• Ceres, Goddess of Agriculture, Returns to State House
  • Heritage Ciders from Tannic Apples: New England’s OG Wine
  • Local Wineries & Cider Makers Tackle Food Waste with Collaboration
  • Ceres, Goddess of Agriculture, Returns to State House

    Agriculture has regained its place of pride in the Vermont state house as the new Ceres sculpture was lifted into place on November 30th. This version, made by local artists Chris Miller and Jerry Williams, is expected to reside on the golden dome for 150 years. 

    Read more

  • Heritage Ciders from Tannic Apples: New England’s OG Wine

    Your favorite apples from the grocery store don’t have much in the way of tannin, and they make an alcoholic cider that New Englanders from the Founding Fathers time would have scorned - cider was once the wine of the Northeast, and today heritage ciders are bringing back that tradition. 

    Read more

  • Local Wineries & Cider Makers Tackle Food Waste with Collaboration

    The crispness of fall has given way to chillier nights and snow dusted mornings throughout much of Vermont. It’s the season to tuck in with a glass of local wine or cider in hand. As you sip slowly, here's some food (or drink) for thought: what happens to the waste produced in the creation of your beverage? Where does that spent grape must and pomace go, aside from the compost bin?

    Read more


Farmer Wordplay: Harvest vs. Slaughter


Written By

Kate Spring

Written on

November 17 , 2014

With both hands, I reach into the crate of chickens.

“I’m sorry!” I say to the chicken as it flaps in my less-than-confident grasp. The butcher just showed me how to properly handle a bird: two hands on their legs, chest down, and pick up. They won’t flap this way. I put the bird’s chest on the ground until it calms and hand it to the butcher.

“No need to apologize to them for that,” he says, easily putting the bird upside-down into the cone and, with a sharp knife, cutting its head off in a blink.

“I hate picking up chickens,” I tell him. “I like eating and raising them, but I’m not good at this part.”

“Eating is the easy part.”

I take a deep breath. I’m a farmer—aren’t I? How many times have I raised chickens, how many birds have I moved from pasture to trailer? Still, I don’t like handling the birds. It’s the scaly-ness of chicken feet that make me squirm. That and their nails. Taken apart from their bodies, chicken feet look like relics from a prehistoric era, imparting a wildness to the birds that I cannot fully trust. Which makes chicken processing day all the more stressful.

The weeks leading up to this day are filled with advertising: Pasture-raised chicken for sale! 10 percent off when you buy 10 or more! We excitedly talk to our CSA members about the fresh chicken soon to be available, saying, “We’re harvesting chickens on Saturday,” or “The chickens will be processed this weekend.” Harvest? Process? I can’t remember where I first heard this language, but in the last few years I’ve noticed farmers dropping the words slaughter and butcher in favor of harvest and process, and so we follow suit. I wonder, though, are these words really interchangeable?

Harvest. Process. Slaughter. Butcher. Words that simply mean: kill, clean, break apart. And yet they each hold a different weight. Look at the synonyms for slaughter: kill, murder, massacre; and the synonyms for harvest: crop, yield, produce. As we talk about death in the open and search for a connection to the animals we eat, what kind of language are we prepared to hear? Have these words—harvest, process—appeared just to help farmers sell meat? Or are they here to better reflect the relationship we have with living animals? Does humanely raised meat ask for language that sounds more humane, or have we become so far removed from the realities of livestock farming that we are too squeamish to use the more literal words to describe the process?

The dictionary tells us to use slaughter for killing livestock, and harvest for grain, vegetables, or wild meat. A former vegetarian, I myself once shuddered at the word slaughter, and perhaps some vestige of those meatless years comes out in my word choice. But since I’ve been farming, I’ve come to know slaughterers and butchers; I’ve brought sheep to a slaughterhouse, watched an itinerant slaughterer kill a pig for my wedding reception dinner, and handed chickens into a mobile-unit. I’ve met people who hold respect for the animals and take pride in doing a clean and efficient job. Through these relationships, I’ve come to know that slaughter doesn’t have to invoke its synonyms, but can instead be grounded in the vital traditional skills that transfer food from pasture to plate; and I’ve come to know that whatever word choice you use, blood is involved.

I’m better at handling processed birds, or to be frank, dead birds. They come out of the mobile processing trailer and go into a large water-filled drum for a rinse, and from there we move the chickens into an ice-bath to cool for a few hours before bagging, weighing, and labeling. At this point the scaly legs are removed, and there are no flapping wings to test my resolve. On this particular slaughter day I’m exhausted, putting the last birds into the freezer at 9:00 p.m. We don’t eat chicken tonight; instead we eat ice cream and fall asleep. Tomorrow we’ll grill a chicken and get some of that energy back, and next week we’ll get the second round of chicks and start the cycle again.

When this day comes around again, what will I say? Harvest doesn’t make us stop the way slaughter does, and perhaps that’s why we use it—to take away the possibility of discomfort and talk more easily with customers about meat. But maybe we should stop. If it’s connection that localvores are looking for, we owe it to the chicken to pause and say thank you. The literal wins out for me, then, not just for the correct definition, but for the pause and connection it demands.

So. We slaughtered our chickens today.

About the Author

 Katie Spring

Kate Spring

Kate Spring is co-owner of Good Heart Farmstead in Worcester, a CSA farm with a mission to make local food more accessible. She finds time to write in between pulling weeds and sowing seeds. Follow the farm on Instagram: @goodheartfarmstead.

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest. Optional login below.

What we do

Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape ties into larger questions of sustainability and the future of our food supply. 

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Sign up here to receive monthly Local Banquet news in your inbox.