “Running of the goats” at 7:00 PM, and I had no idea what that meant. What it means is at Rustic Road Farm is, the goats sleep inside. At around “that time”, they start getting restless in their pen, baa-ing just a bit more incessantly and lining up to run into their stalls in the barn. It was funny watching their restlessness escalate as they started to get in line, like they knew the good stuff was coming. Even the little 3-week old goat, wobbly on its legs, participated. They were a blur running in step and in a perfectly formed line into the barn. The “Running” went by quickly, and they ran so fast, that even if I wanted a picture, there wouldn’t have been time. It was over in about ten seconds. Long after that, I couldn’t stop laughing about how cute, yet serious the goats were about ending their day and going to bed.
The highlight of the evening was trying honey right from the hive. Marc, one of the farmers, put on a bee suit and smoked out the bees. He returned from the hive with a comb that was dripping with about 8 pounds of honey and wax. The kids swarmed to him like he was a pied piper; they couldn’t wait to try the honey.
Neither could I. I had never tasted anything like it. It was a sweetness that filled my whole mouth, not just the surface of my tongue. I went back for seconds and probably would have eaten much more had I been able.
Throughout the evening, I had seen the kids chasing the chickens. They were fast, and it seemed like not too many of them got caught. As my JD and I were getting ready to leave, we were waylaid by a young girl who asked if I wanted to pet the chicken she was holding. I said, “Sure”, and gave the chicken a few pets. She then asked me if I wanted to learn how to chase the chickens. Trying not to laugh, I asked her seriously, “Do you live here?” To which she replied, “No, but I’ve been practicing”. And indeed she had been, when the chicken escaped from her arms, she caught him a few minutes later. When I asked, she eagerly, with no hesitation told me that its name was “Snowball”. Again, I couldn’t stop laughing. It was so refreshing to see a girl naming chickens and just having fun on a farm.
As is often the case when visiting someplace where the life is so different from your own, you can’t help but wonder, “Maybe this is something I could do.” As we were leaving, it was getting dark and the goats were in bed, my JD said he thought maybe we could run an organic farm. I told him I didn’t think we were farmers, but that one day we could definitely have a vegetable garden.